ALib C++ Library
Library Version: 2402 R1
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ALib Module Time - Programmer's Manual

1. Introduction

This ALib Module provides types for calendrical date and time processing as well as for non-calendrical steady and monotonic time measurement.

In essence, this module uses standard library types found in namespace std::chrono, and encapsulates their functionality to provide some very common use-case of it in an easy to use and better readable interface.

This does not impose criticism of the standard library. In contrast, it is very right for the standard library to be as formal as possible and its extraordinary quality in this respect is unrivalled by the library's of most other computer languages.
However it is right and just a consequence to have libraries like ALib that morph such a formal and explicit API into one of many possible concrete use cases, of-course limiting the original functionality.

2. Points In Time

A human being imagines a "point in time" to be the combination of a calendar data and a clock time. However, calendar dates and clock times rely on very complicated definitions, if local time zones, daylight-savings, leap years, or even different calendar schemes are considered.
Therefore, it is much less complex to define a "point in time" as the number of time units passed since another point in time. Here, this other point in time is the single static reference for all other values. This simple schematic allows very efficient arithmetic operations and comparisons. The only challenge is to convert such simple point in times to the complex, human readable calendar and clock values, in the case this is needed.

Class TimePointBase provides an "abstract", templated base type for such time points that store values that represent the difference in respect to a reference point in time. The class provides inner type Duration which represents the difference of two values of the type and offers an extensive set of methods and operators to work with values of itself and that inner type.

3. DateTime And Ticks

Two specializations of class TimePointBase are provided with the module:

  1. Class DateTime for time points that are convertible to calendrical values, and
  2. Class Ticks for steady and monotonic time points.

The wording "steady and monotonic" means that probes (aka time measurements) taken are never influenced by changes of the system's clock, daylight saving changes, etc. In contrast, it is always assured that the difference of two probes represents exactly the duration that passed between taking the probes.

Internally, type DateTime uses std::chrono::system_clock while type Ticks uses std::chrono::steady_clock.

Type DateTime provides methods to convert values to system dependent "date types". For example, with GNU/Linux conversion to and from time_t is implemented. On Windows OS, in addition conversion to FILETIME and SYSTEMTIME is offered.

4. Conversion Of Ticks To DateTime Values

So, why aren't there similar conversion methods to system dependent "date types" available with class Ticks that uses the internal monotonic timer? The answer is that values of type Ticks can not be converted without ambiguities: Their conversion can only be performed using the current system clock, which means that any changes of the clock setting changes the result of the conversion! This is not the case with values of type DateTime (which, as explained in the previous section, instead takes ambiguities between values of the type itself into account).

As it still might be suitable in special situations to convert Ticks to human-readable calendar dates and clock times, class TickConverter is provided. This class allows to convert values of type Ticks to values of type DateTime and vice versa, which then can be converted further. Of-course, it is up to the software using this type, to assure that these ambiguities are duly made transparent to the end-user of a software: The end user has to know how converted monotonic clock values are to be interpreted!

At the point of creation of an object of type TickConverter, internally two "probe" values of both timers, Ticks and DateTime are created. Using these probe values, the conversion is performed. This means, that the conversion is "synchronized" with the system's clock setting at point in time of creation of the converter. In other words, changes of the system clock after the creation of the converter are not reflected. The converter can be updated to using the current system clock setting by invoking TickConverter::SyncClocks .

To provide an understanding for this whole issue, a sample may help: Module ALox provides tools to implement application logging. As it is important to have a steady monotonic relationship between each log entry in respect to the moment of their occurrence, the module stores a Ticks value with each entry. In many cases, end-users are in fact just interested in two pieces information concerning a log entry's creation time:

  • The duration value relative to the start of the application
  • The duration value relative to the previous log statement.

This means that the "absolute", calendrical point in time is not of interest in most cases. Nevertheless, the module allows to display also calendar dates and "time of day clock-times" if wished. Now, still such display should rather show "steady monotonic" times when listed even if the system clock was changed while a process's log file was written.

Therefore, no DateTime values are stored with log entries, and if calendrical display is needed, a conversion using class TickConverter is performed. The object used for this is created only once and in favour to provide steady log dates, is not updated by the module. This means, if a software runs for a longer time, changes of the system clock are not reflected and therefore, the calendrical date and time values displayed may start to deviate from the true system clock!
A software that is using the module has to decide to either actively update the converter (and hence introduce non steady log entries) or to acknowledge the user of the software of the problem of interpreting the date/time values! Now in this sample, a software that implements a server process, probably running for days, weeks or even months without a reset, would synchronize the logging module's time converter on a regular basis, e.g. once an hour, to assure correct calendrical log dates. In contrast to that, a software that performs a certain task and then exits would not update the converter as break in the time flow would just be confusing. A user (reader) of the log file has to be made aware that all calendar dates given, are to be interpreted "relative" to the system's clock setting that the first log-entry showed.

5. Further Support With Module BaseCamp

Two utility classes that are directly concerned to the types of this module have not been implemented with this module but with module ALib BaseCamp . The rational for this is that these utility classes make use extensive use of other functionality in that module and the goal was to keep this ALib Time a lean and very low level module.

The classes are:

  • CalendarDateTime
    Provides bidirectional conversions between values of class DateTime and gregorian calendar dates and 24h clock times.
    Furthermore, comprehensive features for conversion of values to human readable strings (formatting) is implemented with this type.
  • CalendarDuration Implements bidirectional conversions between duration values of classes DateTime and Ticks on the one hand and human readable durations (seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc.) on the other hand.
    Furthermore, "intuitive" conversion of durations to human readable strings (formatting) is implemented for this type.

6. Utilities

To measure a set of durations and receive cumulated, average, minimum and maximum values of all probes, class StopWatch is provided.

Furthermore this namespace incorporates types used for conversion of "time points" and durations to values understandable to humans, hence calendar dates and clock values in hours, minutes, etc.