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A few weeks ago Linus Torvalds answered some questions on slashdot. All his responses make good reading but one in particular caught my eye. Asked to describe his favourite kernel hack, Torvalds grumbles he rarely looks at code these days — unless it’s to sort out someone else’s mess. He then pauses to admit he’s proud of the kernel’s fiendishly cunning filename lookup cache before continuing to moan about incompetence.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, I actually wish more people understood the really core low-level kind of coding. Not big, complex stuff like the lockless name lookup, but simply good use of pointers-to-pointers etc. For example, I’ve seen too many people who delete a singly-linked list entry by keeping track of the
prev entry, and then to delete the entry, doing something like
if (prev) prev->next = entry->next; else list_head = entry->next;
and whenever I see code like that, I just go “This person doesn’t understand pointers”. And it’s sadly quite common.
People who understand pointers just use a “pointer to the entry pointer”, and initialize that with the address of the list_head. And then as they traverse the list, they can remove the entry without using any conditionals, by just doing a
*pp = entry->next.