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4.7 How Structs are Built

First we need to define some structure to use as an example. Let’s say we are interesting in poking Packets, as defined by the Packet Specification 1.2 published by the Packet Foundation (none less).

In a nutshell, each Packet starts with a byte whose value is always 0xab, followed by a byte that defines the size of the payload. A stream of bytes conforming the payload follows, themselves followed by another stream of the same number of bytes with “control” values.

We could translate this description into the following Poke struct type definition:

type Packet =
    byte magic = 0xab;
    byte size;
    byte[size] payload;
    byte[size] control;

There are some details described by the fictitious Packet Specification 1.2 that are not covered in this simple definition, but we will be attending to that later in this manual.

So, given the definition of a struct type like Packet, there are only two ways to build a struct value in Poke.

One is to map it from some IO space. This is achieved using the map operator:

(poke) Packet @ 12#B
Packet {
  magic = 0xab,
  size = 2,
  payload = [0x12UB,0x30UB],
  control = [0x1UB,0x1UB]

The expression above maps a Packet starting at offset 12 bytes, in the current IO space. See the Poke manual for more details on using the map operator.

The second way to build a struct value is to _construct_ one, specifying the value to some, all or none of its fields. It looks like this:

(poke) Packet {size = 2, payload = [1UB,2UB]}
Packet {
  magic = 0xab,
  size = 2,
  payload = [0x1UB,0x2UB],
  control = [0x0UB,0x0UB]

In either case, building a struct involves to determine the value of all the fields of the struct, one by one. The order in which the struct fields are built is determined by the order of appearance of the fields in the type description.

In our example, the value of magic is determined first, then size, payload and finally control. This is the reason why we can refer to the values of previous fields when defining fields, such as in the size of the payload array above, but not the other way around: by the time payload is mapped or constructed, the value of size, has already been mapped or constructed.

What happens behind the curtains is that when poke finds the definition of a struct type, like Packet, it compiles two functions from it: a mapper function, and a constructor function. The mapper function gets as arguments the IO space and the offset from which to map the struct value, whereas the constructor function gets the template specifying the initial values for some, or all of the fields; reasonable default values (like zeroes) are used for fields for which no initial values have been specified.

These functions, mapper and constructor, are invoked to create fresh values when a map operator @ or a struct constructor is used in a Poke program, or at the poke prompt.

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