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guide_20to_20writing_20libraries

Guide to writing libraries

by Richard Russell, March 2010

Note: This article specifically applies to re-usable code libraries. Another use of the INSTALL statement is as a means of splitting a large program into modules. Several of the guidelines listed below do not apply to that use, apart from the prohibition on the use of line numbers and labels, and the necessity to enable the Crunch embedded program files compile option.

A BBC BASIC for Windows LIBRARY is a special kind of program file which contains functions and/or procedures which can be called from the main program in which it is INSTALLed (or from another library installed by that same program). Fundamentally it is no different from any other program file except that it contains no 'main program' (unless you wish to include some code which will report an error if it is executed directly, see Preventing a library from being run). In addition, a library must be saved as an internal format (tokenised) .BBC file rather than a plain-text (ASCII) .BAS file. If you attempt to INSTALL a library saved in the wrong format a Bad library error will result.

Having stated that a library is fundamentally no different from an ordinary BBC BASIC program, special considerations apply which don't (at least to the same extent) to a conventional program. Some of these are technical restrictions (for example that line numbers cannot be used) and others are issues of style which become much more important in the case of a re-usable library. When you write a program for your sole use you can decide whether you want to risk the potential consequences of ignoring 'good practice', but when writing a library (assuming that you intend to publish it for others to use) you mustn't impose such risks on your end users. For them to use your library with confidence, it should adhere to the programming guidelines listed below.

An overriding consideration, which lies behind many of the recommendations, is that a library must be as self-contained as possible. Ideally it should not be dependent on any specific characteristics of the program in which it is INSTALLed, nor should it impose any avoidable restrictions on that program.

  • Libraries may contain neither line numbers nor labels. It follows that a library should not use GOTO, GOSUB or ON GOSUB statements. A library may use RESTORE but only the special RESTORE +n relative form.


  • Libraries should not share global variables with the main program. When compiling a program, it is possible to select the Abbreviate names crunch option for the main program, but not select the Crunch embedded program files option. With that combination of settings the names of variables in the main program and in the library - even if originally the same - will end up being different. Additionally, accessing a global variable in a library forces the main program to use a specific name for that variable, which is undesirable (for example, suppose another library uses the same name for a different global variable!).


  • If you want to pass a structure as a parameter to a library routine, be aware that the previous consideration also applies: if the main program is crunched but the library isn't, the member names of the structure will be different and the program won't run. This can be circumvented by using static integer names (A% to Z%), numeric member names (e.g. 1&, 2$), names starting with the @ character (e.g. @a&, @b$) or names specified in a REM!Keep compiler directive, since they are never modified by crunching. Otherwise it is best to avoid passing information between the main program and a library in a structure. If there is no acceptable alternative you will need to inform your users that they must select the Crunch embedded program files compile option.


  • As an exception to the above, it is perfectly acceptable to pass a structure into or out of a library if it is opaque. What this means is that the structure is declared within the library and its members are only accessed within the library; the main program passes the structure between one library routine and another, but does not itself need to access the individual members. You can always provide library routines for reading and writing specific members of the structure. See the XMLLIB library for an example of the use of an opaque structure.


  • Libraries should strictly adhere to the recommended variable naming conventions, that is LOCAL and PRIVATE variables (and the formal parameters of functions and procedures) should normally be lowercase and constants should be entirely CAPITALS. Globals should be a mixture of upper and lower case, but a library should not be accessing globals anyway (see below for library globals). The importance of this is that, in the presence of asynchronous interrupts (e.g. ON SYS, ON TIME) a global variable and a local variable must never share the same name. Since the end user shouldn't need to know the names of variables used in a library, adherence to a naming convention is the only way to guarantee that.


  • It will occasionally be necessary for two or more routines within a library to share information. There are three main ways in which this may be achieved:
  1. The shared information may be passed between the various library routines by the calling program, for example as passed-by-reference parameters or opaque structures. Using this method the functions and procedures don't communicate directly, but use the main program as an 'intermediary'.
  2. The functions and procedures may share information by means of PRIVATE variables, arrays and/or structures. See the article Sharing PRIVATE variables for more information.
  3. The functions and procedures may share global variables. This is the least satisfactory method because there is no way of guaranteeing that the global variable names are unique and don't clash with other variables in the main program or another library. If you use this method choose variable names with care, such as incorporating a Globally Unique Identifier or the name of your library, for example globalvar@mylibrary (variable names containing an @ are conventionally reserved for use in libraries).


  • Temporary variables (other than formal parameters) used within an individual procedure or function should always be declared as LOCAL or PRIVATE. Note that PRIVATE variables are incompatible with certain types of error trapping, in which the main program attempts to recover from an error. This is because if an error occurs at a time when a variable has been made PRIVATE you cannot call that routine again (it will be treated as a re-entrant call). This problem can be circumvented by careful use of local error trapping as follows:
        DEF PROCtest
        PRIVATE list,of,privates
        ON ERROR LOCAL RESTORE LOCAL : ERROR ERR,REPORT$
        REM Rest of procedure here
        ENDPROC


  • Avoid doing anything within the library which could disrupt operation of the main program. For example don't disable interrupts for any longer than necessary (e.g. WAIT 0 is probably acceptable but WAIT 1 isn't) and don't change any global settings (e.g. the *FLOAT mode) - even if you restore them before returning from the library the operation of an interrupt routine could be affected.


  • If the library needs to report an error condition, preferably do so by returning a status value to the calling program. This gives the greatest degree of flexibility to the user, without forcing his error-handling mechanism (ON ERROR) to be activated. If you consider that it is appropriate to use the ERROR statement to trigger an error (for example if the condition indicates a serious failure) then at least allocate different error codes (ERR) to the different cases, and avoid those codes most commonly used by a main program (e.g. 100).


Several of these recommendations are also valid for ordinary functions and procedures within a conventional program, but do not have the same importance when they affect only that one program. Only in the case of a published library, when the reliability of an end user's program could be affected, should they ideally be strictly followed.

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guide_20to_20writing_20libraries.txt · Last modified: 2018/04/15 18:19 by tbest3112