The delimited list builder pattern

October 14, 2010

If you’re building a delimited list, for your sql injection attack demonstration or just output data dumps, here’s a useful pattern to build it.

I’ll present it as (bad) C++ pseudo code with an explanation to follow. For this example I’ll assume the delimiter is a comma.

string output;
string Delimiter = ",";
list<string> values;
string separator = "";
for ( int i = 0; i < values.size(); i++ )
  output += separator + values[i];
  separator = Delimiter;

You can’t simply add a delimiter after each list element. If you do then the last element will always have an incorrect
delimiter at the end. If you prefix each insertion with the delimiter then you end up with an incorrect delimiter before
the first element in your output.

This algorithm solves the problem by using the prefix method and changing the delimiter. The first insertion is done
using an empty delimiter to avoid the first delimiter problem. All insertions after the first use the correct delimiter.

For optimal performance you should use a reference/pointer to set the delimiter within the loop (if your language of choice
allows it). This avoids a memory copy operation to set the string for each iteration of the loop. An if statement could be used
instead of changing the separator but the cost of setting a pointer will be less than evaluation of a condition and a branch.

This algorithm works correctly if the size of the list is not known in advance and if the output cannot be edited once written to.



Using scope in C#

October 8, 2010

Microsoft managed code uses the garbage collector to reclaim space when objects go out of scope. This is a great advantage in that it frees the programmer from worrying about releasing resources. The programmer can’t predict when garbage collection will occur though. Unfortunately that also prevents you from using scope to your advantage. You can’t just put code in the destructor and assume it will be called when the object goes out of scope. If you created a mutex object (like I did in a previous post about C++ scoping) and left the unlock in the destructor you’d have no way to guarantee when your mutex would get unlocked.

There’s a handy trick to get around that problem. You can use scoping to your advantage if you combine the “using” keyword and the IDisposable interface. The IDisposable interface adds a Dispose() method to your class. The using keyword guarantees to call the Dispose method of any objects that are created using the keyword. The combination of the two of them does what the C++ scoping does.

Here’s an example of a class that is useful for winforms programmers. If you’re doing a rigorous job you know you should change the cursor to provide a visual indicatation the computer is working on a task. It’s a pain to ensure that the cursor is always set back to it’s original state when you finish the task. If an exception occurs you can end up with the user thinking the machine is still working on the task when it’s not.

public class BusyCursor : IDisposable
private Cursor _PreviousCursor;
private Form _ParentForm;

/// <summary>
/// Constructor
/// Saves form’s current cursor
/// Changes the cursor to a busy cursor
/// </summary>
/// <param name="ParentForm"></param>
public BusyCursor( Form ParentForm )
_ParentForm = ParentForm;
_PreviousCursor = _ParentForm.Cursor;
_ParentForm.Cursor = Cursors.WaitCursor;

#region IDisposable Members

public void Dispose()
_ParentForm.Cursor = _PreviousCursor;


This class saves the cursor currently used by the form you pass to it. It then changes the cursor to the busy cursor. When it goes out of scope it restores the cursor to the original state.

You use the class like this:

public partial class Form1 : Form
public Form1()

private void  button1_Click(object sender, EventArgs e)
using ( BusyCursor ShowBusyCursor = new BusyCursor(this) )
// long running process here
System.Threading.Thread.Sleep( 10000 );

It’s simple to implement, works very well, and isn’t terribly hard to understand.

Another day in the life of a workaday programmer batman.