Dealing with State in C++

Nodes outputs of which depend solely on their inputs in at any point of time are cool. They easy to understand, test, and compose. But building a useful device using only such pure nodes is not realistic. Someone needs to keep state along program run time.

A node can define state data that will persist for the time the program executes. In other words, a node can put some value to the state in evaluate call and retrieve that value in any of subsequent evaluate invocations.

The task

Let’s make a simple count node that will increment a value by one each time a pulse is sent to it. Also, we’ll make the step size configurable and provide a pulse input to reset the counter to zero.

Note XOD standard library already includes xod/core/count node with similar functionality. But let’s forget about it for a moment.

Prepare the node

As always, when you make a C++ node, start with a new patch, add required terminals, and the not-implemented-in-xod node.

Patch outline

It’s a good idea to provide a resonable default value for STEP. We’ll set it to 1.

Double-click on not-implemented-in-xod node to open the code editor.

Define a state shape

You define the persistent state using the State struct in C++. In our case, we need to store a single counter value, so our struct will have a single field. Let’s call it counterValue:

struct State {
    Number counterValue = 0;
};

All state values, regardless of type, start with their default values. The default value for numbers is 0 anyway, so this initialization of counterValue through assignment is not required. Although the definition of the field is necessary, of course. We set it to 0 here just to demonstrate a possibility to initialize with another value like 42.

Accessing state

Now you can use getState(Context ctx) function to access the persistent state instance associated with the context node. The outline is:

// ...

void evaluate(Context ctx) {
    State* state = getState(ctx);

    // Read
    Number x = state->counterValue;

    // Do some magic with `myCounter`

    // Write
    state->counterValue = x;
}

The state is just a plain pointer to the State instance. Of course, you may use its fields directly without any intermediate variables.

Put all together

As you know from Data types article pulses have no values. To check whether a pulse on the pin was fired in the current transaction we should use isInputDirty function, not getValue. It doesn’t read values, instead it returns true if an upstream node just emitted a new value for the pin specified.

Finally, here is an example implementation of our counter:

struct State {
    Number counterValue;
};

{{ GENERATED_CODE }}

void evaluate(Context ctx) {
    State* state = getState(ctx);

    if (isInputDirty<input_INC>(ctx)) {
        // Update the state
        Number step = getValue<input_STEP>(ctx);
        state->counterValue += step;
    } else if (isInputDirty<input_RST>(ctx)) {
        // Reset the state
        state->counterValue = 0;
    } else {
        // The evaluation caused by `STEP` update. Do nothing, return early to
        // avoid emission of a duplicate value.
        return;
    }

    // Emit the updated value accessing the field directly.
    emitValue<output_OUT>(ctx, state->counterValue);
}

Moving state to outputs

The State struct is not the only thing which keeps data across transactions. Any node owns its output value as well. And the getValue function is allowed to access the most recent values set on outputs.

In our case, the OUT value always matches the value we store in State. So it’s a duplication we can get rid off to save few bytes of RAM and make the code more compact:

// The internal state is no longer required
struct State { };

{{ GENERATED_CODE }}

void evaluate(Context ctx) {
    if (isInputDirty<input_RST>(ctx)) {
        // On reset unconditonally emit 0
        emitValue<output_OUT>(ctx, 0);
    } else if (isInputDirty<input_INC>(ctx)) {
        Number step = getValue<input_STEP>(ctx);
        // Read the most recent value...
        Number counterValue = getValue<output_OUT>(ctx);
        // ...and immediately emit a new one
        emitValue<output_OUT>(ctx, counterValue + step);
    }
}

Note how we changed the order of pulse checks to preserve the priority of RST pulse over the INC pulse.

Test it

Well done! The node is ready. Use a couple of buttons and a watch node to test and play with it.

Test patch

Conclusion

Using persistent state is easy. Remember though, data stored in it consumes RAM. Also, stateful nodes in many cases are more complicated than their pure counterparts; it’s easier to seed a bug in it. Use them with care.

When possible, split a big stateful node into two smaller nodes: a stateful thin node and pure fat node. In other words, try to keep the most functionality in stateless nodes.

Found a typo or mistake? Want to improve the text? Edit this page on GitHub and open a pull request. If you have a complex proposal or you want to discuss the content, feel free to start a new thread on XOD forum.