Implementation of class Variable

The implementation of class Variable and its views class VariableConstView and class VariableView are based on two interlinked requirements, type erasure and the concept of views supporting slicing. The following figure gives an overview of the relations of the involved classes, with relevant details discussed below. This is simplified to only display essential concepts, omitting many methods:

Variable, related views, and type-erasure mechanism

Type erasure

Type erasure is implemented using Sean Parent’s concept based polymorphism. The pattern is implemented using classes VariableConceptHandle, VariableConcept, and DataModel<T>.

  • VariableConceptHandle provides value-semantics for VariableConcept, essentially providing a copy constructor based on VariableConcept::clone(). VariableConcept is held in a std::unique_ptr since it is an abstract class.

  • VariableConcept is an abstract class responsible for type erasure. Its interface contains pure-virtual methods providing common functionality such as copying (clone()), accessing the element type (dtype()), or comparison (equals).

  • DataModel<T> is a templated child class of VariableConcept. It implements the pure-virtual methods declared in VariableConcept and provides additional methods that depend on T, i.e., for accessing the held arrays of values and variances. Note that this is the same template for all element types T (with the exception of binned data, see below), i.e., while there are many child classes of VariableConcept they are actually all instances of the same class template.

In addition to Variable, which contains an array of values held by DataModel<T>, we need to support views such as VariableConstView. The latter holds ElementArrayViewParams (or, in practice, members to construct such an instance). These parameters are passed to DataModel<T>::values or DataModel<T>::variances to construct a typed ElementArrayView<<T> with the desired spatial slicing applied. Interoperability between Variable and VariableConstView is based on ElementArrayView<<T>.

Views and variables

  • Instances of Variable contain arrays of data. The member Variable::m_data of type VariableConceptHandle thus holds a DataModel<T>.

  • Instances of VariableConstView and VariableView contains views into arrays of data.

The views cannot simply make use of the constness of the instance, much like the iterators in the standard library come in const and non-const. Therefore both the const pointer VariableConstView::m_variable and the non-const pointer VariableView::m_mutableVariable are required, even though VariableView inherits VariableConstView. Access to values or variances via a view will use the respective pointer to access the underlying DataModel<T> of the variable. This is where the const-related overload resolution happens.


To support operations without requiring an abundance of overloads, read-only arguments are passed as VariableConstView. Variable and VariableView then also work with these operations since:

  • VariableView inherits VariableConstView.

  • Variable is implicitly convertible to VariableConstView.

Binned variables

Binned variables are implemented using a specialization of DataModel<T>. There is an accompanying specialization of ElementArrayView<T>.