What s Different in the Revised Language Definition?

The Declaration of a Managed Enum Type


The original .NET enum declaration is preceded by the __value keyword. For example,


// the original syntax

public __value enum e1 : unsigned short  { not_ok = 1024, maybe, ok = 2048 };

__value enum e2 { fail, pass };


This has been replaced with an adjective modification of the class keyword in a manner similar to the spaced keyword declarations of the reference and value classes:


// the revised syntax

public enum class e1 : unsigned short { not_ok = 1024, maybe, ok = 2048 };

enum class e2 { fail, pass };


The changes in syntax are minor. The challenge in both the original and revised language design is the integration of the .NET enum such that it can be distinguished from the existing enum type, and yet seem analogous. This requires some qualification of the enum keyword. Why replace __value enum with enum class? There are two reasons, one technical and the other aesthetic. The aesthetic reason is the symmetry of declaring all managed types:


enum class ec;

value class vc;

ref class rc;

interface class ic;


The technical reason is to emphasize that fact that the .NET enum is a class type exhibiting semantics quite different from those of the ISO C++ enum. The __value keyword also is intended to suggest this, indicating that it is a derivation of the abstract Value type of the .NET class hierarchy, but that association is less clear to those new to the .NET environment.


In an earlier entry, I made the rather fanciful analogy of the native and managed worlds as representing a Kansas and Oz pair of landscapes, and suggesting that they exhibited different semantics. I also suggested that designing a language that combines these two physics requires a sort of two-faced perspective captured by the bust of Janus, the Ancient Roman figure who is shown in profile with two front heads (I suppose there is a better way of saying that), one looking east and the other west, and we are free to pin whatever values we like on those two directions.


When something is said to be poetic in a computer science discussion, the term is generally pejorative, suggesting the speaker is being excessively elegant but with little substantial meaning that would sustain analysis. (Similarly, one might discount someone s argument as being academic, meaning they are counting angels dancing on the head of a pin that is, the argument has no practical value and is wasting everyone s time, thank you very much.)  Just as conventional wisdom says that for every mathematical formula in a book targeted for the lay person half the readership on average are lost, so too each poetical metaphor or analogy present in a discussion aimed at the programming community causes half that audience on average to turn away. But in both cases, sometimes it is worth the risk.


The fact is, the original language design got the semantics of the .NET enum wrong, and it had to be corrected in the revised language. For example, consider the following code fragment:


__value enum status { fail, pass };


void f( Object* ){ cout << "f(Object)\n"; }

void f( int ){ cout << "f(int)\n"; }


int main()


      status rslt;

      // &

      f( rslt ); // which f is invoked?



Through the eyes of Kansas , this is a no-brainer. The instance of f() invoked is that of f(int). An enum is a symbolic integral constant, and it participates in the standard integral promotions which take precedence in this case.  So, in the original language design, we pulled a Kansas , and imposed Kansas physics on the enum element within our .NET Oz. This caused a number of surprises not when we used them in a Kansas frame of mind but when we needed them to interact with the existing Oz framework, where an Enum is a class indirectly derived from Object. In the revised language design, the instance of f() invoked is that of f(Object^).


If you are a C++ programmer, it would not surprise me if you felt a bit frustrated at this moment. (Others have expressed equal frustration.) The fact is, within the .NET  Oz, many of the fundamental premises of our Kansas physics that we have internalized and take to be second nature do not hold. We are not at the center of the .NET universe or rather, our language is not at the center. (This is neither fair nor unfair. It is just how things are.) And this is part of the difficulty of integrating the .NET paradigm into C++. (We ll see other examples as we continue our exploration of this space [I m tempted to indulge in a Star Trek analogy here, but think that would be pushing things a bit right now.])


Another fundamental difference between the Kansas and Oz enums is that of scope. The Kansas enum does not maintain its own scope. This means that its enumerators spill out into the enclosing scope. This is a disaster in terms of name-collisions at global scope or even within namespace scope and so the design idiom within native C++ is to encapsulate enums within the class declaration for which they supply symbolic meaning. (I first fielded this problem in the original beta release of the new iostream library by Jerry Schwarz at Bell Laboratories during the release of cfront 2.0. In that release, he did not encapsulate all the associated enums defined for the library, and the common enumerators such as read, write, append, and so on, made it nearly impossible to for users to compile their existing code. One solution would have been to mangle the names, such io_read, io_write, etc. A second would have been to modify the language, further breaking compatibility with the C language, by adding scope to an enum, but this was not practicable at the time. The middle solution was to encapsulate the enum within the class, or class hierarchy, where both the tag name and enumerators of the enum populate the enclosing class scope.)  So, the motivation for placing enums within classes, at least originally, was not philosophical, but a practical response to the name-space pollution problem.


The Oz enum is a class object within the ValueType subtree of the .NET class hierarchy, and it maintains scope within which its associated enumerators are encapsulated. Because of that, the original motivation for placing enum definitions within a class is absent under .NET, and the namespaces of the Base Class Library (BCL) are populated by what to a C++ programmer feels like an overabundance nay, a very plethora of enums. But once you have an encapsulated set of enumerators, encapsulating the enum no longer makes much sense. So, in general, you wouldn t want to follow the Kansas idiom within your Oz programs. That is, if you are using a .NET enum type, it is not generally recommended that you nest its definition within a class.


In the original language design, there is an attempt to support what is referred to as `weak injection of enumerators of .NET enum types. By weak injection, the designers meant that, all things being equal, the enumerators will be lifted into the enclosing scope within which the enum is defined. (This is exactly the semantics people want if they encapsulate enum definitions within their classes. Otherwise, they have to specify an additional nesting level.) The catch, of course, is that things cannot be guaranteed to be equal in all circumstances, and so the facility worked less than perfectly at times. In the revised language design, weak injection is not supported.  Let s look at an example.


// original language design supporting weak injection

__gc class XDCMake {


      __value enum _recognizerEnum {



            XDC0001_ERR_PATH_DOES_NOT_EXIST = 1,

            XDC0002_ERR_CANNOT_WRITE_TO = 2,


            XDC0004_WRN_XML_LOAD_FAILURE = 4,

            XDC0006_WRN_NONEXISTENT_FILES = 6,



      ListDictionary* optionList;

      ListDictionary* itagList;




            optionList = new ListDictionary;

            optionList->Add(S"?",               __box(OPTION_USAGE));

            optionList->Add(S"help",            __box(OPTION_USAGE));


            itagList = new ListDictionary;

            itagList->Add(S"returns",           __box(XDC0004_WRN_XML_LOAD_FAILURE));





// revised language design note that this is generated by a translation tool

ref class XDCMake



      enum class _recognizerEnum



            XDC0002_ERR_CANNOT_WRITE_TO = 2,


            XDC0004_WRN_XML_LOAD_FAILURE = 4,

            XDC0006_WRN_NONEXISTENT_FILES = 6



      ListDictionary^ optionList;

      ListDictionary^ itagList;



            optionList = gcnew ListDictionary;

            optionList->Add( S"?", _recognizerEnum::OPTION_USAGE );

            optionList->Add( S"help", _recognizerEnum::OPTION_USAGE );

            itagList = gcnew ListDictionary;

            itagList->Add( S"returns", _recognizerEnum::XDC0004_WRN_XML_LOAD_FAILURE );




In both cases, the original language design erred in viewing the world in Kansas-colored spectacles, overcompensating in order to make the native C++ programmer more comfortable in this .NET home away from home. Does this mean that there should be no attempt at building a bit of Kansas in Oz? Hardly. I think you ll agree that the support for finalistic determination, copy constructors semantics, and so on, are elegantly integrated and make for an innovative language. (I can say that because I had no part in that work, and so can stand back and admire it.) It s just that we ve had to learn to choose our battles, and know when to give way.


disclaimer: This posting is provided "AS IS" with no warranties, and confers no rights.