A Manager Class for Ini Files


The Ini manager is a subsystem class which manages one or more Ini files. These are typically used to store default values for command-line tools and indeed for GUI options. A hierarchy of Ini files is supported such that, for example, you can have system-wide defaults and user-specified defaults in separate files. The most local definition is the visible one and masks values from lower-level files. The Ini manager handles this hierarchy for you.

An Ini file is organised in sections and in each section there are any number of variables. An example of an Ini file is:

version = on

version = on
93 = on
87 = on
ams = on

version = on

; generated automatically by the library manager
ieee = ../library/ieee/lib
std = ../library/std/lib

Each section has a section title contained in brackets - for example "[vlibrary]". Then each variable within that section is in the form "<variable>=<value>". Any line starting with ';' is a comment.

The way that you use the Ini manager is to first specify a set of files to manage. These are specified in hierarchy order such that the first file has the highest priority. This is so that, if there is a variable defined in more than one of the files, the highest priority variable will prevail.

Once the set of files has been set up, values can be extracted as a string by specifying the section title and the variable name. Multi-values variables can be extracted as a vector of strings.

The Ini manager also allows variables to be set. This is only allowed in the highest priority file - in other words the user's local file.

Ini File Management

Setting up the Ini manager is simply a case of constructing one and then initialising it with the set of Ini files to manage. The functions that support this are:

class stlplus::ini_manager
  bool ini_manager::add_file(const std::string& filename);
  bool ini_manager::save(void);


The constructor doesn't do very much - it just initialises data structures.

Adding a file loads the file into memory, parsing it as an Ini file. Each line is classified as a section header, a variable, a comment or a blank line. If the file was just too far away from the correct format, the function will return false.

Saving the Ini manager causes any Ini files that have been changed to be written to disk, thus making the change persistent. The destructor also saves to disk.

Section Management

The section management commands are rarely used since they are implicitly called from the variable management commands. However, some of them may prove useful. For example, to clear all user-specified variables for a particular tool, you can delete the section containing variables for that tool. This would be useful in a GUI which provides a configuration utility that allows a user to customise the interface and save the customisation for future runs.

Here are the section management commands:

bool ini_manager::section_exists(const std::string& title) const;
void ini_manager::add_section(const std::string& section);
bool ini_manager::erase_section(const std::string& section);
std::vector<std::string> ini_manager::section_names(void) const;

These are pretty self-explanatory. They all act only on the local Ini file, i.e. the first one added to the Ini manager. Thus, for example, erasing a section only erases it from the local file, not from the system file, so the section may still exist.

Variable Management

These are the functions that will be used most. They allow variables within a section to be manipulated - either added, changed or erased. The most common variable functions are:

bool ini_manager::variable_exists(const std::string& section, const std::string variable) const;
std::string ini_manager::variable_value(const std::string& section, const std::string variable) const;
void ini_manager::add_variable(const std::string& section, const std::string& variable, const std::string& value);
bool ini_manager::erase_variable(const std::string& section, const std::string& variable);

The variable_exists function test whether the variable is present in any of the files in the named section. If not the function returns false. This is important because if you try to fetch the value of a non-existent variable, you get an empty string; however, a variable that does exist can also have an empty value. So the variable_exists function allows you to differentiate between these two cases.

The variable_value retrieves the value of the variable as a string. The value is the part after the '=' in the file with leading and trailing whitespace removed.

The add_variable function adds a variable and its value to the local Ini file. If the variable already exists in that file, then it will be erased first. The value can be an empty string.

The erase_variable function erases the variable from the named section of the local Ini file. It does not erase it from any other Ini files, so the variable may still exist after the erase. Effectively, erasing a variable makes the system-default value of the variable visible.

Variables can be multi-values, with each value of the variable separated by a comma. The following two functions support the idea of a multi-valued variable.

std::vector<std::string> ini_manager::variable_values(const std::string& section, const std::string variable) const;
void ini_manager::add_variable(const std::string& section, const std::string& variable, const std::vector<std::string>& values);

Thus, to the user, a multi-valued variable is represented as a vector of strings, whereas in the Ini file it is represented as a comma-separated list.

Finally, the following two functions provide extra information about variables.

std::string variable_filename(const std::string& section, const std::string variable) const;
std::vector<std::string> variable_names(const std::string& section) const;

The variable_filename function tells you which Ini file provides the visible value of a variable. In other words, the value that would be returned by variable_value. The variable_names function returns the set of all variables in a section, regardless of which Ini file they came from.

Diagnostic Print Routines

The print functions for the Ini manager print out the Ini manager's interpretation of the contents of all the Ini files that have been loaded.

std::ostream& operator << (std::ostream&, const ini_manager&);