ecl_converters Documentation


Some fast/convenient type converters, mostly for char strings or strings. These are not really fully fleshed out, alot of them could use the addition for the whole range of fundamental types (e.g. all integers, not just int, unsigned int). They will come as the need arises.


The converters here provide a fast and type-safe means of doing type conversion, but lack formatting capabilities. If you need formatting capabilities with conversion to text types, use the formatter classes provided in ecl_formatters.

They're also used to provide generic conversions between types (such as conversions between the various rotational entities in the a robotics math module - quaternion, angle-axis and rotation matrix). While these conversion functions can just as easily be incorporated inside classes themselves, having an external converter functor enables you to decouple the interface and also add converter functionality to fixed libraries incorporated within the ecl (such as eigen).

Compiling & Linking

    Include the following at the top of any translation unit which
    requires this library:

    #include <ecl/converters.hpp>

    // The error interfaces
    using ecl::Converter;

Since it is a template class, no linking is required if you are only using this class.


Type conversions can be done in a variety of ways, all of which require the user to pay some attention to the performance of the converters. Some examples include:

  • sprintf : not type-safe but reasonably fast.
  • stringstreams : type-safe but really slow.
  • stlsoft shims : type-safe and very fast, but awkward to use.

Sprintf is actually not that fast - it is burdened with formatting functionalities, so if you do not need the formatting, it makes for a poor type converter, especially given that it is also not type-safe.

Stringstreams are so slow to the point of not being very useful at all for control.

Shims appear to be a very optimal, high-speed implementation, especially on 8-32 bit systems. 64 bit compilers are still improving though and as a consequence the shims' performance should improve there too. However they are awkward to use and very little documentation on the implementation that is setup by the guys who've heavily developed stlsoft's implementation of these.



Converters are functors - functions with state. You instantiate a converter type and then make use of it as if it were a function call.

Converter<char*,float> floatToCharString;
Converter<string,int> intToString;

For some types, it is possible to instantiate an object which incorporates all of the currently convertable fundamental types together. This is sometimes convenient when converting from many different types or if the converter requires a specific piece of machinery. Character strings are the perfect example, as you will often wish to convert from many different formats and because they require a buffer. If the buffer is shared, it saves either expensive instantiations for each conversion type or complicated buffer passing between the converters.

Converter<char*> toCharString;
Converter<string> toString;

Type Conversion Fallback

If no specialisation exists, the primary converter template classes will inspect the output type's class definition for a typedef'd converter (in a similar fashion to iterators).

Buffered Type Conversion [char*]

These are a really really fast means of doing conversions to a text format, but they require particular care with buffering and ensuring you do not read past arrays. The default implementation for character strings abstracts this implementation behind a class wrapper. It will set up a buffer and do the buffer manipulation behind the wrapper for you.

The conversion algorithm for integral types is hand-specified, so it avoids the formatting checks made by the other converters. I'd like to do the same for the float types, but haven't managed to implement this well yet, so it defaults back to c's sprintf function, which is still as fast or faster than most other implementations.

Converter<char*> convertCharString;
char* charString;
int i = 255;
charString = toCharString(i);
cout << charString << endl;

You might be curious where the character string buffer is stored in the above code. In this case, the buffer is stored in the Converter<char*> object. As the character strings are pointing to this buffer, you must ensure that the Converter hangs around long enough to use the result.

If you wish to reduce the footprint of the converter, you can also manually instruct it to use a buffer of a certain size:

Converter<char*> toCharString(30);

Alternatively you can pass the converter an external buffer to use:

char buffer[30];
Converter<char*> toCharString1(buffer,buffer+29);
char *s1,*s2;
s1 = buffer+10;
s2 = buffer+20;
Converter<char*> toCharString1(s1,s2);

Float to char* converters are the one exception in this family, in that they do have a small formatting capability, namely, the number of decimal places which will get converted.

std::cout << converter(2.134) << std::endl; // defaults to as large as needs be
std::cout << converter2(2.134,2) << std::endl; // prints only 2.13

Note that if the precision causes the assigned buffer to be exceeded, the converter will just lop off any extra decimal places of precision.

Byte Array Converters

These convert to and from byte arrays (char arrays), which are very useful in reading/writing to and from i/o devices. They'll typically work with any container with the usual c++ style handles, though the obvious is for std::vector containers:

typedef std::vector<unsigned char> ByteArray;
Converter< ByteArray, ecl::int32 > toByteArray;
ByteArray byte_array(4); // ensure memory reserved matches integral type size
// these require a buffer for speed and practicality (aka char string converters)
toByteArray(byte_array, ecl::int32(363)); // converts to 0x6b 0x01 0x00 0x00
toByteArray(byte_array, ecl::int32(-2)); // converts to 0xfe 0xff 0xff 0xff
Converter< int, ByteArray > fromByteArray;
int i = fromByteArray(byte_array);
std::cout << std::dec << "i: " << i << std::endl;


Of particular interest is the conversions from a number type to character string as these are used to build up the formatters for use with ecl_streams. There is a benchmarking program for string conversions in the ecl_core_apps package.

In general, the converters outperform sprintf and iostream (simply because no formatting checks are made in most cases), in some cases they outperform these considerably. The only case which is missing is that of an optimised algorithm for float to char string conversions - it just falls back to sprintf for now.

Writing Your Own Converters

It is impossible to add to the converter families, but it is simple to add specialisations for individual conversions. A typical specialisation would have the following code structure,

namespace ecl {
template <>
class Converter<Matrix,Vector> {
inline Matrix operator()(Vector &input) {
// implementation
return Matrix(M);
}; // namespace ecl

Usage would be as follows,

Converter<Matrix,Vector> toMatrix;
Converter<string,Matrix> toString;
string s;
Matrix m;
Vector v;
m = toMatrix(v);
s = toString(m);

Another alternative is to make use of the default parent template structure, which, in the absence of a specialisation will look in the input type's class definition for a typedef'd Converter.

The above example is a little contrived as the same effect could be achieved with member functions in the matrix and vector classes. Shims really become useful only when they requires some additional internal structure such as is the case for character string converters - these require initialisation and continued maintenance of an internal buffer.

Current List of Fundamental Converters

The following are listed with the 'to' type on the left and 'from' types on the right.

  • char : uint
  • string : int
  • char* : all integer/float types
  • int : char, char*, string
  • char* : byte array (i.e. byte array to hex string converter)
  • byte array : char* (i.e. hex string to byte array converter)

Unit Tests

    - src/test/converters.cpp
    - src/test/byte_array_converters.cpp


    - ecl_core_apps/src/benchmarks/string_conversions.cpp : benchmarks the speed of char string conversions.


    - <b>Feb 11</b> : moved out from ecl_utilities.
Output operator()(const Input &input)
Definition: converter.hpp:97
std::vector< unsigned char > ByteArray
Definition: byte_array_converters.cpp:30
ecl::Converter< char *, float >
Conversion to text format with character strings.
Definition: char_strings.hpp:644

Author(s): Daniel Stonier
autogenerated on Sun Aug 2 2020 03:12:09