Dan O Dan O -4 years ago 157
C Question

Why isnt int pow(int base, int exponent) in the standard C++ libraries?

I feel like I must just be unable to find it. Is there any reason that the c++ pow function does not implement the "power" function for anything except floats and doubles?

I know the implementation is trivial, I just feel like I'm doing work that should be in a standard library. A robust power function (ie handles overflow in some consistent, explicit way) is not fun to write.

Answer Source

Since I was neither closely associated with the creators of C nor C++ in the days of their creation (though I am rather old), nor part of the ANSI/ISO committees that created the standards, this is necessarily opinion on my part. I'd like to think it's informed opinion but, as my wife will tell you (frequently and without much encouragement needed), I've been wrong before :-)

Supposition, for what it's worth, follows.

I suspect that the reason the original (pre-ANSI) C didn't have this feature is because it was totally unnecessary. There was already a perfectly good way of doing integer powers (with doubles and then simply converting back to an integer, giving you the ability to check for integer overflow and underflow before converting).

The other thing you have to remember is that the original intent of C was a systems programming language and it's questionable whether floating point is desirable in that arena anyway. Since it's initial use case was to code up UNIX, the floating point would have been next to useless. BCPL, on which C was based, also had no use for powers (it didn't have floating point at all, from memory).

As an aside, an integral power operator would probably have been a binary operator rather than a library call. You don't add two integers with x = add (y, z) but with x = y + z - part of the language proper rather than the library.

Since the implementation of integral power is relatively trivial, it's almost certain that the developers of the language would better use their time providing more useful stuff (see below comments on opportunity cost).

That's also relevant for the original C++. Since the original implementation was effectively just a translator which produced C code, it carried over many of the attributes of C. Its original intent was C-with-classes, not C-with-classes-plus-a-little-bit-of-extra-math-stuff.

As to why it's never been added to the standards, you have to remember that the standards-setting bodies have specific guidelines to follow. For example, ANSI C was specifically tasked to codify existing practice, not to create a new language. Otherwise, they could have gone crazy and given us Ada :-)

Later iterations of that standard also have specific guidelines and can be found in the rationale documents (rationale as to why the committee made certain decisions, not rationale for the language itself).

For example the C99 rationale document specifically carries forward two of the C89 guiding principles which limit what can be added:

  • Keep the language small and simple.
  • Provide only one way to do an operation.

Guidelines (not necessarily those specific ones) are laid down for the individual working groups and hence limit the C++ committees (and all other ISO groups) as well.

In addition, the standards-setting bodies realise that there is an opportunity cost (an economic term meaning what you have to forego for a decision made) to every decision they make. For example, the opportunity cost of buying that $10,000 uber-gaming machine is cordial relations (or probably all relations) with your other half for about six months.

Eric Gunnerson explains this well with his -100 points explanation as to why things aren't always added to Microsoft products- basically a feature starts 100 points in the hole so it has to add quite a bit of value to be even considered.

In other words, would you rather have a integral power operator (which, honestly, any code monkey could whip up in ten minutes) or multi-threading added to the standard? For myself, I'd prefer to have the latter and not have to muck about with the differing implementations under UNIX and Windows.

I would like to also see thousands and thousands of collection the standard library (hashes, btrees, red-black trees, dictionary, arbitrary maps and so forth) as well but, as the rationale states:

A standard is a treaty between implementer and programmer.

And the number of implementers on the standards bodies far outweigh the number of programmers (or at least those programmers that don't understand opportunity cost). If all that stuff was added, the next standard C++ would be C++215x and would probably be fully implemented by compiler developers three hundred years after that.

Anyway, that's my (rather voluminous) thoughts on the matter. If only votes were handed out bases on quantity rather than quality, I'd soon blow everyone else out of the water. Thanks for listening :-)

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