A synchronous observer of asynchronous events

Code, CodeProject


In the Observer design pattern, a subject holds a list of interested parties – the observers – which it will notify about changes in status. Simply put, it’s a form of subscription, and this design comes up in all sorts of places (which is one of the definitions of the term ‘design pattern‘). It’s well suited for handling asynchronous events, like user interaction in a GUI, sensor information, and so on.

There is, however, often a need to re-synchronise asynchronous events. For instance, you might keep the latest status update until it’s actually needed for display, storage or some calculation. By doing this, you disregard the asynchronous nature of its source, and treat it as just another variable, as if it had been read from the subject right then. In other words, you synchronise a status from the past with the present. Sometimes, though, you don’t want the last value, but the next, which is a bit more complex, as it requires you to wait for the future to happen before we can say it’s the present.

In this article, we will write a simple multi-threaded example implementation of the Observer pattern, and show how to re-synchronise a past event to look current. Then we’ll demonstrate a technique to treat future events like they’re current, too.

GetLastError as std::string


If you haven’t a function for this already, feel free to re-use this. Putting it here so I don’t have to look around for it next time I need it.

// Needs Windows constant and type definitions
#include <windows.h>

// Create a string with last error message
std::string GetLastErrorStdStr()
  DWORD error = GetLastError();
  if (error)
    LPVOID lpMsgBuf;
    DWORD bufLen = FormatMessage(
        (LPTSTR) &lpMsgBuf,
        0, NULL );
    if (bufLen)
      LPCSTR lpMsgStr = (LPCSTR)lpMsgBuf;
      std::string result(lpMsgStr, lpMsgStr+bufLen);

      return result;
  return std::string();

This function retrieves the last error code, if any, and gets the text message associated with it, which is then converted to a standard string and returned. The main benefits of using this function is that it saves you from having to remember the syntax of FormatMessage, and that the memory used is tidied up.

Note that the FORMAT_MESSAGE_FROM_SYSTEM flag means only system error messages will be given. If you want to include error messages from your own modules, you’ll need to add the FORMAT_MESSAGE_FROM_HMODULE flag, and provide the handle to the module. See the FormatMessage documentation for details.