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Developer Guide

This document is distinct from the C++ Style Guide as it covers best practices, design patterns, and other tribal knowledge, not just how to format code correctly.


When to Introduce Abstractions

Don’t introduce an abstraction just for code de-duplication. Always think about if the abstraction makes sense.

Include What You Use

IWYU: the principle that if you use a type or symbol from a header file, that header file should be included.

While IWYU should always be followed in C++, we have a problem specifically with the os namespace. Originally, all functions like os::realpath were implemented in stout/os.hpp. At some point, however, each of these were moved to their own file (i.e. stout/os/realpath.hpp). Unfortunately, it is very easy to use an os function without including its respective header because stout/posix/os.hpp includes almost all of these headers. This tends to break other platforms, as stout/windows/os.hpp does not include all of these headers. The guideline is to Include What You Use, especially for stout/os/*.hpp.

Error message reporting

The general pattern is to just include the reason for an error, and to not include any information the caller already has, because otherwise the callers will double log:

namespace os {

Try<Nothing> copyfile(string source, string destination)
  if (... copying failed ...) {
    return Error("Failed to copy '" + source + "' to '" + destination + "'");

  return Nothing();

} // namespace os

Try<Nothing> copy = os::copyfile(source, destination);

if (copy.isError()) {
  return ("Failed to copy '" + source + "'"
          " to '" + destination + "': " + copy.error();

This would emit:

Failed to copy ’s' to ’d': Failed to copy ’s' to ’d': No disk space left

A good way to think of this is: “what is the ‘actual’ error message?”

An error message consists of several parts, much like an exception: the “reason” for the error, and multiple “stacks” of context. If you’re referring to the “reason” when you said “actual”, both approaches (the one Mesos uses, or the above example) include the reason in their returned error message. The distinction lies in where the “stacks” of context get included.

The decision Mesos took some time ago was to have the “owner” of the context be responsible for including it. So if we call os::copyfile we know which function we’re calling and which source and destination we’re passing into it. This matches POSIX-style programming, which is likely why this approach was chosen.

The POSIX-style code:

int main()
  int fd = open("/file");

  if (fd == -1) {
    // Caller logs the thing it was doing, and gets the reason for the error:
    LOG(ERROR) << "Failed to initialize: Failed to open '/file': " << strerror(errno);

is similar to the following Mesos-style code:

int main()
  Try<int> fd = open("/file");

  if (fd.isError()) {
    // Caller logs the thing it was doing, and gets the reason for the error:
    LOG(ERROR) << "Failed to initialize: Failed to open '/file': " << fd.error();

If we use the alternative approach to have the leaf include all the information it has, then we have to compose differently:

int main()
  Try<int> fd = os::open("/file");

  if (fd.isError()) {
    // Caller knows that no additional context needs to be added because callee has all of it.
    LOG(ERROR) << "Failed to initialize: " << fd.error();

The approach we chose was to treat the error as just the “reason” (much like strerror), so if the caller wants to add context to it, they can. Both approaches work, but we have to pick one and apply it consistently as best we can. So don’t add information to an error message that the caller already has.



Mesos is explicitly compiled with UNICODE and _UNICODE preprocess defintions, forcing the use of the wide wchar_t versions of ambiguous APIs. Nonetheless, developers should be explicit when using an API: use ::SetCurrentDirectoryW over the ambiguous macro ::SetCurrentyDirectory.

When converting from std::string to std::wstring, do not reinvent the wheel! Use the wide_stringify() and stringify() functions from stringify.hpp.

Long Path Support

Mesos has built-in NTFS long path support. On Windows, the usual maximum path is about 255 characters (it varies per API). This is unusable because Mesos uses directories with GUIDs, and easily exceeds this limitation. To support this, we use the Unicode versions of the Windows APIs, and explicitly preprend the long path marker \\?\ to any path sent to these APIs.

The pattern, when using a Windows API which takes a path, is to:

  1. Use the wide version of the API (suffixed with W).
  2. Ensure the API supports long paths (check MSDN for the API).
  3. Use ::internal::windows::longpath(std::string path) to safely convert the path.
  4. Only use the longpath for Windows APIs, or internal Windows API wrappers.

For an example, see chdir.hpp.

The long path helper is found in longpath.hpp.

Windows CRT

While it is tempting to use the Windows CRT to ease porting, we explicitly avoid using it as much as possible for several reasons:

  • It does not interact well with Windows APIs. For instance, an environment variable set by the Win32 API SetEnvironmentVariable will not be visible in the CRT API environ.

  • The CRT APIs tend to be difficult to encapsulate properly with RAII.

  • Parts of the CRT have been deprecated, and even more are marked unsafe.

It is almost always preferable to use Win32 APIs, which is akin to “Windows system programming” rather than porting Mesos onto a POSIX compatibility layer. It may not always be possible to avoid the CRT, but consider the implementation carefully before using it.


The Windows API is flawed and has multiple invalid semantic values for the HANDLE type, i.e. some APIs return -1 or INVALID_HANDLE_VALUE, and other APIs return nullptr. It is simply inconsistent, so developers must take extra caution when checking handles returned from the Windows APIs. Please double check the documentation to determine which value will indicate it is invalid.

Using raw handles (or indeed raw pointers anywhere) in C++ is treachorous. Mesos has a SafeHandle class which should be used immediately when obtaining a HANDLE from a Windows API, with the deleter likely set to ::CloseHandle.

Nano Server Compatibility

We would like to target Microsoft Nano Server. This means we are restricted to the set of Windows APIs available on Nano, Nano Server APIs.aspx). An example of an excluded and unavailable set of APIs is Shell32.dll AKA <shlobj.h>.