Ropes: an alternative to strings


Boehm, H. J.; Atkinson, R.; Plass, M. F. Ropes: an alternative to strings. Software Practice and Experience. 1995 December; 25 (12): 1315-1330.


Programming languages generally provide a string' or text’ type to allow manipulation of sequences of characters. This type is usually of crucial importance, since it is normally mentioned in most interfaces between system components. We claim that the traditional implementations of strings, and often the supported functionality, are not well suited to such general-purpose use. They should be confined to applications with specific, and unusual, performance requirements. We present ropes' or heavyweight’ strings as an alternative that, in our experience leads to systems that are more robust, both in functionality and in performance. Ropes have been in use in the Cedar environment almost since its inception, but this appears to be neither well-known, nor discussed in the literature. The algorithms have been gradually refined. We have also recently built a second similar, but somewhat lighter weight, C-language implementation, which is included in our publicly released garbage collector distribution. We describe the algorithms used in both, and give some performance measurements for the C version.

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