...one of the most highly
regarded and expertly designed C++ library projects in the
world. — Herb Sutter and Andrei
MSM is a library allowing you to easily and quickly define state machines of very high performance. From this point, two main questions usually quickly arise, so please allow me to try answering them upfront.
When do I need a state machine?
More often that you think. Very often, one defined a state machine informally without even noticing it. For example, one declares inside a class some boolean attribute, say to remember that a task has been completed. Later the boolean actually needs a third value, so it becomes an int. A few weeks, a second attribute is needed. Then a third. Soon, you find yourself writing:
if (data == packet_3 && flag1 == work_done && flag2
This starts to look like event processing (contained inside data) if some stage of the object life has been achieved (but is ugly).
This could be a protocol definition and it is a common use case for state machines. Another common one is a user interface. The stage of the user's interaction defines if some button is active, a functionality is available, etc.
But there are many more use cases if you start looking. Actually, a whole model-driven development method, Executable UML (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executable_UML) specifies its complete dynamic behavior using state machines. Class diagram, state machine diagrams, and an action language are all you absolutely need in the Executable UML world.
Another state machine library? What for?
True, there are many state machine libraries. This should already be an indication that if you're not using any of them, you might be missing something. Why should you use this one? Unfortunately, when looking for a good state machine library, you usually pretty fast hit one or several of the following snags:
speed: "state machines are slow" is usually the first criticism you might hear. While it is often an excuse not to use any and instead resort to dirty, hand-written implementations (I mean, no, yours are not dirty of course, I'm talking about other developers). MSM removes this often feeble excuse because it is blazingly fast. Most hand-written implementations will be beaten by MSM.
ease of use: good argument. If you used another library, you are probably right. Many state machine definitions will look similar to:
state s1 = new State; // a state
state s2 = new State; // another state
event e = new Event; // event
s1->addTransition(e,s2); // transition s1 ->
The more transitions you have, the less readable it is. A long time ago, there was not so much Java yet, and many electronic systems were built with a state machine defined by a simple transition table. You could easily see the whole structure and immediately see if you forgot some transitions. Thanks to our new OO techniques, this ease of use was gone. MSM gives you back the transition table and reduces the noise to the minimum.
expressiveness: MSM offers several front-ends and constantly tries to improve state machine definition techniques. For example, you can define a transition with eUML (one of MSM's front-ends) as:
state1 == state2 + event [condition] /
This is not simply syntactic sugar. Such a formalized, readable structure allows easy communication with domain experts of a software to be constructed. Having domain experts understand your code will greatly reduce the number of bugs.
model-driven-development: a common difficulty of a model-driven development is the complexity of making a round-trip (generating code from model and then model from code). This is due to the fact that if a state machine structure is hard for you to read, chances are that your parsing tool will also have a hard time. MSM's syntax will hopefully help tool writers.
features: most developers use only 20% of the richly defined UML standard. Unfortunately, these are never the same 20% for all. And so, very likely, one will need something from the standard which is not implemented. MSM offers a very large part of the standard, with more on the way.
Let us not wait any longer, I hope you will enjoy MSM and have fun with it!