I have ack (the searching tool) "installed" as a single file at C:\ack\bin\ack.pl on a Windows 10 machine and was wondering how to make it executable from the powershell window and other terminals.

I wanted to do it ideally without touching the PATHEXT variable and associating an interpreter to the extension because that has system-wide consequences. I'm only really after a shebang workalike.

First I wrote a batch script wrapper around it (ack.bat).

@echo off
perl.exe %~dp0\ack.pl %*

But that has the annoying property of handling interruptions via ^C with an are you sure? prompt.

Terminate batch job (Y/N)? y

I was curious how to make something interruptible without prompting and tried looking for an equivalent of the exec* system calls on Windows. Then I came across this answer on ServerFault which complains about the same problem and suggests generating a C program as a potential solution.

I wrote a C++ wrapper that does the trick, but it turned out quite a bit uglier than I would have liked.

// The strings in this file are UTF-16LE for compat with the win32 api
// The source code itself is in UTF-8.

#include <windows.h> // GetCommandLineW
#include <iostream> // wcout
#include <string> // wstring
#include <cassert> // assert
#include <utility> // pair
#include <deque> // deque, size_type

// always debug. Assert is only used when we actually want to
// crash the wrapper process.
#undef NDEBUG

// unsigned index type, probably good enough for traversing
// a vector or deque
typedef std::deque<char>::size_type uidx;

// interpreter_name must be absolute path
std::wstring interpreter_name = %%%%INTERPETER_NAME%%%% ;
std::wstring script_name = %%%%SCRIPT_NAME%%%% ;

class Reaper {
    HANDLE job_handle;

    Reaper() {
        job_handle = CreateJobObject(NULL, NULL);
        assert(job_handle != NULL);
        limit_info = { 0 };
        limit_info.BasicLimitInformation.LimitFlags = JOB_OBJECT_LIMIT_KILL_ON_JOB_CLOSE;
        DWORD set_success = SetInformationJobObject(

Reaper& get_reaper(void) {
    static Reaper r;
    return r;

// the leading int is the error code.
std::pair<DWORD, std::deque<std::wstring>> argvw_of_cmdline(std::wstring command_line) {
    LPCWSTR cmd_line = command_line.c_str();
    int count = 0;
    LPWSTR *the_processed_args = CommandLineToArgvW(
        cmd_line, &count
    // first we handle the error case
    if (the_processed_args == nullptr) {
        return {GetLastError(), std::deque<std::wstring>()};
    } else {
        std::deque<std::wstring> s;
        for (int i = 0; i < count; ++i) {
        return {0, s};

std::wstring escape_string(std::wstring ws) {
    bool contains_suspect_char = (std::wstring::npos != ws.find_first_of(L"\"" L"\\"));
    if (contains_suspect_char) {
        std::wstring out(L"\"");
        for (uidx i = 0; i < ws.size(); ++i) {
            if (ws[i] == L'"' || ws[i] == L'\\') {
                out += L'\\';
                out += ws[i];
            } else {
                out += ws[i];
        out += L'"';
        return out;
    } else {
        return ws;

std::wstring cmdline_of_argvw(const std::deque<std::wstring> &argvw) {
    std::wstring the_line(L"");
    // this is okay even if the deque is empty
    // because the loop will be traversed zero times.
    uidx last_index = argvw.size() - 1;
    for (uidx i = 0; i < argvw.size() ; i++) {
        the_line += escape_string(argvw[i]);
        if (i != last_index) {
            the_line += L' ';
    return the_line;

struct RawWinProcessCreatorW {
    LPCWSTR app_name = NULL;
    LPWSTR command_line = NULL;
    LPSECURITY_ATTRIBUTES process_attributes = NULL;
    LPSECURITY_ATTRIBUTES thread_attributes = NULL;
    BOOL inherit_handles = false;
    DWORD creation_flags = 0;
    LPVOID environment = NULL;
    LPCWSTR current_directory = NULL;
    LPSTARTUPINFOW startup_info = NULL;
    LPPROCESS_INFORMATION process_information = NULL;

    bool run() {
        return CreateProcessW(

std::wstring current_exe_directory(void) {
    HMODULE h_module = GetModuleHandleW(nullptr);
    WCHAR path[MAX_PATH];
    memset(path, 0, sizeof(path)); 
    GetModuleFileNameW(h_module, path, MAX_PATH);
    std::wstring w_path(path);
    // if the last character is a path separator
    // remove it.
    if (w_path.back() == L'\\') {
    // keep popping until the last character is a \     -- thwart line continuation
    while (!w_path.empty()) {
        if (w_path.back() == L'\\') {
            return w_path;
        } else {
    return w_path;

int main(int argc, char **argv)
    std::wstring exe_dir(current_exe_directory());
    std::wstring fullpath;
    fullpath += exe_dir;
    fullpath += std::wstring(L"\\");
    fullpath += script_name;

    std::wstring old_command_line(GetCommandLineW());
    std::pair<DWORD, std::deque<std::wstring>> p = argvw_of_cmdline(old_command_line);
    DWORD err = p.first;
    assert(err == 0);
    std::deque<std::wstring> split_cl = p.second;

    // remove old executable (it's the current one)
    // need to push interpreter_name and script_name.
    // but the order is reversed.

    std::wstring command_line = cmdline_of_argvw(split_cl);

    // make sure to zero-initialize these things.
    STARTUPINFOW si = { 0 };

    RawWinProcessCreatorW r;
    r.app_name = (interpreter_name.c_str());
    r.command_line = const_cast<LPWSTR>(command_line.c_str());
    r.inherit_handles = true;
    r.startup_info = &si;
    r.process_information = &pi;
    r.creation_flags |= CREATE_SUSPENDED;

    bool success = r.run();
    // DWORD last_error = GetLastError();

    // assign to the job object whatever.
    DWORD assign_status = AssignProcessToJobObject(

    // resume the process.
    DWORD resume_status = ResumeThread(pi.hThread);

    // wait for the process we spawned.
    DWORD wait_res = WaitForSingleObject(pi.hProcess, INFINITE);

    assert(wait_res != WAIT_ABANDONED);
    assert(wait_res != WAIT_TIMEOUT);
    assert(wait_res != WAIT_FAILED);

    // after the process is gone, try to figure out whether it succeeded
    // and use that information when deciding how to exit yourself.
    // we're using 10, bad environment, as a sentinel.
    DWORD child_exit_status = 10;
    bool recover_exit_status_success = GetExitCodeProcess(

    assert(child_exit_status != 10);

    return child_exit_status;

And here's a Perl script make_wrapper.pl that generates and compiles a wrapper script.

The template is concatenated underneath the end of the __DATA__ token with %%%%INTERPETER_NAME%%%% appearing where the interpreter name is and %%%SCRIPT_NAME%%%% appearing where the script name is.

#! /usr/bin/env perl

use strict;
use warnings;

use utf8;

use Getopt::Long;

use File::Spec;

my $interpreter;
my $script;
my $cxx_compiler;
my $output;

  "int|i=s" => \$interpreter,
  "script|s=s" => \$script,
  "cxx|c=s" => \$cxx_compiler,
  "output|o=s" => \$output,

sub escape_wide_string_literal {
   my ($contents) = @_;
   my $out = q[];
   $out .= 'L"';
   $out .= ($contents =~ s/([\"\\])/\\$1/gr);
   $out .= '"';
   return $out;

sub defined_and_nonempty {
   my ($x) = @_;
   return (defined $x) && ($x ne q[]);

die "need interpreter (--int|-i)" unless defined_and_nonempty($interpreter);
die "need script (--script|-s)" unless defined_and_nonempty($script);
die "need C++ compiler (--cxx|-c)" unless defined_and_nonempty($cxx_compiler);
die "need output file (--output|-o)" unless defined_and_nonempty($output);

die "interpreter must exist (--int|-i)" unless (-f $interpreter);
die "script must exist (--script|-s)" unless (-f $script);
die "C++ compiler must exist (--cxx|-c)" unless (-f $cxx_compiler);

die "intepreter must be absolute path (--int|-i)" unless (File::Spec->file_name_is_absolute($interpreter));
die "script should be relative path with no separators (.\\ is okay) (--script|-s)" if ($script =~ /\\/ and not $script =~ /\A[.][\\][^\\]*\z/);

my $cxx_template;
do {
    local $/;
    $cxx_template = <DATA>;

die "internal error" unless defined $cxx_template;

my $interpreter_literal = escape_wide_string_literal($interpreter);
$cxx_template =~ s/%%%%INTERPETER_NAME%%%%/$interpreter_literal/g;

my $script_literal = escape_wide_string_literal($script);
$cxx_template =~ s/%%%%SCRIPT_NAME%%%%/$script_literal/g;

open my $fh, '>', "temp.cpp";
print $fh $cxx_template;

system($cxx_compiler, "-o", $output, "temp.cpp");

die "did not create file" unless (-f $output);


3 Answers 3



Globally, your c++ seems good enought

In argvw_of_cmdline you don't have to wrap your second part in a else since you returns in the if.

You can remove a lot of things in current_exe_directory:

std::wstring current_exe_directory(void) {
    HMODULE h_module = GetModuleHandleW(nullptr);
    WCHAR path[MAX_PATH];
    memset(path, 0, sizeof(path)); 
    GetModuleFileNameW(h_module, path, MAX_PATH);
    std::wstring_view w_path(path);
    return std::wstring{ws.begin(), ws.find_last_not_of(L'\\')};

(note: you can improve it, but it's already kinda simplified)

You can simplify your escape_string(...) function:

std::wstring escape_string(std::wstring ws) {
    const auto esc = std::wstring{L"\\\""};
    for (size_t index = 0; (index = ws.find_first_of(esc, index)) != std::wstring::npos; index += 2) {
        ws.insert(index, 1, L'\\');
    return ws;

Note that I didn't tested theses codes, but it should work :)



It isn't clear to me what part you want reviews to focus on. I'm not a C++ on Windows person so I can't say much about that part of things. Your C++ is nicely formatted. The main() function could be broken down more, but it is commented well enough that it wouldn't be a burden to maintain in the current state.


Perl - even on Windows - is something I can talk about...... and your Perl is in good shape too.

  • Absolutely have strict and warning pragmas, all the time, every day, for 99% of Perl, yes yes.
  • Good formatting.
  • Idiomatic use of die X unless Y. Your die messages are excellent as well.
  • Variables are localized! (There's nothing worse than 50k lines of perl and no localization)
  • Variables and subroutines are named in ways that are easy to follow. Thanks.
  • I like using scalars for filehandles also. I believe this is a Perl Best Practice now.

But - like everything - it could be better:

  • It is funny to me that you commented the C++ and not the Perl at all. Part of me takes this as a compliment to Perl's natural readability, but it still seems like you could comment a bit and not distract from the code.
  • The primary instance where missing comments slowed me down in reading this was in the variables. Your variables names are fine, but having a comment that uses slightly different words can help avoid ambiguities and confusion.
  • The next instance of where a comment would be great is explaining the "hanging" __DATA__ section. This looks really out of place, but your explanation above the code was perfect. Why not paste that into the code above the "hanging" __DATA__ section?

Beyond commentary on comments:

  • The way you slurp data in from the DATA filehandle definitely works I would encapsulate it into a sub or use File::Slurp itself. Hiding the implementation would make it slightly easier to follow the code.
  • my $out = q[]; isn't idiomatic Perl. I would recommend my $out = ''; which uses two single quotes instead of q[].
  • Your defined_and_nonempty is pretty similar to what Perl would give you for scalar($x). Do you care if $x == 0 that it evaluates false? Again the use of q[] feels a bit odd.

#undef NDEBUG needs to be done before the point at which you #include <cassert>.


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