The message template

One of the core components in the library is the concept and the implementation of a common message type. In most (not all) network protocols, the concept of a message is central to the definition of the protocol. In HTTP, SMTP, XMPP, and even other protocols like SNMP and ICMP, there is a common notion of a “packet” or a message. In cpp-netlib we chose to implement the concept of a message that has the following common parts:

  • Source - every message has a source identifier which varies from protocol to protocol.
  • Destination - every message has a destination identifier which varies from protocol to protocol.
  • Headers - each message is assumed to contain headers, which may be empty in cases where the protocol does not support it, but is nonetheless supported by cpp-netlib messages.
  • Body - the content area of a message which varies from protocol to protocol (also sometimes referred to as payload).

This division is purely logical – in the underlying implementation, the message type can choose to have different means of storing the data, depending on the type used to tag the message. This section covers the Message Concept as well as the basic_message implementation.

Message Concept

The Message Concept specifies what the valid operations on a message are as well as what messages look like semantically. The following table summarize the operations and syntactic as well as semantic properties of messages.


M:The message type.
H:A headers container type.
m,n:An instance of M.
S:A string type.
s,k,v:An instance of S.
O:The source type.
D:The destination type.
B:The body type.
T:The Tag type.
Construct Result Description
typename M::tag T The nested tag type.
M() Instance of M Default constructible.
M(m) Instance of M Copy constructible.
m = n; Reference to m Assignable.
swap(m, n); void Swappable.
source(m); Convertible to O Retrieve the source of m.
destination(m); Convertible to D Retrieve the destination of m.
headers(m); Convertible to H Retrieve the headers of m.
body(m); Convertible to B Retrieve the body of m.
m << source(s); M & Set the source of m.
m << destination(s); M & Set the destination of m.
m << header(k, v); M & Add a header to m.
m << remove_header(k); M & Remove a header from m.
m << body(s); M & Set the body of m.
source(m,s); void Set the source of m.
destination(m,s); void Set the destination of m.
add_header(m, k, v); void Add a header to m.
remove_header(m, k); void Remove a header from m.
clear_headers(m); void Clear the headers of m.
body(m,s); M & Set the body of m.

Types that model the Message Concept are meant to encapsulate data that has a source, a destination, one or more named headers, and a body/payload. Because the accessors and the directives are not required to be part of the message type that models the Message Concept, a message can be implemented as a POD type and have all manipulations performed in the directive implementations, as well as value transformations done in the accessors.

Directives, Modifiers, and Wrappers

In the Message Concept definition there are three basic constructs that follow a certain pattern. These patterns are Directives, Modifiers, and Wrappers.


A directive is a function object that is applied to a Message. Directives encapsulate a set of operations that apply to messages. The general requirement for a Directive is that it should apply these operations on a message.

A directive may dispatch on the type of the message passed to it at the point of the function call. Typically, directives are generated using a factory function that returns the correct directive type.

For a given directive foo_directive a generator function called foo is typically implemented:

struct foo_directive {
    template <class Message>
    Message & operator()(Message & m) const {
        // do something to m
        return m;

foo_directive const foo() {
    return foo_directive();

// to apply a directive, we use the << operator
message m;
m << foo();


A modifier is generally defined as a free function that takes a reference to a non-const lvalue message as the first parameter, and any number of parameters. In the concept definition of the Message Concept, a modifier follows the form:

modifier(message, ...)

Modifiers are meant to imply modifications on a message, which also allows for easier dispatch based on Argument Dependent Lookup (ADL) on the type of the message. Note that Directives can be implemented in terms of Modifiers and vice versa, although that is not required nor specified.


A Wrapper is basically an implementation detail that ensures that a given message, when wrapped, can be converted to the associated part of the message. A wrapper has a type that encapsulates the conversion logic from a message to a given type.

An example of a Wrapper would be source_wrapper which would be returned by a call to the wrapper generator function source. An example implementation of the source_wrapper would look like:

template <class Tag, template <class> class Message>
struct source_wrapper {
    Message<Tag> const & m;
    explicit source_wrapper(Message<Tag> const & m)
    : m(m) {}
    typedef typename source<Tag>::type source_type;
    operator source_type const & () {
        return m.source;
    operator source_type const () {
        return m.source;
    operator source_type () {
        return m.source;

template <class Tag, template <class> class Message>
source_wrapper<Tag, Message> const
source(Message<Tag> const & message) {
    return source_wrapper<Tag, Message>(message);

This pattern is similar to an adapter, but the specific notion of wrapping a data type (in this case, an object of a type that models the Message Concept) using an intermediary wrapper is what is pertained to by the Wrapper pattern. In this case, the Wrapper is source_wrapper while source is merely a wrapper generator function.


The default implementation of a simple type that models the Message Concept is available in cpp-netlib. This default implementation is named basic_message which supports a Tag template parameter. The definition of basic_message looks like this:

template <class Tag>
class basic_message;

The basic_message template requires that the following tag-dispatched metafunctions are defined for the type Tag:

template <class Tag>
struct string;

template <class Tag>
struct headers_container;

All the operations defined by the message concept are implemented by this basic message type. Other message implementations can either use this common message type or specialize it according to whether they want to use different containers or whether it’s going to be just a POD type.