How to implement serialization in C++


Question

Whenever I find myself needing to serialize objects in a C++ program, I fall back to this kind of pattern:

class Serializable {
  public:
    static Serializable *deserialize(istream &is) {
        int id;
        is >> id;
        switch(id) {
          case EXAMPLE_ID:
            return new ExampleClass(is);
          //...
        }
    }

    void serialize(ostream &os) {
        os << getClassID();
        serializeMe(os);
    }

  protected:
    int getClassID()=0;
    void serializeMe(ostream &os)=0;
};

The above works pretty well in practice. However, I've heard that this kind of switching over class IDs is evil and an antipattern; what's the standard, OO-way of handling serialization in C++?

1
28
11/27/2009 6:03:08 PM

Using something like Boost Serialization, while by no means a standard, is a (for the most part) very well written library that does the grunt work for you.

The last time I had to manually parse a predefined record structure with a clear inheritance tree, I ended up using the factory pattern with registrable classes (i.e. Using a map of key to a (template) creator function rather than a lot of switch functions) to try and avoid the issue you were having.

EDIT
A basic C++ implementation of a object factory mentioned in the above paragraph.

/**
* A class for creating objects, with the type of object created based on a key
* 
* @param K the key
* @param T the super class that all created classes derive from
*/
template<typename K, typename T>
class Factory { 
private: 
    typedef T *(*CreateObjectFunc)();

    /**
    * A map keys (K) to functions (CreateObjectFunc)
    * When creating a new type, we simply call the function with the required key
    */
    std::map<K, CreateObjectFunc> mObjectCreator;

    /**
    * Pointers to this function are inserted into the map and called when creating objects
    *
    * @param S the type of class to create
    * @return a object with the type of S
    */
    template<typename S> 
    static T* createObject(){ 
        return new S(); 
    }
public:

    /**
    * Registers a class to that it can be created via createObject()
    *
    * @param S the class to register, this must ve a subclass of T
    * @param id the id to associate with the class. This ID must be unique
    */ 
    template<typename S> 
    void registerClass(K id){ 
        if (mObjectCreator.find(id) != mObjectCreator.end()){ 
            //your error handling here
        }
        mObjectCreator.insert( std::make_pair<K,CreateObjectFunc>(id, &createObject<S> ) ); 
    }

    /**
    * Returns true if a given key exists
    *
    * @param id the id to check exists
    * @return true if the id exists
    */
    bool hasClass(K id){
        return mObjectCreator.find(id) != mObjectCreator.end();
    } 

    /**
    * Creates an object based on an id. It will return null if the key doesn't exist
    *
    * @param id the id of the object to create
    * @return the new object or null if the object id doesn't exist
    */
    T* createObject(K id){
        //Don't use hasClass here as doing so would involve two lookups
        typename std::map<K, CreateObjectFunc>::iterator iter = mObjectCreator.find(id); 
        if (iter == mObjectCreator.end()){ 
            return NULL;
        }
        //calls the required createObject() function
        return ((*iter).second)();
    }
};
27
11/28/2009 12:05:05 AM

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