The Developer’s Cry

Yet another blog by a hobbyist programmer

oolib gets notifications

Apple’s Cocoa API has an interesting feature named the Notification Center. It enables UI components to communicate by posting messages to whomever is interested. I suppose it’s a bit like Twitter in the insides of a computer program; objects may blurt out messages regardless of who is listening, and objects may show interest in receiving messages from other objects.

Notifications allow for loose coupling between objects. Suppose you have two classes A and B, and you want to make a state change in an instance of class A known to an instance of class B. The traditional way of doing that is to have A call a method in B. Now, A depends on B, and they are tightly coupled.
With notifications, the situation changes. A announces its state change to the world. B listens to state change messages, so it picks up the state change. There is no interdependency between the two, they are just handling messages. You can add a third class C that reacts to the message in another way, without touching class A.

This is particularly useful for GUI widgets; for example, a button announces it’s been pressed, a scroll bar announces it’s been moved, and a movie player announces it’s finished playing.

For oolib, my personal C++ framework, I wanted to have this functionality too. It basically works like this: an object may register itself as an observer of certain messages. Whenever that message is sent, the observer will be notified.

class MyObserver : public Observer {
    void notify(const char *event) {
        print("observer: %s", event);

const char *Event1 = "This is event #1";
const char *Event2 = "This is event #2";

int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
    MyObserver o;
    add_observer(o, Event1);
    add_observer(o, Event2);

    return 0;

The global notify() function will see to it that observer->notify() will be called for all registered observers.

There is one big difference between oolib’s notify() and Cocoa’s NSNotificationCenter: Cocoa works with Objective-C, and allows you to supply a selector—which is a function pointer, so it’s essentially a callback mechanism.
With oolib, you are required to inherit from Observer and implement the virtual method notify(), which is more like ‘the C++ way’ of doing things.

Finally, I should mention the Qt framework. Qt has a feature called slots and signals, which allows you to connect a slot (class method) to a signal, which can be emitted by some object. It looks like Qt works by virtue of pointers to methods… which is peculiar because C++ does not deal well with pointers to methods. The Qt folks actually use a meta-compiler that generates the code needed to make it work.

This programming trick is also known as the observer pattern.