I really like using command line arguments. I think that it is a flexible way to interact with and configure my games/engine. It is for example easier to just add a --log-verbose=resource to set all logging in the “resource”-domain to verbose or --memory-enable-stacktrace=render to enable save of stacktraces for all allocations done in the “render”-allocator than to edit some config-file somewhere. At least for things such as the ones mentioned above, that is only set once in a while.

Note: It’s also a simple replacement for config-files, but that is something for a later blog-post ;)

However it seems like there’s always one problem, how to register supported command-line arguments to show –help and check that arguments are correctly specified? In this blog-post I’ll outline a solution that I have found works really well for me. It has its drawbacks but that is usually the case with any solution to any problem ;)

What do I want to achieve?

Let’s make a quick list over what I want from my system.

How I do it

First of all I let all systems parse their own argc/argv, in other words I just pass each system a reference to argc/argv. This is done in different ways, but usually something like this:

    log_ctx_t logger = log_ctx_create( /*... some param ... */, argc, argv );

or this:

    renderer_create_info create_info;
    // ... other params ...
    create_info.argc = argc;
    create_info.argv = argv;

    renderer_t r = renderer_create(&create_info);

The systems get access to a const argc/argv and its their job to parse them by them self. For this I use ( shameless self-promotion comming up ) this getopt-parser https://github.com/wc-duck/getopt. But how does that tie in with our earlier demands on the “system”. Well, lets use some thing that some one consider the c++-equivalent of swearing in church, global constructors! Lets introduce a simple helper-class and macro GETOPT_ARGS_REGISTER().

    struct __getopt_args_register
        __getopt_args_register( const char* t, const getopt_option_t* opt )
            : next( first )
            , options_title( t )
            , opts( opt )
            first = this;

        static __getopt_args_register* first;

        __getopt_args_register* next;
        const char*             options_title;
        const getopt_option_t*  opts;

#define GETOPT_ARGS_REGISTER( options_title, options ) \
	static __getopt_args_register JOIN_MACRO_TOKENS( __getopt_reg, __LINE__ )( options_title, options )

And we use this as follows

    static getopt_option_t options_list[] = {
        { "log-info",      0x0, GETOPT_OPTION_TYPE_OPTIONAL, 0x0, 'i', "set log-level info, globally if no domain is specified.",   "DOMAIN" },
        { "log-error",     0x0, GETOPT_OPTION_TYPE_OPTIONAL, 0x0, 'e', "set log-level error, globally if no domain is specified.",  "DOMAIN" },
        { "log-warning",   0x0, GETOPT_OPTION_TYPE_OPTIONAL, 0x0, 'w', "set log-level warning, globally if no domain is specified", "DOMAIN" },
        { "log-verbose",   'v', GETOPT_OPTION_TYPE_OPTIONAL, 0x0, 'v', "set log-level verbose, globally if no domain is specified", "DOMAIN" },
        { "log-callstack", 0x0, GETOPT_OPTION_TYPE_OPTIONAL, 0x0, 'c', "log callstacks together with messages, globally if no domain is specified", "DOMAIN" },
        { "log-domains",   0x0, GETOPT_OPTION_TYPE_NO_ARG,   0x0, 'd', "log all available domains as they are discovered." },

    GETOPT_ARGS_REGISTER( "log", options_list );

What the above macro basically does is on old trick, building an global linked list of __getopt_args_register when running global constructors that can be accessed via __getopt_args_register::first.

When we have this info it is an easy thing to just loop over all registered args and do the error checking and –help generation etc without the systems having to know about it. I usually do this as a really early part of int main( int argc, const char** argv ). Also notice that the registered options is the same type that is used by the getopt-library so that the same setup can be used during arg-parse. Keeping the registered args defined in one place and one place only.

One of the things I like most with this is that the registering is done link-time, so linking to a static library, in my case render, debug or vfs ( to mention a few ) auto-registers its options. So if a lib is not used/linked, no options is registered.


Well there are some of course. This will not work well together will DLL:s since the main .exe and the .dll:s will get their own instance of __getopt_args_register::first and the ones in the dll will not be accessible from the exe. It could be solved by “pulling out” __getopt_args_register::first from each DLL and manually “link” them together but that is not something I have done or have had any need for.

Also there is the problem of colliding flag-names and that is best solved by just not sharing flag-names, I prefix my flags by system. In some cases you might even want colliding flag-names where you have flags that should be used by multiple systems. Not sure if it is a good idea, but it is definitely something that can be done.


This is a technique that has served me well for this purpose and the “global linked list created with global constructors” could be a useful tool in your toolbox when writing c++. It need to be used restrictively, but at least for this purpose it has not been any problems for me.

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