In the past few months I have been playing around with Microsoft Visual Studio 2013 and trying out a bunch of the new C++ language features that are supported. Many of these were already in 2012, but I have been making a focused effort to make sure I understand all the new language features. I am loving the new stuff, and the way it makes my code easier to write.

Unfortunately, when it comes to using all these cool new features in daily work, I am a kernel developer, and most of this seems to be problematic in the kernel. Specifically, I wish there were a kernel-friendly Standard Template Library that we could use in kernel-land. There have long been problems documented with using C++ in the Windows kernel. The Windows compiler team has done some work in 2012 to add a /kernel switch that is supposed to help with some of this, but really it seems to do no more than make sure you don’t use C++ exceptions.

What I really believe the Windows kernel community needs, however, is a concerted effort to make all the modern C++ language features including STL available to kernel developers. I believe that it really impacts the quality of the driver ecosystem to have every single developer writing their own lists and list processing code, and trying to create their own wrappers for things like locking, IPC, etc.

One of the purposes of the new language features is to make it easy for developers to write good code, and to enable them to do the right thing. Kernel mode programming makes it difficult to do the right thing. And the worst part about that is that when you do the wrong thing in kernel mode, you crash the machine altogether (as opposed to user mode where you simply crash your own process and the system continues merrily on its way).

I understand that there are inherent difficulties in kernel mode programming, and things that you don’t have to worry about in normal C++ code, such as controlling what memory gets paged vs. non-paged, or worrying about code that can only run at certain IRQLs. So I believe that in addition to needing modern C++ and STL, we would need some (probably Microsoft-specific) extensions to help deal with these extra little problems. For example, when you declare a template, the code gets generated when the template is actually used. If the template is used in a non-paged function, and in a paged function, then we probably need a way to deterministically say how the template code should be generated.

This is stuff that can all be done, and Microsoft compiler guys are GOOD at it. They could make our lives so much easier: not just for programmers, but for consumers who are sick of having drivers that crash their machines. Come on guys… do it for freedom. Do it for the children. Just do it. Please?

2 thoughts on “Modern C++ in the Windows Kernel

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