How to write a C++ program without libstdc++

This blog post explains how to write a C++ program and compile with GCC (g++) so that the resulting binary doesn't depend on libstdc++. The reason for avoiding libstdc++ can be purity (don't depend on libraries you don't really need) and statically linking small tools (e.g. for Unix or Win32 console applications with MinGW).

The limitations are:

  • The standard C++ STL (e.g. #include <string> and #include <vector>) cannot be used. This functionality has to be reimplemented in the program.
  • The standard C++ streams (e.g. #include <iostream>) cannot be used. The standard C I/O library (e.g. #include <stdio.h>) is a smaller and faster replacement. A disadvantage: there is no polymorphic operator<<(ostream&, ...) method for convenient, type-agnostic output.
  • Exceptions cannot be used (i.e. try, catch and throw are disallowed).
  • RTTI (run-time type information) cannot be used.
  • dynamic_cast<...>(...) cannot be used (because it requires RTTI).

Here is how to do it:

  • Add the following C++ code to your program (can be in a separate source file):
    #include <stdlib.h>
    #include <unistd.h>  /* for write(), also available on Windows */
    extern "C" void* emulate_cc_new(unsigned len) { \
      void *p = malloc(len);
      if (p == 0) {
        /* Don't use stdio (e.g. fputs), because that may want to allocate more
         * memory.
        (void)!write(2, "out of memory\n", 14);
      return p;
    extern "C" void emulate_cc_delete(void* p) {
      if (p != 0)
    void* operator new  (unsigned len) __attribute__((alias("emulate_cc_new")));
    void* operator new[](unsigned len) __attribute__((alias("emulate_cc_new")));   
    void  operator delete  (void* p)   __attribute__((alias("emulate_cc_delete")));
    void  operator delete[](void* p)   __attribute__((alias("emulate_cc_delete")));
    void* __cxa_pure_virtual = 0;
  • Compile your program with g++ -c to create individual .o files. Add flags -fno-rtti -fno-exceptions to get compile errors for disabled features (exceptions and RTTI).
  • Link your executable with gcc -o prog code1.o code2.o ... It's important that you use gcc here instead of g++ because g++ would link against libstdc++.

This method has been tested and found working with GCC 3.2, GCC 4.2.1 and GCC 4.4.1 (both native Linux compilation and MinGW compilation), and it probably works with other GCC versions as well.

If you need dynamic_cast, add void* __gxx_personality_v0 = 0;, don't use -fno-rtti, and add dyncast.a to the gcc -o ... command-line. Here is how to create dyncast.a (about 55kB) for GCC 4.4.1:

$ ar x /usr/lib/gcc/i486-linux-gnu/4.4/libstdc++.a \
  dyncast.o class_type_info.o si_class_type_info.o pointer_type_info.o \
  pbase_type_info.o tinfo.o fundamental_type_info.o
$ ar crs dyncast.a \
  dyncast.o class_type_info.o si_class_type_info.o pointer_type_info.o \
  pbase_type_info.o tinfo.o fundamental_type_info.o

How to boot GRUB from SysLinux

This blog post explains how to boot GRUB from SysLinux. Only GRUB1 is covered, the solution explained doesn't support GRUB2.

Older versions of SysLinux (such as 3.83) don't support booting GRUB, i.e. they cannot load and boot the stage2 file of GRUB. The newest version of SysLinux contains chain.c32, which can boot many operating systems and bootloaders, including GRUB. The solution explained here doesn't use this feature, so it works with old versions of SysLinux as well.

The fundamental idea is to convert the GRUB stage2 file to a format which SysLinux can boot directly. This format is bzimage, the big variant of the Linux kernel image. grub.exe, part of GRUB4DOS is already in this format, so adding the following lines to syslinux.cfg works:

label grub4dos
menu label GRUB4DOS
kernel grub.exe

However, one might wish to use the original GRUB instead, because GRUB4DOS has some features missing, e.g. it doesn't support GPT (GUID Partition Table) and UUID on reisrefs partitions. Converting the original GRUB stage2 file to bzimage format is easy: just append it to the first 20480 bytes of grub.exe. SysLinux can boot this hybrid, but then GRUB wouldn't be able to find its configfile (menu.lst). To fix that, the full pathname of the configuration file has to be embedded to the boot image. The Perl script grub2bzimage.pl automates this.

grub2bzimage is a Perl script which converts the GRUB bootloader code (stage2) to bzimage format, which can be booted directly by SysLinux and other bootloaders. grub2bzimage.pl doesn't support GRUB2.

Example use to create grubzimg:

$ perl ./grub2bzimage.pl stage2 grubzimg '(hd0,0)/boot/grub/menu.lst'
Write this into syslinux.cfg:
label grub
menu label GRUB
kernel grubzimg

Please note that it's not possible to specify the name of the configfile (menu.lst) in syslinux.cfg (using append). The configfile has to be specified when grubzimg is created.

grub2bzimage.pl has been tested with SysLinux 3.83. Please note that newer versions of SysLinux contain chain.c32 which supports loading GRUB stage2 files directly.


How to get multiple clickable desktop notifications on Ubuntu Lucid

This blog post explains how to get multiple clickable desktop notifications (i.e. those that were present on Ubuntu Hardy) on the default GNOME desktop of Ubuntu Lucid.

Desktop notifications are short messages displayed by programs for a short time in one of the corners of the screen. In Ubuntu Lucid, by default, they are displayed in the top right corner, their background is black, they are not clickable (i.e. it's not possible to click them away), they disappear while the mouse is over them, and at least 1 of them is visible at the same time. In Ubuntu Hardy, they are displayed in the bottom right corner of the screen, their background is similar to light grey, they are clickable (i.e. they disappear for good if the user clicks on them), they don't disappear while the mouse is over them, and if more than one of them can be on screen without overlap.

Ubuntu Lucid uses the notify-osd backend for displaying notifications. It's not possible to configure the notify-osd backend to make it work like Ubuntu Hardy. However, it's possible to install notification-daemon, which was the default backend in Ubuntu Hardy to for displaying notifications. Here is how to make it work in Ubuntu Lucid:

$ sudo apt-get install notification-daemon
$ sudo perl -pi -e 's@^Exec=.*@Exec=/usr/lib/notification-daemon/notification-daemon@' /usr/share/dbus-1/services/org.freedesktop.Notifications.service
$ sudo killall notify-osd

Try it with:

$ notify-send foo; notify-send bar

Optional change to disable notify-osd completely: (It may screw up volume notifications etc., so don't use it unless it doesn't work without it.)

$ sudo rm -f /usr/share/dbus-1/services/org.freedesktop.Notifications.service.*

See this discussion with some links for other notify-osd improvements and alternatives.


A dramatic colored picture of a tiger's head

This blog post documents my unsuccessful software archeology attempt to find the origin and the author of the famous PostScript tiger colorful vector graphics. Get the (mostly unchanged) EPS file from the Ghostscript SVN repository, here.

The earliest Ghostscript version containing the tiger I could dig up is version 2.6.1 (5/28/93) [download] in Slackware Linux 1.1.2. FYI The earliest Ghostscript version in Debian is 2.6.1 as well [download].

The image itself contains the comment %%CreationDate: 4/12/90 3:20 AM, so the earliest possible Ghostscript version that can contain it is 2.0 (released on 9/12/90) — but I wasn't able to find a download link for that Ghostscript. The author and the copyright is not indicated. The only description is found in the Ghostscript history.doc file, saying tiger.ps - A dramatic colored picture of a tiger's head.

Even Wikipedia doesn't specify the origin of the tiger graphics. All I could find is this question asking where it comes from.

Here is the relevant part of the EPS header in the tiger.ps and tiger.eps file:

%%Creator: Adobe Illustrator(TM) 1.2d4
%%For: OpenWindows Version 2
%%Title: tiger.eps
%%CreationDate: 4/12/90 3:20 AM
%%DocumentProcSets: Adobe_Illustrator_1.2d1 0 0
%%DocumentSuppliedProcSets: Adobe_Illustrator_1.2d1 0 0

What I've learned: Linux distributions (especially Debian and Slackware) are very useful sources of the source code of ancient versions of some free software.

The origin of the tiger thus remains unsolved.


It is a misconception that C++ is a superset of C

This blog post shows (with a counterexample) that C++ is not a superset of C, i.e. there is a valid C program which is not a valid C++ program.

It's easy to find a counterexample: just use a C++ keyword as a variable name in C. The program is int class;. The proof:

$ gcc -v
gcc version 4.4.1 (Ubuntu 4.4.1-4ubuntu9)
$ g++ -v
gcc version 4.4.1 (Ubuntu 4.4.1-4ubuntu9)
$ echo 'int class;' | tee t.c t.cc >/dev/null
$ gcc -c -pedantic -ansi -W -Wall t.c
$ g++ -c t.cc
t.cc:1: error: expected identifier before ‘;’ token
t.cc:1: error: multiple types in one declaration
t.cc:1: error: declaration does not declare anything

There is a counterexample which doesn't contain any C++ keywords. The program is int i=&i;. The code:

$ echo 'int i=&i;' | tee t.c t.cc >/dev/null
$ gcc -c -pedantic -ansi -W -Wall t.c
t.c:1: warning: initialization makes integer from pointer without a cast
$ g++ -c t.cc
t.cc:1: error: invalid conversion from ‘int*’ to ‘int’

There is a counterexample which doesn't contain any C++ keywords, and it compiles without a warning as C code. The program is char *p=(void*)0;

$ echo 'char *p=(void*)0;' | tee t.c t.cc >/dev/null
$ gcc -c -pedantic -ansi -W -Wall t.c
$ gcc -c -pedantic -std=c89 -W -Wall t.c
$ gcc -c -pedantic -std=c99 -W -Wall t.c
$ gcc -c -pedantic -std=c9x -W -Wall t.c
$ gcc -c -pedantic -std=gnu89 -W -Wall t.c
$ gcc -c -pedantic -std=gnu99 -W -Wall t.c
$ gcc -c -pedantic -std=gnu9x -W -Wall t.c
$ tcc -W -Wall -c t.c
$ 8c -c -w t.c
$ g++ -c t.cc
t.cc:1: error: invalid conversion from ‘void*’ to ‘char*’

As a bonus: there is a program source which compiles in both C and C++, but it does something different. The following example is based on the fact that sizeof('x') is 1 in C++, but it's at least 2 in C.

#include <stdio.h>
int main(){return!printf("Hello, C%s!\n", "++"+1%sizeof('x')*2);}

Another idea to make the same program source do something else in C than C++ is to take advantage of that union t (etc.) create a type named t in C++, but not in C.

#include <stdio.h>
char t; int main(){union t{int u;};
return!printf("Hello, C%s!\n", "++"+(sizeof(t)<2)*2);}

So the true statement is: C and C++ are similar languages, with a large common subset, and C++ being much larger to the common subset than C is.


On browser compatibility issues

This blog post lists the browser compatibility issues (with solutions) I've encountered when creating a simple HTML(4) + JavaScript + CSS web page containing presentation slides with a little bit of user interaction.

My goal was to make the web page compatible with Google Chrome 8.0 or later, Firefox 3.6 or later, Safari in Leopard or later, Opera 10.63 or later, Konqueror 4.4.2 or later, Internet Explorer 8.0 or later. (I'll call them main browsers from now on.) Please note that anything stated in this blog post may not be true for earlier web browser versions. There was no plan to make the web page work in any earlier web browser version, but it turned out that it was possible and easy to make the page work with Internet Explorer 7.0 with some small rendering quality degradation, so I happened to add support for that as well.

My workflow:

  • Edit the web page directly in a text editor, as a single HTML file (containing HTML, JavaScript and CSS). Split it to different files only after the prototype is found working and all browser compatibility issues have been registered (and most of them resolved).
  • Make sure the browser renders the page in standards compliant mode, not in quirks mode (see below how and why).
  • View the local HTML file in Google Chrome, reload the page after each file save. Try it after major modifications in Firefox. As soon as the web page works in these two browsers, fix it for other browsers as well.
  • When porting to other browsers, especially Internet Explorer, search in the jQuery source code for the feature (class or method name) that works in one browser. Most probably they jQuery source will contain its alternative implementations for other browsers.
  • Use the Developer Tools feature of Google Chrome (activate it with Ctrl-Shift-J) to debug the DOM, the CSS and the JavaScript on the current page. With Firefox, use the Firebug extension and/or the shell bookmarklet for debugging. Should you need it, use the Tools / Developer Tools (activate it with F12; it is available as an extension called Developer Toolbar for IE7 and earlier) in Internet Explorer 8 for debugging.
  • With Internet Explorer Developer Tools you can verify that the web page is indeed rendered in standards compliant mode, and you can also force a rendering which Internet Explorer 7 would do.
  • After each major change, validate the web page that it is valid HTML 4.01 transitional. You can use the HTML Validator Google Chrome extension.

My general knowledge and advice on cross-browser compatibility:

  • All main browsers (Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera and Konqueror) are very similar to each other except for Internet Explorer.
  • Google Chrome, Safari and Konqueror are even more similar to each other, because they share the same original code base (KHTML in Konqueror, which WebKit in Safari is based on, which WebKit in GoogleChrome is based on).
  • Rendering (application of CSS) in most main browsers in much more similar to each other when they render the web page in standards compliant mode rather than in quirks mode. So to get rid of many incompatibilities, just make sure that the browser renders the page in standards compliant mode.
  • To enable standards compliant mode, just start your HTML with a doctype (right at the beginning of the file). To get HTML 4.01 transitional, prepend this to your HTML file:
    <!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN"
  • Make sure your editor saves the HTML file in UTF-8 encoding (character set), without the byte order mark (BOM).
  • Make sure the character set is indicatied the <head>. This is needed and used when the web page is loaded using a file:/// URL or imported to a word processor such as OpenOffice Writer or LibreOffice Writer. Example:
    <meta http-equiv="content-type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">
  • Make sure your webserver returns the proper character set for the web page in the HTTP response headers (e.g. Content-Type: text/html; charset=utf-8). This setting is used for http:// and https:// URLs. The HTTP response header takes precedence over <meta http-equiv=. If you use the Apache webserver, you may be able to force the UTF-8 charset by creating a file named .htaccess (filename starting with a dot) next to the HTML file, containing
    AddDefaultCharset UTF-8
    . If it doesn't seem to take effect, then put an error (temporarily) to the .htaccess file (e.g. nosuchdirective 42), do a Shift-reload on your web page. If that causes an Internal Server Error, then .htaccess is indeed honored by Apache. If you don't get such an error, talk to your webmaster or system administrator (i.e. copy-paste this paragraph to an e-mail in addition to the URL).
  • The corresponding SVN command (for Google Code) for the character set is:
    svn propset 'svn:mime-type' 'text/html; charset=utf-8' webpage.html
  • Use jQuery, and make it take care of most browser compatibility issues. This document assumes, however, that no JavaScript framework is used, so all issues have to be resolved manually.

Some specific cross-browser compatibility issues I have encountered:

  • See a cross-browser comparison of all JavaScript browser events here.
  • Internet Explorer has a different API for installing and handling events.
    • Event propagation and bubbling semantics are different. You can avoid these issues by installing all event handlers for document.body and window. (Sorry, I don't know more about this.)
    • For Internet Explorer, change obj.addEventListener(eventName, handler, false) to obj.attachEvent('on' + eventName, handler).
    • For Internet Explorer, change obj.removeEventListener(eventName, handler, false) to obj.detachEvent('on' + eventName, handler).
    • Internet Explorer supports the DOMContentLoaded event under a different name (onreadystatechange) and different semantics, see below.
    • Internet Explorer needs event.preventDefault() to be specified differently. Here is the cross-browser solution:
      event.preventDefault ? event.preventDefault() : (event.returnValue = false)
    • Internet Explorer needs event.stopPropagation() to be specified differently. Here is the cross-browser solution:
      event.stopPropagation ? event.stopPropagation() : (event.cancelBubble = true)
    • Internet Explorer doesn't pass the event object to the event handler function. To make it cross browser, write it like this:
      function handler(event) { if (!event) event = window.event; ... }
  • Internet Explorer doesn't have window.getComputedStyle, so the current (computed) CSS properties have to be queried differently. An example, specific cross-browser solution:
    function getBackgroundColor(element) {
      return element.currentStyle ? element.currentStyle.backgroundColor :
             window.getComputedStyle(element, null).
  • Internet Explorer 8 doesn't have elementOrDocument.getElementsByClassName, so it has to be emulated using a loop and e.g. elementOrDocument.getElementsByTagName and some manual checking. The emulation is a bit slower.
  • The string.substr method in Internet Explorer doesn't accept negative values in its first argument, so e.g. myString.substr(-2) has to be replaced by myString.substr(myString.length - 2).
  • The DOMContentLoaded event is fired as soon as the main HTML and the JavaScript and CSS files it references have finished loading — but before images and other objects on the page have finished. By that time, the rendering is done and measurements are made, so e.g. document.body.offsetWidth is valid. In contrast, the onload even fires as soon as images etc. are also finished loading Here is how to handle DOMContentLoaded in a cross-browser way:
    function onDomReady() {
    if (navigator.userAgent.indexOf(' KHTML/') >= 0) {
      document.addEventListener('load', onDomReady, false) 
    } else if (document.addEventListener) {
      document.addEventListener('DOMContentLoaded', onDomReady, false)
    } else if (document.attachEvent) {
      document.attachEvent('onreadystatechange', function() {
        if (document.readyState == 'complete') {
          document.detachEvent('onreadystatechange', onReadyStateChange)
    Here, the load event is used instead of DOMContentLoaded, because Konqueror 4.4.2 doesn't compute element dimensions (e.g. document.body.offsetWidth and CSS properties) at DOMContentLoaded time; but it returns bogus default values. For Internet Explorer, onreadystatechange has to be used instead.
  • There are two keyboard events when a key is pressed or auto-repeated: keydown and keypress.
    • Use keypress for Google Chrome and Safari (i.e. navigator.userAgent.indexOf(' AppleWebKit/') >= 0), because they don't send the arrow key (and any other non-letter) events for keypress.
    • Use keydown for Firefox (for 3.6), because it doesn't send auto-repeats for keydown (see more here).
    • Use onkeydown on Internet Explorer.
    • Some browsers have a meaningless event.keyCode (such as 0 for Firefox 3.6 or the same as the event.charCode for Konqueror 4.4.2) for some keys. In this case, use the event.charCode instead.
    • The event.charCode depends on whether Shift is down (e.g. 65 for A and 97 for Shift-A), but it doesn't depend on whether Ctrl or other modifiers are down. event.charCode is usually a Unicode code point (character code).
    • See event.keyCode constants here.
    • See more here about keyboard event compatibility.
  • Many browsers (such as Firefox 3.6) send multiple resize events (as part of an animation) when the window is maximized.
  • To get the vertical scroll position, use document.body.scrollTop || document.documentElement.scrollTop, because Konqueror always returns 0 for just document.body.scrollTop. Do this respectively for the horizontal scroll position (scrollLeft).
  • To scroll the page in a cross-browser way (which works in Konqueror as well), use window.scroll(newScrollLeft, newScrollTop) .
  • Internet Explorer doesn't support window.innerWidth, use window.innerWidth || document.documentElement.clientWidth for cross-browser compatibility. Do the same with window.innerHeight and document.documentElement.clientHeight as well.
  • Internet Explorer 7 doesn't support an extra comma right before ] and } in array and object constructors.