Patch for clang-format to allow references and pointers to bind differently

Daniel Jasper djasper at
Thu Nov 28 01:21:21 PST 2013

> It's certainly not the most *popular* formatting style, but it's the
> one I learned. Some other formatting tools, such as astyle, support
> this style.
> I'm guessing the reason I learned this style was because my background
> was C before C++, and most C code uses "int *var" but a lot of C++
> code uses "int& var" and avoids pointers.
> Note that the ambiguity doesn't usually happen in practice with
> references because references must be initialized so only one is
> declared on each line.

Well, it is also quite rare that people declare multiple uninitialized
pointers in one line (and it would be a questionable practice).

My key argument against this style would be that it suggests that "*" and
"&" have a different binding behavior, which I don't think they have.

> I'm trying to go from manually-enforced style to automatically, and I
> don't want the first formatting run to introduce a huge diff. I think
> that is the *single* *biggest* *thing* people want out of a formatting
> tool. It's not your job try to force one particular style on anyone
> (unless you're writing a new language - Go did this well).

Well, it is not quite as easy:
1. I am responsible for maintaining clang-format. Ensuring that all
combinations of options do the right thing gets significantly harder with
more options.
2. I want to make clang-format as useful as possible to as many people as
possible. Need to churn through pages and pages of flag documentation to
find the important flags makes it harder to use. I am not saying that this
should be a counterargument to adding any flag at all. However, if it is a
flag for a style only used by one or two projects, adding the flag might be
a net loss.
3. There are style choices that are bad or chosen for bad reasons. I think
I would put this one into this category. Now, if we support that style
choice in clang-format we ingrain it even further. If we don't (but
clang-format still delivers good value) we might convince a few
people/projects to move a way from this style.

Regarding #2: I don't know how many people would be interested in this
style. I have never seen it before and would think it is rare, but I might
just be ignorant.

On Thu, Nov 28, 2013 at 6:43 AM, Ben Longbons <brlongbons at> wrote:

> On Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 6:15 PM, Alp Toker <alp at> wrote:
> > On 28/11/2013 01:50, Ben Longbons wrote:
> >> I'm trying to go from manually-enforced style to automatically
> > Would an option to not touch the existing pointer/reference style be
> > satisfactory?
> Well, there already is an option DerivePointerBinding, which my patch
> changes to do separate deduction for references.
> Changing that to keep the existing style at each individual site would
> solve the problem of the initial diff when applying it to my repo, but
> not the main problem that a code formatter is supposed to solve.

I agree.

> > I can see a wider appeal for controlling what gets formatted and what
> > doesn't, as opposed to just trying to support every personal taste here.
> I admit, when I first started messing with the GNU indent program as a
> novice, I asked "why doesn't this program ONLY change indentation?" At
> the time I didn't even know about expand(1).
> But what I want *now*, as a maintainer, is to be able to say to my
> contributors: "if you run 'make format', your code will comply to all
> style guidelines".
> I actually think it's a bad idea for a formatter to *ever* preserve
> anything, except in an initial "clang-format --detect-style >
> .clang-format" run.

Once we have such an option, my argument #2 looses a lot of its weight.
Until then, we should keep a close eye on the number of flags clang-format

The only hard cases I can think of are:
> 1. if it decides to break a comment (which is irreversible, so should
> never be done by default ... I'm not sure what exactly clang-format
> does with PenaltyBreakComment)

Turn PenaltyBreakComment to a high value. clang-format will then avoid
breaking comments.

> 2. when preserving multiple blank lines between logically distinct
> parts of a source file (but what you really want in that case is
> probably either a documentation section or a namespace or something,
> so I could live without that).

You can probably change MaxEmptyLinesToKeep. Or do you mean you need a
context dependent setting of this?

> -o11c

Alp: Yes, I agree that "attach" or "align" (which astyle uses) would be
better names for this flag. But I am waiting to resolve a few questions
around this (e.g. there is also a request to support astyle's "middle"
alignment). We basically have to be backwards compatible, so I'd like to
change flags as seldomly as possible.

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