Certain wrong places, to put recursion, into a program?

One of the subjects which I was pursuing recently, was not just of why, before March of 2019, I had gotten some error messages, when trying to compile a certain program, but also of why or if, other people, using other types of computers, might continue to obtain error messages, long after I was no longer obtaining them.

And a basic concept which I had referenced was that C++ compilers, when not given an exact match in the data-types of a function prototype, to the data-type of the arguments passed to those functions, will first try to perform a type-conversion which is referred to as a “promotion”, and if that fails, will attempt what’s referred to as a “standard conversion”, the latter of which can transform a ‘higher’ type of built-in number to a ‘lower type’, etc.. There was a basic question which I had not provided any sort of answer to, nor which I even acknowledged explicitly could exist. That question has to do with what happens, when more than one type-conversion has the ability to go from the argument-type, to the parameter-type of a function prototype.

Theoretically, it would be possible to design a compiler such, that every time a type-conversion is being sought, both types are tried, in a pattern which is referred to as ‘recursion’, but which can also just be referred to as an ‘exhaustive search’. There’s every possibility that this is not how the compiler is programmed in fact. What can happen instead would be, that the compiler is willing to perform a promotion, in the service of a potential, standard conversion, but that it will go no further.

And in that context, as well as in the mentioned context of recursive template definitions, casting a derived class to one of its parent classes, counts as a promotion.

There’s every possibility that if recursion was placed in the code of the compiler, to re-attempt a standard conversion, to execute prior to another standard conversion that will not fit yet, the result could become some sort of endless loop, while the real behaviour of a compiler needs to be more stable. And this would be a valid reason, for which certain standard template declarations will first try to instantiate the templates using a ‘float’, then a ‘double’, and then a ‘long double’, in the form of specializations. The programmers will assume that a standard conversion needs to receive a value, that can be the result of a promotion. And in that case, the first template specialization may not work, while a later one might, just because to convert, say, a ‘double_t’ to a ‘long double’ will be a promotion, while to convert a ‘double_t’ to a ‘float’ would not, but would in fact be a standard conversion, in the service of another, standard conversion (that should not happen).



Why Programming Environments deliberately set a Limit to Recursion-Depth

One of the facts about Computing which new programmers need to know, is that although the concept sounds intriguing, that their code could be based on ‘Infinite Recursion’, if this is in fact attempted, by code which is missing a necessary end-condition, that caps further recursion, executing the code will in principle, consume an amount of memory that fills the entire available memory within a few seconds, possibly without the programmer even noticing so. And will fail to produce a result.

Then, unless something external intervenes, an OOM condition will take place, that can crash the session. In that case, only the peers will be laughing, while the actual programmer might find the whole result rather frustrating.

This is why running images always have a maximum stack-depth set, and even LISP needs to have a limit set, because code would be easy to write, that tries to be infinite.

The special case needs to be tested for, that provides a direct result, before the attempt is instructed, to attempt recursion in general.

If a programmer needs very deep recursion, he can set this limit to some ridiculously-high value, but it needs to remain finite, so that in the event of an innocent coding error, control is returned to the programmer within seconds.

Likewise, I have heard from a fellow programmer, that he was once writing innocent code, that included hard-drive I/O. And due to a simple error, his program filled up much of his hard-drive with useless data, within seconds, before he could realize what was happening, and stop his program.