I’m not complaining that it isn’t random enough (though it often isn’t). And rand() is convenient, so maybe if you are writing a 10 line guess-the-number program it will be the quickest way to get there. But beyond that, I would never use it.

The problem is that rand() is lying. It says, ‘Hey, call this function and you get a random number, no strings attached!’. And that’s just not the case. Instead, rand() generates pseudorandom numbers that depend on some hidden global state, which can be modified by any part of the program at any time.

Suppose one system is happily generating random numbers and another system comes along and calls srand() with some inappropriate parameter. Suddenly the numbers are not random anymore. Or suppose you are relying on getting a predetermined sequence from a fixed seed. Again, a call to srand() from outside will break it.

Or maybe you are happy with the behaviour of rand(), then you compile the program on another platform and it’s not random enough anymore because they used a different algorithm.

As always with program state, the best way is to make it explicit. A random number generator has state, so make it a class. There are many types of generator and they have different properties, so make the algorithm explicit too. If it’s a Mersenne Twister call it that.

Then you know who has access to it, you know it is properly initialised, and you know it isn’t going to change from one platform to another. In short, it does what it says. Which rand() doesn’t.

 

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