C++ Core Guidelines

February 6, 2017

Editors:

This document is a very early draft. It is inkorrekt, incompleat, and pµÃoorly formatted. Had it been an open source (code) project, this would have been release 0.7. Copying, use, modification, and creation of derivative works from this project is licensed under an MIT-style license. Contributing to this project requires agreeing to a Contributor License. See the accompanying LICENSE file for details. We make this project available to “friendly users” to use, copy, modify, and derive from, hoping for constructive input.

Comments and suggestions for improvements are most welcome. We plan to modify and extend this document as our understanding improves and the language and the set of available libraries improve. When commenting, please note the introduction that outlines our aims and general approach. The list of contributors is here.

Problems:

You can read an explanation of the scope and structure of this Guide or just jump straight in:

Supporting sections:

or look at a specific language feature

Definitions of terms used to express and discuss the rules, that are not language-technical, but refer to design and programming techniques

Abstract

This document is a set of guidelines for using C++ well. The aim of this document is to help people to use modern C++ effectively. By “modern C++” we mean C++11 and C++14 (and soon C++17). In other words, what would you like your code to look like in 5 years’ time, given that you can start now? In 10 years’ time?

The guidelines are focused on relatively higher-level issues, such as interfaces, resource management, memory management, and concurrency. Such rules affect application architecture and library design. Following the rules will lead to code that is statically type safe, has no resource leaks, and catches many more programming logic errors than is common in code today. And it will run fast – you can afford to do things right.

We are less concerned with low-level issues, such as naming conventions and indentation style. However, no topic that can help a programmer is out of bounds.

Our initial set of rules emphasizes safety (of various forms) and simplicity. They may very well be too strict. We expect to have to introduce more exceptions to better accommodate real-world needs. We also need more rules.

You will find some of the rules contrary to your expectations or even contrary to your experience. If we haven’t suggested you change your coding style in any way, we have failed! Please try to verify or disprove rules! In particular, we’d really like to have some of our rules backed up with measurements or better examples.

You will find some of the rules obvious or even trivial. Please remember that one purpose of a guideline is to help someone who is less experienced or coming from a different background or language to get up to speed.

Many of the rules are designed to be supported by an analysis tool. Violations of rules will be flagged with references (or links) to the relevant rule. We do not expect you to memorize all the rules before trying to write code. One way of thinking about these guidelines is as a specification for tools that happens to be readable by humans.

The rules are meant for gradual introduction into a code base. We plan to build tools for that and hope others will too.

Comments and suggestions for improvements are most welcome. We plan to modify and extend this document as our understanding improves and the language and the set of available libraries improve.

In: Introduction

This is a set of core guidelines for modern C++, C++14, taking likely future enhancements and ISO Technical Specifications (TSs) into account. The aim is to help C++ programmers to write simpler, more efficient, more maintainable code.

Introduction summary:

In.target: Target readership

All C++ programmers. This includes programmers who might consider C.

In.aims: Aims

The purpose of this document is to help developers to adopt modern C++ (C++11, C++14, and soon C++17) and to achieve a more uniform style across code bases.

We do not suffer the delusion that every one of these rules can be effectively applied to every code base. Upgrading old systems is hard. However, we do believe that a program that uses a rule is less error-prone and more maintainable than one that does not. Often, rules also lead to faster/easier initial development. As far as we can tell, these rules lead to code that performs as well or better than older, more conventional techniques; they are meant to follow the zero-overhead principle (“what you don’t use, you don’t pay for” or “when you use an abstraction mechanism appropriately, you get at least as good performance as if you had handcoded using lower-level language constructs”). Consider these rules ideals for new code, opportunities to exploit when working on older code, and try to approximate these ideals as closely as feasible. Remember:

In.0: Don’t panic!

Take the time to understand the implications of a guideline rule on your program.

These guidelines are designed according to the “subset of superset” principle (Stroustrup05). They do not simply define a subset of C++ to be used (for reliability, safety, performance, or whatever). Instead, they strongly recommend the use of a few simple “extensions” (library components) that make the use of the most error-prone features of C++ redundant, so that they can be banned (in our set of rules).

The rules emphasize static type safety and resource safety. For that reason, they emphasize possibilities for range checking, for avoiding dereferencing nullptr, for avoiding dangling pointers, and the systematic use of exceptions (via RAII). Partly to achieve that and partly to minimize obscure code as a source of errors, the rules also emphasize simplicity and the hiding of necessary complexity behind well-specified interfaces.

Many of the rules are prescriptive. We are uncomfortable with rules that simply state “don’t do that!” without offering an alternative. One consequence of that is that some rules can be supported only by heuristics, rather than precise and mechanically verifiable checks. Other rules articulate general principles. For these more general rules, more detailed and specific rules provide partial checking.

These guidelines address the core of C++ and its use. We expect that most large organizations, specific application areas, and even large projects will need further rules, possibly further restrictions, and further library support. For example, hard real-time programmers typically can’t use free store (dynamic memory) freely and will be restricted in their choice of libraries. We encourage the development of such more specific rules as addenda to these core guidelines. Build your ideal small foundation library and use that, rather than lowering your level of programming to glorified assembly code.

The rules are designed to allow gradual adoption.

Some rules aim to increase various forms of safety while others aim to reduce the likelihood of accidents, many do both. The guidelines aimed at preventing accidents often ban perfectly legal C++. However, when there are two ways of expressing an idea and one has shown itself a common source of errors and the other has not, we try to guide programmers towards the latter.

In.not: Non-aims

The rules are not intended to be minimal or orthogonal. In particular, general rules can be simple, but unenforceable. Also, it is often hard to understand the implications of a general rule. More specialized rules are often easier to understand and to enforce, but without general rules, they would just be a long list of special cases. We provide rules aimed at helping novices as well as rules supporting expert use. Some rules can be completely enforced, but others are based on heuristics.

These rules are not meant to be read serially, like a book. You can browse through them using the links. However, their main intended use is to be targets for tools. That is, a tool looks for violations and the tool returns links to violated rules. The rules then provide reasons, examples of potential consequences of the violation, and suggested remedies.

These guidelines are not intended to be a substitute for a tutorial treatment of C++. If you need a tutorial for some given level of experience, see the references.

This is not a guide on how to convert old C++ code to more modern code. It is meant to articulate ideas for new code in a concrete fashion. However, see the modernization section for some possible approaches to modernizing/rejuvenating/upgrading. Importantly, the rules support gradual adoption: It is typically infeasible to completely convert a large code base all at once.

These guidelines are not meant to be complete or exact in every language-technical detail. For the final word on language definition issues, including every exception to general rules and every feature, see the ISO C++ standard.

The rules are not intended to force you to write in an impoverished subset of C++. They are emphatically not meant to define a, say, Java-like subset of C++. They are not meant to define a single “one true C++” language. We value expressiveness and uncompromised performance.

The rules are not value-neutral. They are meant to make code simpler and more correct/safer than most existing C++ code, without loss of performance. They are meant to inhibit perfectly valid C++ code that correlates with errors, spurious complexity, and poor performance.

The rules are not perfect. A rule can do harm by prohibiting something that is useful in a given situation. A rule can do harm by failing to prohibit something that enables a serious error in a given situation. A rule can do a lot of harm by being vague, ambiguous, unenforceable, or by enabling every solution to a problem. It is impossible to completely meet the “do no harm” criteria. Instead, our aim is the less ambitious: “Do the most good for most programmers”; if you cannot live with a rule, object to it, ignore it, but don’t water it down until it becomes meaningless. Also, suggest an improvement.

In.force: Enforcement

Rules with no enforcement are unmanageable for large code bases. Enforcement of all rules is possible only for a small weak set of rules or for a specific user community.

So, we need subsetting to meet a variety of needs.

We want guidelines that help a lot of people, make code more uniform, and strongly encourage people to modernize their code. We want to encourage best practices, rather than leave all to individual choices and management pressures. The ideal is to use all rules; that gives the greatest benefits.

This adds up to quite a few dilemmas. We try to resolve those using tools. Each rule has an Enforcement section listing ideas for enforcement. Enforcement might be done by code review, by static analysis, by compiler, or by run-time checks. Wherever possible, we prefer “mechanical” checking (humans are slow, inaccurate, and bore easily) and static checking. Run-time checks are suggested only rarely where no alternative exists; we do not want to introduce “distributed fat”. Where appropriate, we label a rule (in the Enforcement sections) with the name of groups of related rules (called “profiles”). A rule can be part of several profiles, or none. For a start, we have a few profiles corresponding to common needs (desires, ideals):

The profiles are intended to be used by tools, but also serve as an aid to the human reader. We do not limit our comment in the Enforcement sections to things we know how to enforce; some comments are mere wishes that might inspire some tool builder.

Tools that implement these rules shall respect the following syntax to explicitly suppress a rule:

[[suppress(tag)]]

where “tag” is the anchor name of the item where the Enforcement rule appears (e.g., for C.134 it is “Rh-public”), the name of a profile group-of-rules (“type”, “bounds”, or “lifetime”), or a specific rule in a profile (type.4, or bounds.2).

In.struct: The structure of this document

Each rule (guideline, suggestion) can have several parts:

Some rules are hard to check mechanically, but they all meet the minimal criteria that an expert programmer can spot many violations without too much trouble. We hope that “mechanical” tools will improve with time to approximate what such an expert programmer notices. Also, we assume that the rules will be refined over time to make them more precise and checkable.

A rule is aimed at being simple, rather than carefully phrased to mention every alternative and special case. Such information is found in the Alternative paragraphs and the Discussion sections. If you don’t understand a rule or disagree with it, please visit its Discussion. If you feel that a discussion is missing or incomplete, enter an Issue explaining your concerns and possibly a corresponding PR.

This is not a language manual. It is meant to be helpful, rather than complete, fully accurate on technical details, or a guide to existing code. Recommended information sources can be found in the references.

In.sec: Major sections

Supporting sections:

These sections are not orthogonal.

Each section (e.g., “P” for “Philosophy”) and each subsection (e.g., “C.hier” for “Class Hierarchies (OOP)”) have an abbreviation for ease of searching and reference. The main section abbreviations are also used in rule numbers (e.g., “C.11” for “Make concrete types regular”).

P: Philosophy

The rules in this section are very general.

Philosophy rules summary:

Philosophical rules are generally not mechanically checkable. However, individual rules reflecting these philosophical themes are. Without a philosophical basis, the more concrete/specific/checkable rules lack rationale.

P.1: Express ideas directly in code

Reason

Compilers don’t read comments (or design documents) and neither do many programmers (consistently). What is expressed in code has defined semantics and can (in principle) be checked by compilers and other tools.

Example
class Date {
    // ...
public:
    Month month() const;  // do
    int month();          // don't
    // ...
};

The first declaration of month is explicit about returning a Month and about not modifying the state of the Date object. The second version leaves the reader guessing and opens more possibilities for uncaught bugs.

Example
void f(vector<string>& v)
{
    string val;
    cin >> val;
    // ...
    int index = -1;                    // bad
    for (int i = 0; i < v.size(); ++i)
        if (v[i] == val) {
            index = i;
            break;
        }
    // ...
}

That loop is a restricted form of std::find. A much clearer expression of intent would be:

void f(vector<string>& v)
{
    string val;
    cin >> val;
    // ...
    auto p = find(begin(v), end(v), val);  // better
    // ...
}

A well-designed library expresses intent (what is to be done, rather than just how something is being done) far better than direct use of language features.

A C++ programmer should know the basics of the standard library, and use it where appropriate. Any programmer should know the basics of the foundation libraries of the project being worked on, and use them appropriately. Any programmer using these guidelines should know the guideline support library, and use it appropriately.

Example
change_speed(double s);   // bad: what does s signify?
// ...
change_speed(2.3);

A better approach is to be explicit about the meaning of the double (new speed or delta on old speed?) and the unit used:

change_speed(Speed s);    // better: the meaning of s is specified
// ...
change_speed(2.3);        // error: no unit
change_speed(23m / 10s);  // meters per second

We could have accepted a plain (unit-less) double as a delta, but that would have been error-prone. If we wanted both absolute speed and deltas, we would have defined a Delta type.

Enforcement

Very hard in general.

P.2: Write in ISO Standard C++

Reason

This is a set of guidelines for writing ISO Standard C++.

Note

There are environments where extensions are necessary, e.g., to access system resources. In such cases, localize the use of necessary extensions and control their use with non-core Coding Guidelines. If possible, build interfaces that encapsulate the extensions so they can be turned off or compiled away on systems that do not support those extensions.

Extensions often do not have rigorously defined semantics. Even extensions that are common and implemented by multiple compilers may have slightly different behaviors and edge case behavior as a direct result of not having a rigorous standard definition. With sufficient use of any such extension, expected portability will be impacted.

Note

Using valid ISO C++ does not guarantee portability (let alone correctness). Avoid dependence on undefined behavior (e.g., undefined order of evaluation) and be aware of constructs with implementation defined meaning (e.g., sizeof(int)).

Note

There are environments where restrictions on use of standard C++ language or library features are necessary, e.g., to avoid dynamic memory allocation as required by aircraft control software standards. In such cases, control their (dis)use with an extension of these Coding Guidelines customized to the specific environment.

Enforcement

Use an up-to-date C++ compiler (currently C++11 or C++14) with a set of options that do not accept extensions.

P.3: Express intent

Reason

Unless the intent of some code is stated (e.g., in names or comments), it is impossible to tell whether the code does what it is supposed to do.

Example
int i = 0;
while (i < v.size()) {
    // ... do something with v[i] ...
}

The intent of “just” looping over the elements of v is not expressed here. The implementation detail of an index is exposed (so that it might be misused), and i outlives the scope of the loop, which may or may not be intended. The reader cannot know from just this section of code.

Better:

for (const auto& x : v) { /* do something with x */ }

Now, there is no explicit mention of the iteration mechanism, and the loop operates on a reference to const elements so that accidental modification cannot happen. If modification is desired, say so:

for (auto& x : v) { /* do something with x */ }

Sometimes better still, use a named algorithm:

for_each(v, [](int x) { /* do something with x */ });
for_each(par, v, [](int x) { /* do something with x */ });

The last variant makes it clear that we are not interested in the order in which the elements of v are handled.

A programmer should be familiar with

Note

Alternative formulation: Say what should be done, rather than just how it should be done.

Note

Some language constructs express intent better than others.

Example

If two ints are meant to be the coordinates of a 2D point, say so:

draw_line(int, int, int, int);  // obscure
draw_line(Point, Point);        // clearer
Enforcement

Look for common patterns for which there are better alternatives

There is a huge scope for cleverness and semi-automated program transformation.

P.4: Ideally, a program should be statically type safe

Reason

Ideally, a program would be completely statically (compile-time) type safe. Unfortunately, that is not possible. Problem areas:

Note

These areas are sources of serious problems (e.g., crashes and security violations). We try to provide alternative techniques.

Enforcement

We can ban, restrain, or detect the individual problem categories separately, as required and feasible for individual programs. Always suggest an alternative. For example:

P.5: Prefer compile-time checking to run-time checking

Reason

Code clarity and performance. You don’t need to write error handlers for errors caught at compile time.

Example
// Int is an alias used for integers
int bits = 0;         // don't: avoidable code
for (Int i = 1; i; i <<= 1)
    ++bits;
if (bits < 32)
    cerr << "Int too small\n"

This example is easily simplified

// Int is an alias used for integers
static_assert(sizeof(Int) >= 4);    // do: compile-time check
Example
void read(int* p, int n);   // read max n integers into *p

int a[100];
read(a, 1000);    // bad

better

void read(span<int> r); // read into the range of integers r

int a[100];
read(a);        // better: let the compiler figure out the number of elements

Alternative formulation: Don’t postpone to run time what can be done well at compile time.

Enforcement

P.6: What cannot be checked at compile time should be checkable at run time

Reason

Leaving hard-to-detect errors in a program is asking for crashes and bad results.

Note

Ideally, we catch all errors (that are not errors in the programmer’s logic) at either compile-time or run-time. It is impossible to catch all errors at compile time and often not affordable to catch all remaining errors at run-time. However, we should endeavor to write programs that in principle can be checked, given sufficient resources (analysis programs, run-time checks, machine resources, time).

Example, bad
// separately compiled, possibly dynamically loaded
extern void f(int* p);

void g(int n)
{
    // bad: the number of elements is not passed to f()
    f(new int[n]);
}

Here, a crucial bit of information (the number of elements) has been so thoroughly “obscured” that static analysis is probably rendered infeasible and dynamic checking can be very difficult when f() is part of an ABI so that we cannot “instrument” that pointer. We could embed helpful information into the free store, but that requires global changes to a system and maybe to the compiler. What we have here is a design that makes error detection very hard.

Example, bad

We can of course pass the number of elements along with the pointer:

// separately compiled, possibly dynamically loaded
extern void f2(int* p, int n);

void g2(int n)
{
    f2(new int[n], m);  // bad: a wrong number of elements can be passed to f()
}

Passing the number of elements as an argument is better (and far more common) than just passing the pointer and relying on some (unstated) convention for knowing or discovering the number of elements. However (as shown), a simple typo can introduce a serious error. The connection between the two arguments of f2() is conventional, rather than explicit.

Also, it is implicit that f2() is supposed to delete its argument (or did the caller make a second mistake?).

Example, bad

The standard library resource management pointers fail to pass the size when they point to an object:

// separately compiled, possibly dynamically loaded
// NB: this assumes the calling code is ABI-compatible, using a
// compatible C++ compiler and the same stdlib implementation
extern void f3(unique_ptr<int[]>, int n);

void g3(int n)
{
    f3(make_unique<int[]>(n), m);    // bad: pass ownership and size separately
}
Example

We need to pass the pointer and the number of elements as an integral object:

extern void f4(vector<int>&);   // separately compiled, possibly dynamically loaded
extern void f4(span<int>);      // separately compiled, possibly dynamically loaded
                                // NB: this assumes the calling code is ABI-compatible, using a
                                // compatible C++ compiler and the same stdlib implementation

void g3(int n)
{
    vector<int> v(n);
    f4(v);                     // pass a reference, retain ownership
    f4(span<int>{v});          // pass a view, retain ownership
}

This design carries the number of elements along as an integral part of an object, so that errors are unlikely and dynamic (run-time) checking is always feasible, if not always affordable.

Example

How do we transfer both ownership and all information needed for validating use?

vector<int> f5(int n)    // OK: move
{
    vector<int> v(n);
    // ... initialize v ...
    return v;
}

unique_ptr<int[]> f6(int n)    // bad: loses n
{
    auto p = make_unique<int[]>(n);
    // ... initialize *p ...
    return p;
}

owner<int*> f7(int n)    // bad: loses n and we might forget to delete
{
    owner<int*> p = new int[n];
    // ... initialize *p ...
    return p;
}
Example
Enforcement

P.7: Catch run-time errors early

Reason

Avoid “mysterious” crashes. Avoid errors leading to (possibly unrecognized) wrong results.

Example
void increment1(int* p, int n)    // bad: error prone
{
    for (int i = 0; i < n; ++i) ++p[i];
}

void use1(int m)
{
    const int n = 10;
    int a[n] = {};
    // ...
    increment1(a, m);   // maybe typo, maybe m <= n is supposed
                        // but assume that m == 20
    // ...
}

Here we made a small error in use1 that will lead to corrupted data or a crash. The (pointer, count)-style interface leaves increment1() with no realistic way of defending itself against out-of-range errors. If we could check subscripts for out of range access, then the error would not be discovered until p[10] was accessed. We could check earlier and improve the code:

void increment2(span<int> p)
{
    for (int& x : p) ++x;
}

void use2(int m)
{
    const int n = 10;
    int a[n] = {};
    // ...
    increment2({a, m});    // maybe typo, maybe m <= n is supposed
    // ...
}

Now, m<=n can be checked at the point of call (early) rather than later. If all we had was a typo so that we meant to use n as the bound, the code could be further simplified (eliminating the possibility of an error):

void use3(int m)
{
    const int n = 10;
    int a[n] = {};
    // ...
    increment2(a);   // the number of elements of a need not be repeated
    // ...
}
Example, bad

Don’t repeatedly check the same value. Don’t pass structured data as strings:

Date read_date(istream& is);    // read date from istream

Date extract_date(const string& s);    // extract date from string

void user1(const string& date)    // manipulate date
{
    auto d = extract_date(date);
    // ...
}

void user2()
{
    Date d = read_date(cin);
    // ...
    user1(d.to_string());
    // ...
}

The date is validated twice (by the Date constructor) and passed as a character string (unstructured data).

Example

Excess checking can be costly. There are cases where checking early is dumb because you may not ever need the value, or may only need part of the value that is more easily checked than the whole. Similarly, don’t add validity checks that change the asymptotic behavior of your interface (e.g., don’t add a O(n) check to an interface with an average complexity of O(1)).

class Jet {    // Physics says: e * e < x * x + y * y + z * z
    float x;
    float y;
    float z;
    float e;
public:
    Jet(float x, float y, float z, float e)
        :x(x), y(y), z(z), e(e)
    {
        // Should I check here that the values are physically meaningful?
    }

    float m() const
    {
        // Should I handle the degenerate case here?
        return sqrt(x * x + y * y + z * z - e * e);
    }

    ???
};

The physical law for a jet (e * e < x * x + y * y + z * z) is not an invariant because of the possibility for measurement errors.

???

Enforcement

P.8: Don’t leak any resources

Reason

Even a slow growth in resources will, over time, exhaust the availability of those resources. This is particularly important for long-running programs, but is an essential piece of responsible programming behavior.

Example, bad
void f(char* name)
{
    FILE* input = fopen(name, "r");
    // ...
    if (something) return;   // bad: if something == true, a file handle is leaked
    // ...
    fclose(input);
}

Prefer RAII:

void f(char* name)
{
    ifstream input {name};
    // ...
    if (something) return;   // OK: no leak
    // ...
}

See also: The resource management section

Note

A leak is colloquially “anything that isn’t cleaned up.” The more important classification is “anything that can no longer be cleaned up.” For example, allocating an object on the heap and then losing the last pointer that points to that allocation. This rule should not be taken as requiring that allocations within long-lived objects must be returned during program shutdown. For example, relying on system guaranteed cleanup such as file closing and memory deallocation upon process shutdown can simplify code. However, relying on abstractions that implicitly clean up can be as simple, and often safer.

Note

Enforcing the lifetime profile eliminates leaks. When combined with resource safety provided by RAII, it eliminates the need for “garbage collection” (by generating no garbage). Combine this with enforcement of the type and bounds profiles and you get complete type- and resource-safety, guaranteed by tools.

Enforcement

P.9: Don’t waste time or space

Reason

This is C++.

Note

Time and space that you spend well to achieve a goal (e.g., speed of development, resource safety, or simplification of testing) is not wasted. “Another benefit of striving for efficiency is that the process forces you to understand the problem in more depth.” - Alex Stepanov

Example, bad
struct X {
    char ch;
    int i;
    string s;
    char ch2;

    X& operator=(const X& a);
    X(const X&);
};

X waste(const char* p)
{
    if (p == nullptr) throw Nullptr_error{};
    int n = strlen(p);
    auto buf = new char[n];
    if (buf == nullptr) throw Allocation_error{};
    for (int i = 0; i < n; ++i) buf[i] = p[i];
    // ... manipulate buffer ...
    X x;
    x.ch = 'a';
    x.s = string(n);    // give x.s space for *p
    for (int i = 0; i < x.s.size(); ++i) x.s[i] = buf[i];  // copy buf into x.s
    delete buf;
    return x;
}

void driver()
{
    X x = waste("Typical argument");
    // ...
}

Yes, this is a caricature, but we have seen every individual mistake in production code, and worse. Note that the layout of X guarantees that at least 6 bytes (and most likely more) are wasted. The spurious definition of copy operations disables move semantics so that the return operation is slow (please note that the Return Value Optimization, RVO, is not guaranteed here). The use of new and delete for buf is redundant; if we really needed a local string, we should use a local string. There are several more performance bugs and gratuitous complication.

Example, bad
void lower(zstring s)
{
    for (int i = 0; i < strlen(s); ++i) s[i] = tolower(s[i]);
}

Yes, this is an example from production code. We leave it to the reader to figure out what’s wasted.

Note

An individual example of waste is rarely significant, and where it is significant, it is typically easily eliminated by an expert. However, waste spread liberally across a code base can easily be significant and experts are not always as available as we would like. The aim of this rule (and the more specific rules that support it) is to eliminate most waste related to the use of C++ before it happens. After that, we can look at waste related to algorithms and requirements, but that is beyond the scope of these guidelines.

Enforcement

Many more specific rules aim at the overall goals of simplicity and elimination of gratuitous waste.

P.10: Prefer immutable data to mutable data

Reason

It is easier to reason about constants than about variables. Something immutable cannot change unexpectedly. Sometimes immutability enables better optimization. You can’t have a data race on a constant.

See Con: Constants and Immutability

P.11: Encapsulate messy constructs, rather than spreading through the code

Reason

Messy code is more likely to hide bugs and harder to write. A good interface is easier and safer to use. Messy, low-level code breeds more such code.

Example
int sz = 100;
int* p = (int*) malloc(sizeof(int) * sz);
int count = 0;
// ...
for (;;) {
    // ... read an int into x, exit loop if end of file is reached ...
    // ... check that x is valid ...
    if (count == sz)
        p = (int*) realloc(p, sizeof(int) * sz * 2);
    p[count++] = x;
    // ...
}

This is low-level, verbose, and error-prone. For example, we “forgot” to test for memory exhaustion. Instead, we could use vector:

vector<int> v;
v.reserve(100);
// ...
for (int x; cin >> x; ) {
    // ... check that x is valid ...
    v.push_back(x);
}
Note

The standards library and the GSL are examples of this philosophy. For example, instead of messing with the arrays, unions, cast, tricky lifetime issues, gsl::owner, etc. that are needed to implement key abstractions, such as vector, span, lock_guard, and future, we use the libraries designed and implemented by people with more time and expertise than we usually have. Similarly, we can and should design and implement more specialized libraries, rather than leaving the users (often ourselves) with the challenge of repeatedly getting low-level code well. This is a variant of the subset of superset principle that underlies these guidelines.

Enforcement

I: Interfaces

An interface is a contract between two parts of a program. Precisely stating what is expected of a supplier of a service and a user of that service is essential. Having good (easy-to-understand, encouraging efficient use, not error-prone, supporting testing, etc.) interfaces is probably the most important single aspect of code organization.

Interface rule summary:

See also

I.1: Make interfaces explicit

Reason

Correctness. Assumptions not stated in an interface are easily overlooked and hard to test.

Example, bad

Controlling the behavior of a function through a global (namespace scope) variable (a call mode) is implicit and potentially confusing. For example:

int rnd(double d)
{
    return (rnd_up) ? ceil(d) : d;    // don't: "invisible" dependency
}

It will not be obvious to a caller that the meaning of two calls of rnd(7.2) might give different results.

Exception

Sometimes we control the details of a set of operations by an environment variable, e.g., normal vs. verbose output or debug vs. optimized. The use of a non-local control is potentially confusing, but controls only implementation details of otherwise fixed semantics.

Example, bad

Reporting through non-local variables (e.g., errno) is easily ignored. For example:

// don't: no test of printf's return value
fprintf(connection, "logging: %d %d %d\n", x, y, s);

What if the connection goes down so that no logging output is produced? See I.??.

Alternative: Throw an exception. An exception cannot be ignored.

Alternative formulation: Avoid passing information across an interface through non-local or implicit state. Note that non-const member functions pass information to other member functions through their object’s state.

Alternative formulation: An interface should be a function or a set of functions. Functions can be template functions and sets of functions can be classes or class templates.

Enforcement

I.2 Avoid global variables

Reason

Non-const global variables hide dependencies and make the dependencies subject to unpredictable changes.

Example
struct Data {
    // ... lots of stuff ...
} data;            // non-const data

void compute()     // don't
{
    // ... use data ...
}

void output()     // don't
{
    // ... use data ...
}

Who else might modify data?

Note

Global constants are useful.

Note

The rule against global variables applies to namespace scope variables as well.

Alternative: If you use global (more generally namespace scope) data to avoid copying, consider passing the data as an object by reference to const. Another solution is to define the data as the state of some object and the operations as member functions.

Warning: Beware of data races: If one thread can access nonlocal data (or data passed by reference) while another thread executes the callee, we can have a data race. Every pointer or reference to mutable data is a potential data race.

Note

You cannot have a race condition on immutable data.

References: See the rules for calling functions.

Enforcement

(Simple) Report all non-const variables declared at namespace scope.

I.3: Avoid singletons

Reason

Singletons are basically complicated global objects in disguise.

Example
class Singleton {
    // ... lots of stuff to ensure that only one Singleton object is created,
    // that it is initialized properly, etc.
};

There are many variants of the singleton idea. That’s part of the problem.

Note

If you don’t want a global object to change, declare it const or constexpr.

Exception

You can use the simplest “singleton” (so simple that it is often not considered a singleton) to get initialization on first use, if any:

X& myX()
{
    static X my_x {3};
    return my_x;
}

This is one of the most effective solutions to problems related to initialization order. In a multi-threaded environment, the initialization of the static object does not introduce a race condition (unless you carelessly access a shared object from within its constructor).

Note that the initialization of a local static does not imply a race condition. However, if the destruction of X involves an operation that needs to be synchronized we must use a less simple solution. For example:

X& myX()
{
    static auto p = new X {3};
    return *p;  // potential leak
}

Now someone must delete that object in some suitably thread-safe way. That’s error-prone, so we don’t use that technique unless

If you, as many do, define a singleton as a class for which only one object is created, functions like myX are not singletons, and this useful technique is not an exception to the no-singleton rule.

Enforcement

Very hard in general.

I.4: Make interfaces precisely and strongly typed

Reason

Types are the simplest and best documentation, have well-defined meaning, and are guaranteed to be checked at compile time. Also, precisely typed code is often optimized better.

Example, don’t

Consider:

void pass(void* data);    // void* is suspicious

Now the callee must cast the data pointer (back) to a correct type to use it. That is error-prone and often verbose. Avoid void*, especially in interfaces. Consider using a variant or a pointer to base instead.

Alternative: Often, a template parameter can eliminate the void* turning it into a T* or T&. For generic code these Ts can be general or concept constrained template parameters.

Example, bad

Consider:

void draw_rect(int, int, int, int);   // great opportunities for mistakes

draw_rect(p.x, p.y, 10, 20);          // what does 10, 20 mean?

An int can carry arbitrary forms of information, so we must guess about the meaning of the four ints. Most likely, the first two are an x,y coordinate pair, but what are the last two? Comments and parameter names can help, but we could be explicit:

void draw_rectangle(Point top_left, Point bottom_right);
void draw_rectangle(Point top_left, Size height_width);

draw_rectangle(p, Point{10, 20});  // two corners
draw_rectangle(p, Size{10, 20});   // one corner and a (height, width) pair

Obviously, we cannot catch all errors through the static type system (e.g., the fact that a first argument is supposed to be a top-left point is left to convention (naming and comments)).

Example, bad

In the following example, it is not clear from the interface what time_to_blink means: Seconds? Milliseconds?

void blink_led(int time_to_blink) // bad -- the unit is ambiguous
{
    // ...
    // do something with time_to_blink
    // ...
}

void use()
{
    blink_led(2);
}
Example, good

std::chrono::duration types (C++11) helps making the unit of time duration explicit.

void blink_led(milliseconds time_to_blink) // good -- the unit is explicit
{
    // ...
    // do something with time_to_blink
    // ...
}

void use()
{
    blink_led(1500ms);
}

The function can also be written in such a way that it will accept any time duration unit.

template<class rep, class period>
void blink_led(duration<rep, period> time_to_blink) // good -- accepts any unit
{
    // assuming that millisecond is the smallest relevant unit
    auto milliseconds_to_blink = duration_cast<milliseconds>(time_to_blink);
    // ...
    // do something with milliseconds_to_blink
    // ...
}

void use()
{
    blink_led(2s);
    blink_led(1500ms);
}
Enforcement

I.5: State preconditions (if any)

Reason

Arguments have meaning that may constrain their proper use in the callee.

Example

Consider:

double sqrt(double x);

Here x must be nonnegative. The type system cannot (easily and naturally) express that, so we must use other means. For example:

double sqrt(double x); // x must be nonnegative

Some preconditions can be expressed as assertions. For example:

double sqrt(double x) { Expects(x >= 0); /* ... */ }

Ideally, that Expects(x >= 0) should be part of the interface of sqrt() but that’s not easily done. For now, we place it in the definition (function body).

References: Expects() is described in GSL.

Note

Prefer a formal specification of requirements, such as Expects(p != nullptr);. If that is infeasible, use English text in comments, such as // the sequence [p:q) is ordered using <.

Note

Most member functions have as a precondition that some class invariant holds. That invariant is established by a constructor and must be reestablished upon exit by every member function called from outside the class. We don’t need to mention it for each member function.

Enforcement

(Not enforceable)

See also: The rules for passing pointers. ???

I.6: Prefer Expects() for expressing preconditions

Reason

To make it clear that the condition is a precondition and to enable tool use.

Example
int area(int height, int width)
{
    Expects(height > 0 && width > 0);            // good
    if (height <= 0 || width <= 0) my_error();   // obscure
    // ...
}
Note

Preconditions can be stated in many ways, including comments, if-statements, and assert(). This can make them hard to distinguish from ordinary code, hard to update, hard to manipulate by tools, and may have the wrong semantics (do you always want to abort in debug mode and check nothing in productions runs?).

Note

Preconditions should be part of the interface rather than part of the implementation, but we don’t yet have the language facilities to do that. Once language support becomes available (e.g., see the contract proposal) we will adopt the standard version of preconditions, postconditions, and assertions.

Note

Expects() can also be used to check a condition in the middle of an algorithm.

Enforcement

(Not enforceable) Finding the variety of ways preconditions can be asserted is not feasible. Warning about those that can be easily identified (assert()) has questionable value in the absence of a language facility.

I.7: State postconditions

Reason

To detect misunderstandings about the result and possibly catch erroneous implementations.

Example, bad

Consider:

int area(int height, int width) { return height * width; }  // bad

Here, we (incautiously) left out the precondition specification, so it is not explicit that height and width must be positive. We also left out the postcondition specification, so it is not obvious that the algorithm (height * width) is wrong for areas larger than the largest integer. Overflow can happen. Consider using:

int area(int height, int width)
{
    auto res = height * width;
    Ensures(res > 0);
    return res;
}
Example, bad

Consider a famous security bug:

void f()    // problematic
{
    char buffer[MAX];
    // ...
    memset(buffer, 0, MAX);
}

There was no postcondition stating that the buffer should be cleared and the optimizer eliminated the apparently redundant memset() call:

void f()    // better
{
    char buffer[MAX];
    // ...
    memset(buffer, 0, MAX);
    Ensures(buffer[0] == 0);
}
Note

Postconditions are often informally stated in a comment that states the purpose of a function; Ensures() can be used to make this more systematic, visible, and checkable.

Note

Postconditions are especially important when they relate to something that is not directly reflected in a returned result, such as a state of a data structure used.

Example

Consider a function that manipulates a Record, using a mutex to avoid race conditions:

mutex m;

void manipulate(Record& r)    // don't
{
    m.lock();
    // ... no m.unlock() ...
}

Here, we “forgot” to state that the mutex should be released, so we don’t know if the failure to ensure release of the mutex was a bug or a feature. Stating the postcondition would have made it clear:

void manipulate(Record& r)    // postcondition: m is unlocked upon exit
{
    m.lock();
    // ... no m.unlock() ...
}

The bug is now obvious (but only to a human reading comments).

Better still, use RAII to ensure that the postcondition (“the lock must be released”) is enforced in code:

void manipulate(Record& r)    // best
{
    lock_guard<mutex> _ {m};
    // ...
}
Note

Ideally, postconditions are stated in the interface/declaration so that users can easily see them. Only postconditions related to the users can be stated in the interface. Postconditions related only to internal state belongs in the definition/implementation.

Enforcement

(Not enforceable) This is a philosophical guideline that is infeasible to check directly in the general case. Domain specific checkers (like lock-holding checkers) exist for many toolchains.

I.8: Prefer Ensures() for expressing postconditions

Reason

To make it clear that the condition is a postcondition and to enable tool use.

Example
void f()
{
    char buffer[MAX];
    // ...
    memset(buffer, 0, MAX);
    Ensures(buffer[0] == 0);
}
Note

Postconditions can be stated in many ways, including comments, if-statements, and assert(). This can make them hard to distinguish from ordinary code, hard to update, hard to manipulate by tools, and may have the wrong semantics.

Alternative: Postconditions of the form “this resource must be released” are best expressed by RAII.

Note

Ideally, that Ensures should be part of the interface, but that’s not easily done. For now, we place it in the definition (function body). Once language support becomes available (e.g., see the contract proposal) we will adopt the standard version of preconditions, postconditions, and assertions.

Enforcement

(Not enforceable) Finding the variety of ways postconditions can be asserted is not feasible. Warning about those that can be easily identified (assert()) has questionable value in the absence of a language facility.

I.9: If an interface is a template, document its parameters using concepts

Reason

Make the interface precisely specified and compile-time checkable in the (not so distant) future.

Example

Use the ISO Concepts TS style of requirements specification. For example:

template<typename Iter, typename Val>
// requires InputIterator<Iter> && EqualityComparable<ValueType<Iter>>, Val>
Iter find(Iter first, Iter last, Val v)
{
    // ...
}
Note

Soon (maybe in 2017), most compilers will be able to check requires clauses once the // is removed. For now, the concept TS is supported only in GCC 6.1.

See also: Generic programming and concepts.

Enforcement

(Not yet enforceable) A language facility is under specification. When the language facility is available, warn if any non-variadic template parameter is not constrained by a concept (in its declaration or mentioned in a requires clause).

I.10: Use exceptions to signal a failure to perform a required task

Reason

It should not be possible to ignore an error because that could leave the system or a computation in an undefined (or unexpected) state. This is a major source of errors.

Example
int printf(const char* ...);    // bad: return negative number if output fails

template <class F, class ...Args>
// good: throw system_error if unable to start the new thread
explicit thread(F&& f, Args&&... args);
Note

What is an error?

An error means that the function cannot achieve its advertised purpose (including establishing postconditions). Calling code that ignores an error could lead to wrong results or undefined systems state. For example, not being able to connect to a remote server is not by itself an error: the server can refuse a connection for all kinds of reasons, so the natural thing is to return a result that the caller should always check. However, if failing to make a connection is considered an error, then a failure should throw an exception.

Exception

Many traditional interface functions (e.g., UNIX signal handlers) use error codes (e.g., errno) to report what are really status codes, rather than errors. You don’t have a good alternative to using such, so calling these does not violate the rule.

Alternative

If you can’t use exceptions (e.g. because your code is full of old-style raw-pointer use or because there are hard-real-time constraints), consider using a style that returns a pair of values:

int val;
int error_code;
tie(val, error_code) = do_something();
if (error_code == 0) {
    // ... handle the error or exit ...
}
// ... use val ...

This style unfortunately leads to uninitialized variables. A facility structured bindings to deal with that will become available in C++17.

[val, error_code] = do_something();
if (error_code == 0) {
    // ... handle the error or exit ...
}
// ... use val ...
Note

We don’t consider “performance” a valid reason not to use exceptions.

See also: I.5 and I.7 for reporting precondition and postcondition violations.

Enforcement

I.11: Never transfer ownership by a raw pointer (T*)

Reason

If there is any doubt whether the caller or the callee owns an object, leaks or premature destruction will occur.

Example

Consider:

X* compute(args)    // don't
{
    X* res = new X{};
    // ...
    return res;
}

Who deletes the returned X? The problem would be harder to spot if compute returned a reference. Consider returning the result by value (use move semantics if the result is large):

vector<double> compute(args)  // good
{
    vector<double> res(10000);
    // ...
    return res;
}

Alternative: Pass ownership using a “smart pointer”, such as unique_ptr (for exclusive ownership) and shared_ptr (for shared ownership). However, that is less elegant and less efficient unless reference semantics are needed.

Alternative: Sometimes older code can’t be modified because of ABI compatibility requirements or lack of resources. In that case, mark owning pointers using owner from the guideline support library:

owner<X*> compute(args)    // It is now clear that ownership is transferred
{
    owner<X*> res = new X{};
    // ...
    return res;
}

This tells analysis tools that res is an owner. That is, its value must be deleted or transferred to another owner, as is done here by the return.

owner is used similarly in the implementation of resource handles.

Note

Every object passed as a raw pointer (or iterator) is assumed to be owned by the caller, so that its lifetime is handled by the caller. Viewed another way: ownership transferring APIs are relatively rare compared to pointer-passing APIs, so the default is “no ownership transfer.”

See also: Argument passing and value return.

Enforcement

I.12: Declare a pointer that must not be null as not_null

Reason

To help avoid dereferencing nullptr errors. To improve performance by avoiding redundant checks for nullptr.

Example
int length(const char* p);            // it is not clear whether length(nullptr) is valid

length(nullptr);                      // OK?

int length(not_null<const char*> p);  // better: we can assume that p cannot be nullptr

int length(const char* p);            // we must assume that p can be nullptr

By stating the intent in source, implementers and tools can provide better diagnostics, such as finding some classes of errors through static analysis, and perform optimizations, such as removing branches and null tests.

Note

not_null is defined in the guideline support library.

Note

The assumption that the pointer to char pointed to a C-style string (a zero-terminated string of characters) was still implicit, and a potential source of confusion and errors. Use czstring in preference to const char*.

// we can assume that p cannot be nullptr
// we can assume that p points to a zero-terminated array of characters
int length(not_null<zstring> p);

Note: length() is, of course, std::strlen() in disguise.

Enforcement

I.13: Do not pass an array as a single pointer

Reason

(pointer, size)-style interfaces are error-prone. Also, a plain pointer (to array) must rely on some convention to allow the callee to determine the size.

Example

Consider:

void copy_n(const T* p, T* q, int n); // copy from [p:p+n) to [q:q+n)

What if there are fewer than n elements in the array pointed to by q? Then, we overwrite some probably unrelated memory. What if there are fewer than n elements in the array pointed to by p? Then, we read some probably unrelated memory. Either is undefined behavior and a potentially very nasty bug.

Alternative

Consider using explicit spans:

void copy(span<const T> r, span<T> r2); // copy r to r2
Example, bad

Consider:

void draw(Shape* p, int n);  // poor interface; poor code
Circle arr[10];
// ...
draw(arr, 10);

Passing 10 as the n argument may be a mistake: the most common convention is to assume [0:n) but that is nowhere stated. Worse is that the call of draw() compiled at all: there was an implicit conversion from array to pointer (array decay) and then another implicit conversion from Circle to Shape. There is no way that draw() can safely iterate through that array: it has no way of knowing the size of the elements.

Alternative: Use a support class that ensures that the number of elements is correct and prevents dangerous implicit conversions. For example:

void draw2(span<Circle>);
Circle arr[10];
// ...
draw2(span<Circle>(arr));  // deduce the number of elements
draw2(arr);    // deduce the element type and array size

void draw3(span<Shape>);
draw3(arr);    // error: cannot convert Circle[10] to span<Shape>

This draw2() passes the same amount of information to draw(), but makes the fact that it is supposed to be a range of Circles explicit. See ???.

Exception

Use zstring and czstring to represent a C-style, zero-terminated strings. But when doing so, use string_span from the GSL to prevent range errors.

Enforcement

I.22: Avoid complex initialization of global objects

Reason

Complex initialization can lead to undefined order of execution.

Example
// file1.c

extern const X x;

const Y y = f(x);   // read x; write y

// file2.c

extern const Y y;

const X x = g(y);   // read y; write x

Since x and y are in different translation units the order of calls to f() and g() is undefined; one will access an uninitialized const. This shows that the order-of-initialization problem for global (namespace scope) objects is not limited to global variables.

Note

Order of initialization problems become particularly difficult to handle in concurrent code. It is usually best to avoid global (namespace scope) objects altogether.

Enforcement

I.23: Keep the number of function arguments low

Reason

Having many arguments opens opportunities for confusion. Passing lots of arguments is often costly compared to alternatives.

Example

The standard-library merge() is at the limit of what we can comfortably handle

template<class InputIterator1, class InputIterator2, class OutputIterator, class Compare>
OutputIterator merge(InputIterator1 first1, InputIterator1 last1,
                     InputIterator2 first2, InputIterator2 last2,
                     OutputIterator result, Compare comp);

Here, we have four template arguments and six function arguments. To simplify the most frequent and simplest uses, the comparison argument can be defaulted to <:

template<class InputIterator1, class InputIterator2, class OutputIterator>
OutputIterator merge(InputIterator1 first1, InputIterator1 last1,
                     InputIterator2 first2, InputIterator2 last2,
                     OutputIterator result);

This doesn’t reduce the total complexity, but it reduces the surface complexity presented to many users. To really reduce the number of arguments, we need to bundle the arguments into higher-level abstractions:

template<class InputRange1, class InputRange2, class OutputIterator>
OutputIterator merge(InputRange1 r1, InputRange2 r2, OutputIterator result);

Grouping arguments into “bundles” is a general technique to reduce the number of arguments and to increase the opportunities for checking.

Alternatively, we could use concepts (as defined by the ISO TS) to define the notion of three types that must be usable for merging:

Mergeable{In1 In2, Out}
OutputIterator merge(In1 r1, In2 r2, Out result);
Note

How many arguments are too many? Try to use less than Four arguments. There are functions that are best expressed with four individual arguments, but not many.

Alternative: Group arguments into meaningful objects and pass the objects (by value or by reference).

Alternative: Use default arguments or overloads to allow the most common forms of calls to be done with fewer arguments.

Enforcement

I.24: Avoid adjacent unrelated parameters of the same type

Reason

Adjacent arguments of the same type are easily swapped by mistake.

Example, bad

Consider:

void copy_n(T* p, T* q, int n);  // copy from [p:p+n) to [q:q+n)

This is a nasty variant of a K&R C-style interface. It is easy to reverse the “to” and “from” arguments.

Use const for the “from” argument:

void copy_n(const T* p, T* q, int n);  // copy from [p:p+n) to [q:q+n)
Exception

If the order of the parameters is not important, there is no problem:

int max(int a, int b);
Alternative

Don’t pass arrays as pointers, pass an object representing a range (e.g., a span):

void copy_n(span<const T> p, span<T> q);  // copy from p to q
Alternative

Define a struct as the parameter type and name the fields for those parameters accordingly:

struct SystemParams {
    string config_file;
    string output_path;
    seconds timeout;
};
void initialize(SystemParams p);

This tends to make invocations of this clear to future readers, as the parameters are often filled in by name at the call site.

Enforcement

(Simple) Warn if two consecutive parameters share the same type.

I.25: Prefer abstract classes as interfaces to class hierarchies

Reason

Abstract classes are more likely to be stable than base classes with state.

Example, bad

You just knew that Shape would turn up somewhere :-)

class Shape {  // bad: interface class loaded with data
public:
    Point center() const { return c; }
    virtual void draw() const;
    virtual void rotate(int);
    // ...
private:
    Point c;
    vector<Point> outline;
    Color col;
};

This will force every derived class to compute a center – even if that’s non-trivial and the center is never used. Similarly, not every Shape has a Color, and many Shapes are best represented without an outline defined as a sequence of Points. Abstract classes were invented to discourage users from writing such classes:

class Shape {    // better: Shape is a pure interface
public:
    virtual Point center() const = 0;   // pure virtual function
    virtual void draw() const = 0;
    virtual void rotate(int) = 0;
    // ...
    // ... no data members ...
};
Enforcement

(Simple) Warn if a pointer/reference to a class C is assigned to a pointer/reference to a base of C and the base class contains data members.

I.26: If you want a cross-compiler ABI, use a C-style subset

Reason

Different compilers implement different binary layouts for classes, exception handling, function names, and other implementation details.

Exception

You can carefully craft an interface using a few carefully selected higher-level C++ types. See ???.

Exception

Common ABIs are emerging on some platforms freeing you from the more draconian restrictions.

Note

If you use a single compiler, you can use full C++ in interfaces. That may require recompilation after an upgrade to a new compiler version.

Enforcement

(Not enforceable) It is difficult to reliably identify where an interface forms part of an ABI.

F: Functions

A function specifies an action or a computation that takes the system from one consistent state to the next. It is the fundamental building block of programs.

It should be possible to name a function meaningfully, to specify the requirements of its argument, and clearly state the relationship between the arguments and the result. An implementation is not a specification. Try to think about what a function does as well as about how it does it. Functions are the most critical part in most interfaces, so see the interface rules.

Function rule summary:

Function definition rules:

Parameter passing expression rules:

Parameter passing semantic rules:

Value return semantic rules:

Other function rules:

Functions have strong similarities to lambdas and function objects so see also Section ???.

F.def: Function definitions

A function definition is a function declaration that also specifies the function’s implementation, the function body.

F.1: “Package” meaningful operations as carefully named functions

Reason

Factoring out common code makes code more readable, more likely to be reused, and limit errors from complex code. If something is a well-specified action, separate it out from its surrounding code and give it a name.

Example, don’t
void read_and_print(istream& is)    // read and print an int
{
    int x;
    if (is >> x)
        cout << "the int is " << x << '\n';
    else
        cerr << "no int on input\n";
}

Almost everything is wrong with read_and_print. It reads, it writes (to a fixed ostream), it writes error messages (to a fixed ostream), it handles only ints. There is nothing to reuse, logically separate operations are intermingled and local variables are in scope after the end of their logical use. For a tiny example, this looks OK, but if the input operation, the output operation, and the error handling had been more complicated the tangled mess could become hard to understand.

Note

If you write a non-trivial lambda that potentially can be used in more than one place, give it a name by assigning it to a (usually non-local) variable.

Example
sort(a, b, [](T x, T y) { return x.rank() < y.rank() && x.value() < y.value(); });

Naming that lambda breaks up the expression into its logical parts and provides a strong hint to the meaning of the lambda.

auto lessT = [](T x, T y) { return x.rank() < y.rank() && x.value() < y.value(); };

sort(a, b, lessT);
find_if(a, b, lessT);

The shortest code is not always the best for performance or maintainability.

Exception

Loop bodies, including lambdas used as loop bodies, rarely need to be named. However, large loop bodies (e.g., dozens of lines or dozens of pages) can be a problem. The rule Keep functions short implies “Keep loop bodies short.” Similarly, lambdas used as callback arguments are sometimes non-trivial, yet unlikely to be re-usable.

Enforcement

F.2: A function should perform a single logical operation

Reason

A function that performs a single operation is simpler to understand, test, and reuse.

Example

Consider:

void read_and_print()    // bad
{
    int x;
    cin >> x;
    // check for errors
    cout << x << "\n";
}

This is a monolith that is tied to a specific input and will never find another (different) use. Instead, break functions up into suitable logical parts and parameterize:

int read(istream& is)    // better
{
    int x;
    is >> x;
    // check for errors
    return x;
}

void print(ostream& os, int x)
{
    os << x << "\n";
}

These can now be combined where needed:

void read_and_print()
{
    auto x = read(cin);
    print(cout, x);
}

If there was a need, we could further templatize read() and print() on the data type, the I/O mechanism, the response to errors, etc. Example:

auto read = [](auto& input, auto& value)    // better
{
    input >> value;
    // check for errors
};

auto print(auto& output, const auto& value)
{
    output << value << "\n";
}
Enforcement

F.3: Keep functions short and simple

Reason

Large functions are hard to read, more likely to contain complex code, and more likely to have variables in larger than minimal scopes. Functions with complex control structures are more likely to be long and more likely to hide logical errors

Example

Consider:

double simpleFunc(double val, int flag1, int flag2)
    // simpleFunc: takes a value and calculates the expected ASIC output,
    // given the two mode flags.
{
    double intermediate;
    if (flag1 > 0) {
        intermediate = func1(val);
        if (flag2 % 2)
             intermediate = sqrt(intermediate);
    }
    else if (flag1 == -1) {
        intermediate = func1(-val);
        if (flag2 % 2)
             intermediate = sqrt(-intermediate);
        flag1 = -flag1;
    }
    if (abs(flag2) > 10) {
        intermediate = func2(intermediate);
    }
    switch (flag2 / 10) {
        case 1: if (flag1 == -1) return finalize(intermediate, 1.171);
                break;
        case 2: return finalize(intermediate, 13.1);
        default: break;
    }
    return finalize(intermediate, 0.);
}

This is too complex (and long). How would you know if all possible alternatives have been correctly handled? Yes, it breaks other rules also.

We can refactor:

double func1_muon(double val, int flag)
{
    // ???
}

double funct1_tau(double val, int flag1, int flag2)
{
    // ???
}

double simpleFunc(double val, int flag1, int flag2)
    // simpleFunc: takes a value and calculates the expected ASIC output,
    // given the two mode flags.
{
    if (flag1 > 0)
        return func1_muon(val, flag2);
    if (flag1 == -1)
        // handled by func1_tau: flag1 = -flag1;
        return func1_tau(-val, flag1, flag2);
    return 0.;
}
Note

“It doesn’t fit on a screen” is often a good practical definition of “far too large.” One-to-five-line functions should be considered normal.

Note

Break large functions up into smaller cohesive and named functions. Small simple functions are easily inlined where the cost of a function call is significant.

Enforcement

F.4: If a function may have to be evaluated at compile time, declare it constexpr

Reason

constexpr is needed to tell the compiler to allow compile-time evaluation.

Example

The (in)famous factorial:

constexpr int fac(int n)
{
    constexpr int max_exp = 17;      // constexpr enables max_exp to be used in Expects
    Expects(0 <= n && n < max_exp);  // prevent silliness and overflow
    int x = 1;
    for (int i = 2; i <= n; ++i) x *= i;
    return x;
}

This is C++14. For C++11, use a recursive formulation of fac().

Note

constexpr does not guarantee compile-time evaluation; it just guarantees that the function can be evaluated at compile time for constant expression arguments if the programmer requires it or the compiler decides to do so to optimize.

constexpr int min(int x, int y) { return x < y ? x : y; }

void test(int v)
{
    int m1 = min(-1, 2);            // probably compile-time evaluation
    constexpr int m2 = min(-1, 2);  // compile-time evaluation
    int m3 = min(-1, v);            // run-time evaluation
    constexpr int m4 = min(-1, v);  // error: cannot evaluate at compile-time
}
Note

constexpr functions are pure: they can have no side effects.

int dcount = 0;
constexpr int double(int v)
{
    ++dcount;   // error: attempted side effect from constexpr function
    return v + v;
}

This is usually a very good thing.

When given a non-constant argument, a constexpr function can throw. If you consider exiting by throwing a side-effect, a constexpr function isn’t completely pure; if not, this is not an issue. ??? A question for the committee: can a constructor for an exception thrown by a constexpr function modify state? “No” would be a nice answer that matches most practice.

Note

Don’t try to make all functions constexpr. Most computation is best done at run time.

Note

Any API that may eventually depend on high-level runtime configuration or business logic should not be made constexpr. Such customization can not be evaluated by the compiler, and any constexpr functions that depended upon that API would have to be refactored or drop constexpr.

Enforcement

Impossible and unnecessary. The compiler gives an error if a non-constexpr function is called where a constant is required.

F.5: If a function is very small and time-critical, declare it inline

Reason

Some optimizers are good at inlining without hints from the programmer, but don’t rely on it. Measure! Over the last 40 years or so, we have been promised compilers that can inline better than humans without hints from humans. We are still waiting. Specifying inline encourages the compiler to do a better job.

Example
inline string cat(const string& s, const string& s2) { return s + s2; }
Exception

Do not put an inline function in what is meant to be a stable interface unless you are certain that it will not change. An inline function is part of the ABI.

Note

constexpr implies inline.

Note

Member functions defined in-class are inline by default.

Exception

Template functions (incl. template member functions) must be in headers and therefore inline.

Enforcement

Flag inline functions that are more than three statements and could have been declared out of line (such as class member functions).

F.6: If your function may not throw, declare it noexcept

Reason

If an exception is not supposed to be thrown, the program cannot be assumed to cope with the error and should be terminated as soon as possible. Declaring a function noexcept helps optimizers by reducing the number of alternative execution paths. It also speeds up the exit after failure.

Example

Put noexcept on every function written completely in C or in any other language without exceptions. The C++ standard library does that implicitly for all functions in the C standard library.

Note

constexpr functions cannot throw, so you don’t need to use noexcept for those.

Example

You can use noexcept even on functions that can throw:

vector<string> collect(istream& is) noexcept
{
    vector<string> res;
    for (string s; is >> s;)
        res.push_back(s);
    return res;
}

If collect() runs out of memory, the program crashes. Unless the program is crafted to survive memory exhaustion, that may be just the right thing to do; terminate() may generate suitable error log information (but after memory runs out it is hard to do anything clever).

Note

You must be aware of the execution environment that your code is running when deciding whether to tag a function noexcept, especially because of the issue of throwing and allocation. Code that is intended to be perfectly general (like the standard library and other utility code of that sort) needs to support environments where a bad_alloc exception may be handled meaningfully. However, most programs and execution environments cannot meaningfully handle a failure to allocate, and aborting the program is the cleanest and simplest response to an allocation failure in those cases. If you know that your application code cannot respond to an allocation failure, it may be appropriate to add noexcept even on functions that allocate.

Put another way: In most programs, most functions can throw (e.g., because they use new, call functions that do, or use library functions that reports failure by throwing), so don’t just sprinkle noexcept all over the place without considering whether the possible exceptions can be handled.

noexcept is most useful (and most clearly correct) for frequently used, low-level functions.

Note

Destructors, swap functions, move operations, and default constructors should never throw.

Enforcement

F.7: For general use, take T* or T& arguments rather than smart pointers

Reason

Passing a smart pointer transfers or shares ownership and should only be used when ownership semantics are intended (see R.30). Passing by smart pointer restricts the use of a function to callers that use smart pointers. Passing a shared smart pointer (e.g., std::shared_ptr) implies a run-time cost.

Example
// accepts any int*
void f(int*);

// can only accept ints for which you want to transfer ownership
void g(unique_ptr<int>);

// can only accept ints for which you are willing to share ownership
void g(shared_ptr<int>);

// doesn't change ownership, but requires a particular ownership of the caller
void h(const unique_ptr<int>&);

// accepts any int
void h(int&);
Example, bad
// callee
void f(shared_ptr<widget>& w)
{
    // ...
    use(*w); // only use of w -- the lifetime is not used at all
    // ...
};

See further in R.30.

Note

We can catch dangling pointers statically, so we don’t need to rely on resource management to avoid violations from dangling pointers.

See also: when to prefer T* and when to prefer T&.

See also: Discussion of smart pointer use.

Enforcement

Flag a parameter of a smart pointer type (a type that overloads operator-> or operator*) for which the ownership semantics are not used; that is

F.8: Prefer pure functions

Reason

Pure functions are easier to reason about, sometimes easier to optimize (and even parallelize), and sometimes can be memoized.

Example
template<class T>
auto square(T t) { return t * t; }
Note

constexpr functions are pure.

When given a non-constant argument, a constexpr function can throw. If you consider exiting by throwing a side-effect, a constexpr function isn’t completely pure; if not, this is not an issue. ??? A question for the committee: can a constructor for an exception thrown by a constexpr function modify state? “No” would be a nice answer that matches most practice.

Enforcement

Not possible.

F.call: Parameter passing

There are a variety of ways to pass parameters to a function and to return values.

F.15: Prefer simple and conventional ways of passing information

Reason

Using “unusual and clever” techniques causes surprises, slows understanding by other programmers, and encourages bugs. If you really feel the need for an optimization beyond the common techniques, measure to ensure that it really is an improvement, and document/comment because the improvement may not be portable.

The following tables summarize the advice in the following Guidelines, F.16-21.

Normal parameter passing:

Normal parameter passing table

Advanced parameter passing:

Advanced parameter passing table

Use the advanced techniques only after demonstrating need, and document that need in a comment.

F.16: For “in” parameters, pass cheaply-copied types by value and others by reference to const

Reason

Both let the caller know that a function will not modify the argument, and both allow initialization by rvalues.

What is “cheap to copy” depends on the machine architecture, but two or three words (doubles, pointers, references) are usually best passed by value. When copying is cheap, nothing beats the simplicity and safety of copying, and for small objects (up to two or three words) it is also faster than passing by reference because it does not require an extra indirection to access from the function.

Example
void f1(const string& s);  // OK: pass by reference to const; always cheap

void f2(string s);         // bad: potentially expensive

void f3(int x);            // OK: Unbeatable

void f4(const int& x);     // bad: overhead on access in f4()

For advanced uses (only), where you really need to optimize for rvalues passed to “input-only” parameters:

Example
int multiply(int, int); // just input ints, pass by value

// suffix is input-only but not as cheap as an int, pass by const&
string& concatenate(string&, const string& suffix);

void sink(unique_ptr<widget>);  // input only, and consumes the widget

Avoid “esoteric techniques” such as:

Example

Assuming that Matrix has move operations (possibly by keeping its elements in a std::vector):

Matrix operator+(const Matrix& a, const Matrix& b)
{
    Matrix res;
    // ... fill res with the sum ...
    return res;
}

Matrix x = m1 + m2;  // move constructor

y = m3 + m3;         // move assignment
Notes

The return value optimization doesn’t handle the assignment case, but the move assignment does.

A reference may be assumed to refer to a valid object (language rule). There is no (legitimate) “null reference.” If you need the notion of an optional value, use a pointer, std::optional, or a special value used to denote “no value.”

Enforcement

F.17: For “in-out” parameters, pass by reference to non-const

Reason

This makes it clear to callers that the object is assumed to be modified.

Example
void update(Record& r);  // assume that update writes to r
Note

A T& argument can pass information into a function as well as well as out of it. Thus T& could be an in-out-parameter. That can in itself be a problem and a source of errors:

void f(string& s)
{
    s = "New York";  // non-obvious error
}

void g()
{
    string buffer = ".................................";
    f(buffer);
    // ...
}

Here, the writer of g() is supplying a buffer for f() to fill, but f() simply replaces it (at a somewhat higher cost than a simple copy of the characters). A bad logic error can happen if the writer of g() incorrectly assumes the size of the buffer.

Enforcement

F.18: For “consume” parameters, pass by X&& and std::move the parameter

Reason

It’s efficient and eliminates bugs at the call site: X&& binds to rvalues, which requires an explicit std::move at the call site if passing an lvalue.

Example
void sink(vector<int>&& v) {   // sink takes ownership of whatever the argument owned
    // usually there might be const accesses of v here
    store_somewhere(std::move(v));
    // usually no more use of v here; it is moved-from
}

Note that the std::move(v) makes it possible for store_somewhere() to leave v in a moved-from state. That could be dangerous.

Exception

Unique owner types that are move-only and cheap-to-move, such as unique_ptr, can also be passed by value which is simpler to write and achieves the same effect. Passing by value does generate one extra (cheap) move operation, but prefer simplicity and clarity first.

For example:

template <class T>
void sink(std::unique_ptr<T> p) {
    // use p ... possibly std::move(p) onward somewhere else
}   // p gets destroyed
Enforcement

F.19: For “forward” parameters, pass by TP&& and only std::forward the parameter

Reason

If the object is to be passed onward to other code and not directly used by this function, we want to make this function agnostic to the argument const-ness and rvalue-ness.

In that case, and only that case, make the parameter TP&& where TP is a template type parameter – it both ignores and preserves const-ness and rvalue-ness. Therefore any code that uses a TP&& is implicitly declaring that it itself doesn’t care about the variable’s const-ness and rvalue-ness (because it is ignored), but that intends to pass the value onward to other code that does care about const-ness and rvalue-ness (because it is preserved). When used as a parameter TP&& is safe because any temporary objects passed from the caller will live for the duration of the function call. A parameter of type TP&& should essentially always be passed onward via std::forward in the body of the function.

Example
template <class F, class... Args>
inline auto invoke(F f, Args&&... args) {
    return f(forward<Args>(args)...);
}

??? calls ???
Enforcement

F.20: For “out” output values, prefer return values to output parameters

Reason

A return value is self-documenting, whereas a & could be either in-out or out-only and is liable to be misused.

This includes large objects like standard containers that use implicit move operations for performance and to avoid explicit memory management.

If you have multiple values to return, use a tuple or similar multi-member type.

Example
// OK: return pointers to elements with the value x
vector<const int*> find_all(const vector<int>&, int x);

// Bad: place pointers to elements with value x in out
void find_all(const vector<int>&, vector<const int*>& out, int x);
Note

A struct of many (individually cheap-to-move) elements may be in aggregate expensive to move.

It is not recommended to return a const value. Such older advice is now obsolete; it does not add value, and it interferes with move semantics.

const vector<int> fct();    // bad: that "const" is more trouble than it is worth

vector<int> g(const vector<int>& vx)
{
    // ...
    f() = vx;   // prevented by the "const"
    // ...
    return f(); // expensive copy: move semantics suppressed by the "const"
}

The argument for adding const to a return value is that it prevents (very rare) accidental access to a temporary. The argument against is prevents (very frequent) use of move semantics.

Exceptions
Example
struct Package {      // exceptional case: expensive-to-move object
    char header[16];
    char load[2024 - 16];
};

Package fill();       // Bad: large return value
void fill(Package&);  // OK

int val();            // OK
void val(int&);       // Bad: Is val reading its argument
Enforcement

F.21: To return multiple “out” values, prefer returning a tuple or struct

Reason

A return value is self-documenting as an “output-only” value. Note that C++ does have multiple return values, by convention of using a tuple, possibly with the extra convenience of tie at the call site.

Example
// BAD: output-only parameter documented in a comment
int f(const string& input, /*output only*/ string& output_data)
{
    // ...
    output_data = something();
    return status;
}

// GOOD: self-documenting
tuple<int, string> f(const string& input)
{
    // ...
    return make_tuple(status, something());
}

C++98’s standard library already used this style, because a pair is like a two-element tuple. For example, given a set<string> my_set, consider:

// C++98
result = my_set.insert("Hello");
if (result.second) do_something_with(result.first);    // workaround

With C++11 we can write this, putting the results directly in existing local variables:

Sometype iter;                                // default initialize if we haven't already
Someothertype success;                        // used these variables for some other purpose

tie(iter, success) = my_set.insert("Hello");   // normal return value
if (success) do_something_with(iter);

With C++17 we should be able to use “structured bindings” to declare and initialize the multiple variables:

if (auto [ iter, success ] = my_set.insert("Hello"); success) do_something_with(iter);
Exception

Sometimes, we need to pass an object to a function to manipulate its state. In such cases, passing the object by reference T& is usually the right technique. Explicitly passing an in-out parameter back out again as a return value is often not necessary. For example:

istream& operator>>(istream& is, string& s);    // much like std::operator>>()

for (string s; cin >> s; ) {
    // do something with line
}

Here, both s and cin are used as in-out parameters. We pass cin by (non-const) reference to be able to manipulate its state. We pass s to avoid repeated allocations. By reusing s (passed by reference), we allocate new memory only when we need to expand s’s capacity. This technique is sometimes called the “caller-allocated out” pattern and is particularly useful for types, such as string and vector, that needs to do free store allocations.

To compare, if we passed out all values as return values, we would something like this:

pair<istream&, string> get_string(istream& is);  // not recommended
{
    string s;
    cin >> s;
    return {is, s};
}

for (auto p = get_string(cin); p.first; ) {
    // do something with p.second
}

We consider that significantly less elegant with significantly less performance.

For a truly strict reading of this rule (F.21), the exception isn’t really an exception because it relies on in-out parameters, rather than the plain out parameters mentioned in the rule. However, we prefer to be explicit, rather than subtle.

Note

In many cases, it may be useful to return a specific, user-defined “Value or error” type. For example:

struct

The overly-generic pair and tuple should be used only when the value returned represents to independent entities rather than an abstraction.

type along the lines of variant<T, error_code>, rather than using the generic tuple.

Enforcement

F.22: Use T* or owner<T*> to designate a single object

Reason

Readability: it makes the meaning of a plain pointer clear. Enables significant tool support.

Note

In traditional C and C++ code, plain T* is used for many weakly-related purposes, such as:

This makes it hard to understand what the code does and is supposed to do. It complicates checking and tool support.

Example
void use(int* p, int n, char* s, int* q)
{
    p[n - 1] = 666; // Bad: we don't know if p points to n elements;
                    // assume it does not or use span<int>
    cout << s;      // Bad: we don't know if that s points to a zero-terminated array of char;
                    // assume it does not or use zstring
    delete q;       // Bad: we don't know if *q is allocated on the free store;
                    // assume it does not or use owner
}

better

void use2(span<int> p, zstring s, owner<int*> q)
{
    p[p.size() - 1] = 666; // OK, a range error can be caught
    cout << s; // OK
    delete q;  // OK
}
Note

owner<T*> represents ownership, zstring represents a C-style string.

Also: Assume that a T* obtained from a smart pointer to T (e.g., unique_ptr<T>) points to a single element.

See also: Support library.

Enforcement

F.23: Use a not_null<T> to indicate that “null” is not a valid value

Reason

Clarity. A function with a not_null<T> parameter makes it clear that the caller of the function is responsible for any nullptr checks that may be necessary. Similarly, a function with a return value of not_null<T> makes it clear that the caller of the function does not need to check for nullptr.

Example

not_null<T*> makes it obvious to a reader (human or machine) that a test for nullptr is not necessary before dereference. Additionally, when debugging, owner<T*> and not_null<T> can be instrumented to check for correctness.

Consider:

int length(Record* p);

When I call length(p) should I test for p == nullptr first? Should the implementation of length() test for p == nullptr?

// it is the caller's job to make sure p != nullptr
int length(not_null<Record*> p);

// the implementor of length() must assume that p == nullptr is possible
int length(Record* p);
Note

A not_null<T*> is assumed not to be the nullptr; a T* may be the nullptr; both can be represented in memory as a T* (so no run-time overhead is implied).

Note

not_null is not just for built-in pointers. It works for unique_ptr, shared_ptr, and other pointer-like types.

Enforcement

F.24: Use a span<T> or a span_p<T> to designate a half-open sequence

Reason

Informal/non-explicit ranges are a source of errors.

Example
X* find(span<X> r, const X& v);    // find v in r

vector<X> vec;
// ...
auto p = find({vec.begin(), vec.end()}, X{});  // find X{} in vec
Note

Ranges are extremely common in C++ code. Typically, they are implicit and their correct use is very hard to ensure. In particular, given a pair of arguments (p, n) designating an array [p:p+n), it is in general impossible to know if there really are n elements to access following *p. span<T> and span_p<T> are simple helper classes designating a [p:q) range and a range starting with p and ending with the first element for which a predicate is true, respectively.

Example

A span represents a range of elements, but how do we manipulate elements of that range?

void f(span<int> s)
{
    // range traversal (guaranteed correct)
    for (int x : s) cout << x << '\n';

    // C-style traversal (potentially checked)
    for (int i = 0; i < s.size(); ++i) cout << s[i] << '\n';

    // random access (potentially checked)
    s[7] = 9;

    // extract pointers (potentially checked)
    std::sort(&s[0], &s[s.size() / 2]);
}
Note

A span<T> object does not own its elements and is so small that it can be passed by value.

Passing a span object as an argument is exactly as efficient as passing a pair of pointer arguments or passing a pointer and an integer count.

See also: Support library.

Enforcement

(Complex) Warn where accesses to pointer parameters are bounded by other parameters that are integral types and suggest they could use span instead.

F.25: Use a zstring or a not_null<zstring> to designate a C-style string

Reason

C-style strings are ubiquitous. They are defined by convention: zero-terminated arrays of characters. We must distinguish C-style strings from a pointer to a single character or an old-fashioned pointer to an array of characters.

Example

Consider:

int length(const char* p);

When I call length(s) should I test for s == nullptr first? Should the implementation of length() test for p == nullptr?

// the implementor of length() must assume that p == nullptr is possible
int length(zstring p);

// it is the caller's job to make sure p != nullptr
int length(not_null<zstring> p);
Note

zstring do not represent ownership.

See also: Support library.

F.26: Use a unique_ptr<T> to transfer ownership where a pointer is needed

Reason

Using unique_ptr is the cheapest way to pass a pointer safely.

Example
unique_ptr<Shape> get_shape(istream& is)  // assemble shape from input stream
{
    auto kind = read_header(is); // read header and identify the next shape on input
    switch (kind) {
    case kCircle:
        return make_unique<Circle>(is);
    case kTriangle:
        return make_unique<Triangle>(is);
    // ...
    }
}
Note

You need to pass a pointer rather than an object if what you are transferring is an object from a class hierarchy that is to be used through an interface (base class).

Enforcement

(Simple) Warn if a function returns a locally-allocated raw pointer. Suggest using either unique_ptr or shared_ptr instead.

F.27: Use a shared_ptr<T> to share ownership

Reason

Using std::shared_ptr is the standard way to represent shared ownership. That is, the last owner deletes the object.

Example
shared_ptr<const Image> im { read_image(somewhere) };

std::thread t0 {shade, args0, top_left, im};
std::thread t1 {shade, args1, top_right, im};
std::thread t2 {shade, args2, bottom_left, im};
std::thread t3 {shade, args3, bottom_right, im};

// detach threads
// last thread to finish deletes the image
Note

Prefer a unique_ptr over a shared_ptr if there is never more than one owner at a time. shared_ptr is for shared ownership.

Note that pervasive use of shared_ptr has a cost (atomic operations on the shared_ptr’s reference count have a measurable aggregate cost).

Alternative

Have a single object own the shared object (e.g. a scoped object) and destroy that (preferably implicitly) when all users have completed.

Enforcement

(Not enforceable) This is a too complex pattern to reliably detect.

F.60: Prefer T* over T& when “no argument” is a valid option

Reason

A pointer (T*) can be a nullptr and a reference (T&) cannot, there is no valid “null reference”. Sometimes having nullptr as an alternative to indicated “no object” is useful, but if it is not, a reference is notationally simpler and might yield better code.

Example
string zstring_to_string(zstring p) // zstring is a char*; that is a C-style string
{
    if (p == nullptr) return string{};    // p might be nullptr; remember to check
    return string{p};
}

void print(const vector<int>& r)
{
    // r refers to a vector<int>; no check needed
}
Note

It is possible, but not valid C++ to construct a reference that is essentially a nullptr (e.g., T* p = nullptr; T& r = (T&)*p;). That error is very uncommon.

Note

If you prefer the pointer notation (-> and/or * vs. .), not_null<T*> provides the same guarantee as T&.

Enforcement

F.42: Return a T* to indicate a position (only)

Reason

That’s what pointers are good for. Returning a T* to transfer ownership is a misuse.

Example
Node* find(Node* t, const string& s)  // find s in a binary tree of Nodes
{
    if (t == nullptr || t->name == s) return t;
    if ((auto p = find(t->left, s))) return p;
    if ((auto p = find(t->right, s))) return p;
    return nullptr;
}

If it isn’t the nullptr, the pointer returned by find indicates a Node holding s. Importantly, that does not imply a transfer of ownership of the pointed-to object to the caller.

Note

Positions can also be transferred by iterators, indices, and references. A reference is often a superior alternative to a pointer if there is no need to use nullptr or if the object referred to should not change.

Note

Do not return a pointer to something that is not in the caller’s scope; see F.43.

See also: discussion of dangling pointer prevention.

Enforcement

F.43: Never (directly or indirectly) return a pointer or a reference to a local object

Reason

To avoid the crashes and data corruption that can result from the use of such a dangling pointer.

Example, bad

After the return from a function its local objects no longer exist:

int* f()
{
    int fx = 9;
    return &fx;  // BAD
}

void g(int* p)   // looks innocent enough
{
    int gx;
    cout << "*p == " << *p << '\n';
    *p = 999;
    cout << "gx == " << gx << '\n';
}

void h()
{
    int* p = f();
    int z = *p;  // read from abandoned stack frame (bad)
    g(p);        // pass pointer to abandoned stack frame to function (bad)
}

Here on one popular implementation I got the output:

*p == 999
gx == 999

I expected that because the call of g() reuses the stack space abandoned by the call of f() so *p refers to the space now occupied by gx.

Fortunately, most (all?) modern compilers catch and warn against this simple case.

Note

This applies to references as well:

int& f()
{
    int x = 7;
    // ...
    return x;  // Bad: returns reference to object that is about to be destroyed
}
Note

This applies only to non-static local variables. All static variables are (as their name indicates) statically allocated, so that pointers to them cannot dangle.

Example, bad

Not all examples of leaking a pointer to a local variable are that obvious:

int* glob;       // global variables are bad in so many ways

template<class T>
void steal(T x)
{
    glob = x();  // BAD
}

void f()
{
    int i = 99;
    steal([&] { return &i; });
}

int main()
{
    f();
    cout << *glob << '\n';
}

Here I managed to read the location abandoned by the call of f. The pointer stored in glob could be used much later and cause trouble in unpredictable ways.

Note

The address of a local variable can be “returned”/leaked by a return statement, by a T& out-parameter, as a member of a returned object, as an element of a returned array, and more.

Note

Similar examples can be constructed “leaking” a pointer from an inner scope to an outer one; such examples are handled equivalently to leaks of pointers out of a function.

A slightly different variant of the problem is placing pointers in a container that outlives the objects pointed to.

See also: Another way of getting dangling pointers is pointer invalidation. It can be detected/prevented with similar techniques.

Enforcement

F.44: Return a T& when copy is undesirable and “returning no object” isn’t needed

Reason

The language guarantees that a T& refers to an object, so that testing for nullptr isn’t necessary.

See also: The return of a reference must not imply transfer of ownership: discussion of dangling pointer prevention and discussion of ownership.

Example
class Car
{
    array<wheel, 4> w;
    // ...
public:
    wheel& get_wheel(size_t i) { Expects(i < 4); return w[i]; }
    // ...
};

void use()
{
    Car c;
    wheel& w0 = c.get_wheel(0); // w0 has the same lifetime as c
}
Enforcement

Flag functions where no return expression could yield nullptr

F.45: Don’t return a T&&

Reason

It’s asking to return a reference to a destroyed temporary object. A && is a magnet for temporary objects. This is fine when the reference to the temporary is being passed “downward” to a callee, because the temporary is guaranteed to outlive the function call. (See F.24 and F.25.) However, it’s not fine when passing such a reference “upward” to a larger caller scope. See also ???.

For passthrough functions that pass in parameters (by ordinary reference or by perfect forwarding) and want to return values, use simple auto return type deduction (not auto&&).

Example, bad

If F returns by value, this function returns a reference to a temporary.

template<class F>
auto&& wrapper(F f)
{
    log_call(typeid(f)); // or whatever instrumentation
    return f();
}
Example, good

Better:

template<class F>
auto wrapper(F f)
{
    log_call(typeid(f)); // or whatever instrumentation
    return f();
}
Exception

std::move and std::forward do return &&, but they are just casts – used by convention only in expression contexts where a reference to a temporary object is passed along within the same expression before the temporary is destroyed. We don’t know of any other good examples of returning &&.

Enforcement

Flag any use of && as a return type, except in std::move and std::forward.

F.46: int is the return type for main()

Reason

It’s a language rule, but violated through “language extensions” so often that it is worth mentioning. Declaring main (the one global main of a program) void limits portability.

Example
    void main() { /* ... */ };  // bad, not C++

    int main()
    {
        std::cout << "This is the way to do it\n";
    }
Note

We mention this only because of the persistence of this error in the community.

Enforcement

F.47: Return T& from assignment operators

Reason

The convention for operator overloads (especially on value types) is for operator=(const T&) to perform the assignment and then return (non-const) *this. This ensures consistency with standard library types and follows the principle of “do as the ints do.”

Note

Historically there was some guidance to make the assignment operator return const T&. This was primarily to avoid code of the form (a = b) = c – such code is not common enough to warrant violating consistency with standard types.

Example
class Foo
{
 public:
    ...
    Foo& operator=(const Foo& rhs) {
      // Copy members.
      ...
      return *this;
    }
};
Enforcement

This should be enforced by tooling by checking the return type (and return value) of any assignment operator.

F.50: Use a lambda when a function won’t do (to capture local variables, or to write a local function)

Reason

Functions can’t capture local variables or be declared at local scope; if you need those things, prefer a lambda where possible, and a handwritten function object where not. On the other hand, lambdas and function objects don’t overload; if you need to overload, prefer a function (the workarounds to make lambdas overload are ornate). If either will work, prefer writing a function; use the simplest tool necessary.

Example
// writing a function that should only take an int or a string
// -- overloading is natural
void f(int);
void f(const string&);

// writing a function object that needs to capture local state and appear
// at statement or expression scope -- a lambda is natural
vector<work> v = lots_of_work();
for (int tasknum = 0; tasknum < max; ++tasknum) {
    pool.run([=, &v]{
        /*
        ...
        ... process 1 / max - th of v, the tasknum - th chunk
        ...
        */
    });
}
pool.join();
Exception

Generic lambdas offer a concise way to write function templates and so can be useful even when a normal function template would do equally well with a little more syntax. This advantage will probably disappear in the future once all functions gain the ability to have Concept parameters.

Enforcement

F.51: Where there is a choice, prefer default arguments over overloading

Reason

Default arguments simply provides alternative interfaces to a single implementation. There is no guarantee that a set of overloaded functions all implement the same semantics. The use of default arguments can avoid code replication.

Note

There is a choice between using default argument and overloading when the alternatives are from a set of arguments of the same types. For example:

void print(const string& s, format f = {});

as opposed to

void print(const string& s);  // use default format
void print(const string& s, format f);

There is not a choice when a set of functions are used to do a semantically equivalent operation to a set of types. For example:

void print(const char&);
void print(int);
void print(zstring);
See also

Default arguments for virtual functions

Enforcement
???

F.52: Prefer capturing by reference in lambdas that will be used locally, including passed to algorithms

Reason

For efficiency and correctness, you nearly always want to capture by reference when using the lambda locally. This includes when writing or calling parallel algorithms that are local because they join before returning.

Example

This is a simple three-stage parallel pipeline. Each stage object encapsulates a worker thread and a queue, has a process function to enqueue work, and in its destructor automatically blocks waiting for the queue to empty before ending the thread.

void send_packets(buffers& bufs)
{
    stage encryptor([] (buffer& b){ encrypt(b); });
    stage compressor([&](buffer& b){ compress(b); encryptor.process(b); });
    stage decorator([&](buffer& b){ decorate(b); compressor.process(b); });
    for (auto& b : bufs) { decorator.process(b); }
}  // automatically blocks waiting for pipeline to finish
Enforcement

???

F.53: Avoid capturing by reference in lambdas that will be used nonlocally, including returned, stored on the heap, or passed to another thread

Reason

Pointers and references to locals shouldn’t outlive their scope. Lambdas that capture by reference are just another place to store a reference to a local object, and shouldn’t do so if they (or a copy) outlive the scope.

Example, bad
int local = 42;

// Want a reference to local.
// Note, that after program exits this scope,
// local no longer exists, therefore
// process() call will have undefined behavior!
thread_pool.queue_work([&]{ process(local); });
Example, good
int local = 42;
// Want a copy of local.
// Since a copy of local is made, it will
// always be available for the call.
thread_pool.queue_work([=]{ process(local); });
Enforcement

F.54: If you capture this, capture all variables explicitly (no default capture)

Reason

It’s confusing. Writing [=] in a member function appears to capture by value, but actually captures data members by reference because it actually captures the invisible this pointer by value. If you meant to do that, write this explicitly.

Example
class My_class {
    int x = 0;
    // ...

    void f() {
        int i = 0;
        // ...

        auto lambda = [=]{ use(i, x); };   // BAD: "looks like" copy/value capture
        // [&] has identical semantics and copies the this pointer under the current rules
        // [=,this] and [&,this] are not much better, and confusing

        x = 42;
        lambda(); // calls use(42);
        x = 43;
        lambda(); // calls use(43);

        // ...

        auto lambda2 = [i, this]{ use(i, x); }; // ok, most explicit and least confusing

        // ...
    }
};
Note

This is under active discussion in standardization, and may be addressed in a future version of the standard by adding a new capture mode or possibly adjusting the meaning of [=]. For now, just be explicit.

Enforcement

C: Classes and Class Hierarchies

A class is a user-defined type, for which a programmer can define the representation, operations, and interfaces. Class hierarchies are used to organize related classes into hierarchical structures.

Class rule summary:

Subsections:

Reason

Ease of comprehension. If data is related (for fundamental reasons), that fact should be reflected in code.

Example
void draw(int x, int y, int x2, int y2);  // BAD: unnecessary implicit relationships
void draw(Point from, Point to);          // better
Note

A simple class without virtual functions implies no space or time overhead.

Note

From a language perspective class and struct differ only in the default visibility of their members.

Enforcement

Probably impossible. Maybe a heuristic looking for data items used together is possible.

C.2: Use class if the class has an invariant; use struct if the data members can vary independently

Reason

Readability. Ease of comprehension. The use of class alerts the programmer to the need for an invariant. This is a useful convention.

Note

An invariant is a logical condition for the members of an object that a constructor must establish for the public member functions to assume. After the invariant is established (typically by a constructor) every member function can be called for the object. An invariant can be stated informally (e.g., in a comment) or more formally using Expects.

If all data members can vary independently of each other, no invariant is possible.

Example
struct Pair {  // the members can vary independently
    string name;
    int volume;
};

but:

class Date {
public:
    // validate that {yy, mm, dd} is a valid date and initialize
    Date(int yy, Month mm, char dd);
    // ...
private:
    int y;
    Month m;
    char d;    // day
};
Note

If a class has any private data, a user cannot completely initialize an object without the use of a constructor. Hence, the class definer will provide a constructor and must specify its meaning. This effectively means the definer need to define an invariant.

Enforcement

Look for structs with all data private and classes with public members.

C.3: Represent the distinction between an interface and an implementation using a class

Reason

An explicit distinction between interface and implementation improves readability and simplifies maintenance.

Example
class Date {
    // ... some representation ...
public:
    Date();
    // validate that {yy, mm, dd} is a valid date and initialize
    Date(int yy, Month mm, char dd);

    int day() const;
    Month month() const;
    // ...
};

For example, we can now change the representation of a Date without affecting its users (recompilation is likely, though).

Note

Using a class in this way to represent the distinction between interface and implementation is of course not the only way. For example, we can use a set of declarations of freestanding functions in a namespace, an abstract base class, or a template function with concepts to represent an interface. The most important issue is to explicitly distinguish between an interface and its implementation “details.” Ideally, and typically, an interface is far more stable than its implementation(s).

Enforcement

???

C.4: Make a function a member only if it needs direct access to the representation of a class

Reason

Less coupling than with member functions, fewer functions that can cause trouble by modifying object state, reduces the number of functions that needs to be modified after a change in representation.

Example
class Date {
    // ... relatively small interface ...
};

// helper functions:
Date next_weekday(Date);
bool operator==(Date, Date);

The “helper functions” have no need for direct access to the representation of a Date.

Note

This rule becomes even better if C++ gets “uniform function call”.

Enforcement

Look for member function that do not touch data members directly. The snag is that many member functions that do not need to touch data members directly do.

C.5: Place helper functions in the same namespace as the class they support

Reason

A helper function is a function (usually supplied by the writer of a class) that does not need direct access to the representation of the class, yet is seen as part of the useful interface to the class. Placing them in the same namespace as the class makes their relationship to the class obvious and allows them to be found by argument dependent lookup.

Example
namespace Chrono { // here we keep time-related services

    class Time { /* ... */ };
    class Date { /* ... */ };

    // helper functions:
    bool operator==(Date, Date);
    Date next_weekday(Date);
    // ...
}
Note

This is especially important for overloaded operators.

Enforcement

C.7: Don’t define a class or enum and declare a variable of its type in the same statement

Reason

Mixing a type definition and the definition of another entity in the same declaration is confusing and unnecessary.

Example; bad
struct Data { /*...*/ } data{ /*...*/ };
Example; good
struct Data { /*...*/ };
Data data{ /*...*/ };
Enforcement

C.8: Use class rather than struct if any member is non-public

Reason

Readability. To make it clear that something is being hidden/abstracted. This is a useful convention.

Example, bad
struct Date {
    int d, m;

    Date(int i, Month m);
    // ... lots of functions ...
private:
    int y;  // year
};

There is nothing wrong with this code as far as the C++ language rules are concerned, but nearly everything is wrong from a design perspective. The private data is hidden far from the public data. The data is split in different parts of the class declaration. Different parts of the data have different access. All of this decreases readability and complicates maintenance.

Note

Prefer to place the interface first in a class see.

Enforcement

Flag classes declared with struct if there is a private or public member.

C.9: Minimize exposure of members

Reason

Encapsulation. Information hiding. Minimize the chance of untended access. This simplifies maintenance.

Example
???
Note

Prefer the order public members before protected members before private members see.

Enforcement

Flag protected data.

C.concrete: Concrete types

One ideal for a class is to be a regular type. That means roughly “behaves like an int.” A concrete type is the simplest kind of class. A value of regular type can be copied and the result of a copy is an independent object with the same value as the original. If a concrete type has both = and ==, a = b should result in a == b being true. Concrete classes without assignment and equality can be defined, but they are (and should be) rare. The C++ built-in types are regular, and so are standard-library classes, such as string, vector, and map. Concrete types are also often referred to as value types to distinguish them from types used as part of a hierarchy.

Concrete type rule summary:

C.10 Prefer concrete types over class hierarchies

Reason

A concrete type is fundamentally simpler than a hierarchy: easier to design, easier to implement, easier to use, easier to reason about, smaller, and faster. You need a reason (use cases) for using a hierarchy.

Example
class Point1 {
    int x, y;
    // ... operations ...
    // ... no virtual functions ...
};

class Point2 {
    int x, y;
    // ... operations, some virtual ...
    virtual ~Point2();
};

void use()
{
    Point1 p11 {1, 2};   // make an object on the stack
    Point1 p12 {p11};    // a copy

    auto p21 = make_unique<Point2>(1, 2);   // make an object on the free store
    auto p22 = p21.clone();                 // make a copy
    // ...
}

If a class can be part of a hierarchy, we (in real code if not necessarily in small examples) must manipulate its objects through pointers or references. That implies more memory overhead, more allocations and deallocations, and more run-time overhead to perform the resulting indirections.

Note

Concrete types can be stack allocated and be members of other classes.

Note

The use of indirection is fundamental for run-time polymorphic interfaces. The allocation/deallocation overhead is not (that’s just the most common case). We can use a base class as the interface of a scoped object of a derived class. This is done where dynamic allocation is prohibited (e.g. hard real-time) and to provide a stable interface to some kinds of plug-ins.

Enforcement

???

C.11: Make concrete types regular

Reason

Regular types are easier to understand and reason about than types that are not regular (irregularities requires extra effort to understand and use).

Example
struct Bundle {
    string name;
    vector<Record> vr;
};

bool operator==(const Bundle& a, const Bundle& b)
{
    return a.name == b.name && a.vr == b.vr;
}

Bundle b1 { "my bundle", {r1, r2, r3}};
Bundle b2 = b1;
if (!(b1 == b2)) error("impossible!");
b2.name = "the other bundle";
if (b1 == b2) error("No!");

In particular, if a concrete type has an assignment also give it an equals operator so that a = b implies a == b.

Enforcement

???

C.ctor: Constructors, assignments, and destructors

These functions control the lifecycle of objects: creation, copy, move, and destruction. Define constructors to guarantee and simplify initialization of classes.

These are default operations:

By default, the compiler defines each of these operations if it is used, but the default can be suppressed.

The default operations are a set of related operations that together implement the lifecycle semantics of an object. By default, C++ treats classes as value-like types, but not all types are value-like.

Set of default operations rules:

Destructor rules:

Constructor rules:

Copy and move rules:

Other default operations rules:

C.defop: Default Operations

By default, the language supplies the default operations with their default semantics. However, a programmer can disable or replace these defaults.

C.20: If you can avoid defining default operations, do

Reason

It’s the simplest and gives the cleanest semantics.

Example
struct Named_map {
public:
    // ... no default operations declared ...
private:
    string name;
    map<int, int> rep;
};

Named_map nm;        // default construct
Named_map nm2 {nm};  // copy construct

Since std::map and string have all the special functions, no further work is needed.

Note

This is known as “the rule of zero”.

Enforcement

(Not enforceable) While not enforceable, a good static analyzer can detect patterns that indicate a possible improvement to meet this rule. For example, a class with a (pointer, size) pair of member and a destructor that deletes the pointer could probably be converted to a vector.

C.21: If you define or =delete any default operation, define or =delete them all

Reason

The semantics of the special functions are closely related, so if one needs to be non-default, the odds are that others need modification too.

Example, bad
struct M2 {   // bad: incomplete set of default operations
public:
    // ...
    // ... no copy or move operations ...
    ~M2() { delete[] rep; }
private:
    pair<int, int>* rep;  // zero-terminated set of pairs
};

void use()
{
    M2 x;
    M2 y;
    // ...
    x = y;   // the default assignment
    // ...
}

Given that “special attention” was needed for the destructor (here, to deallocate), the likelihood that copy and move assignment (both will implicitly destroy an object) are correct is low (here, we would get double deletion).

Note

This is known as “the rule of five” or “the rule of six”, depending on whether you count the default constructor.

Note

If you want a default implementation of a default operation (while defining another), write =default to show you’re doing so intentionally for that function. If you don’t want a default operation, suppress it with =delete.

Note

Compilers enforce much of this rule and ideally warn about any violation.

Note

Relying on an implicitly generated copy operation in a class with a destructor is deprecated.

Enforcement

(Simple) A class should have a declaration (even a =delete one) for either all or none of the special functions.

C.22: Make default operations consistent

Reason

The default operations are conceptually a matched set. Their semantics are interrelated. Users will be surprised if copy/move construction and copy/move assignment do logically different things. Users will be surprised if constructors and destructors do not provide a consistent view of resource management. Users will be surprised if copy and move don’t reflect the way constructors and destructors work.

Example, bad
class Silly {   // BAD: Inconsistent copy operations
    class Impl {
        // ...
    };
    shared_ptr<Impl> p;
public:
    Silly(const Silly& a) : p{a.p} { *p = *a.p; }   // deep copy
    Silly& operator=(const Silly& a) { p = a.p; }   // shallow copy
    // ...
};

These operations disagree about copy semantics. This will lead to confusion and bugs.

Enforcement

C.dtor: Destructors

“Does this class need a destructor?” is a surprisingly powerful design question. For most classes the answer is “no” either because the class holds no resources or because destruction is handled by the rule of zero; that is, its members can take care of themselves as concerns destruction. If the answer is “yes”, much of the design of the class follows (see the rule of five).

C.30: Define a destructor if a class needs an explicit action at object destruction

Reason

A destructor is implicitly invoked at the end of an object’s lifetime. If the default destructor is sufficient, use it. Only define a non-default destructor if a class needs to execute code that is not already part of its members’ destructors.

Example
template<typename A>
struct final_action {   // slightly simplified
    A act;
    final_action(A a) :act{a} {}
    ~final_action() { act(); }
};

template<typename A>
final_action<A> finally(A act)   // deduce action type
{
    return final_action<A>{act};
}

void test()
{
    auto act = finally([]{ cout << "Exit test\n"; });  // establish exit action
    // ...
    if (something) return;   // act done here
    // ...
} // act done here

The whole purpose of final_action is to get a piece of code (usually a lambda) executed upon destruction.

Note

There are two general categories of classes that need a user-defined destructor:

Example, bad
class Foo {   // bad; use the default destructor
public:
    // ...
    ~Foo() { s = ""; i = 0; vi.clear(); }  // clean up
private:
    string s;
    int i;
    vector<int> vi;
};

The default destructor does it better, more efficiently, and can’t get it wrong.

Note

If the default destructor is needed, but its generation has been suppressed (e.g., by defining a move constructor), use =default.

Enforcement

Look for likely “implicit resources”, such as pointers and references. Look for classes with destructors even though all their data members have destructors.

C.31: All resources acquired by a class must be released by the class’s destructor

Reason

Prevention of resource leaks, especially in error cases.

Note

For resources represented as classes with a complete set of default operations, this happens automatically.

Example
class X {
    ifstream f;   // may own a file
    // ... no default operations defined or =deleted ...
};

X’s ifstream implicitly closes any file it may have open upon destruction of its X.

Example, bad
class X2 {     // bad
    FILE* f;   // may own a file
    // ... no default operations defined or =deleted ...
};

X2 may leak a file handle.

Note

What about a sockets that won’t close? A destructor, close, or cleanup operation should never fail. If it does nevertheless, we have a problem that has no really good solution. For starters, the writer of a destructor does not know why the destructor is called and cannot “refuse to act” by throwing an exception. See discussion. To make the problem worse, many “close/release” operations are not retryable. Many have tried to solve this problem, but no general solution is known. If at all possible, consider failure to close/cleanup a fundamental design error and terminate.

Note

A class can hold pointers and references to objects that it does not own. Obviously, such objects should not be deleted by the class’s destructor. For example:

Preprocessor pp { /* ... */ };
Parser p { pp, /* ... */ };
Type_checker tc { p, /* ... */ };

Here p refers to pp but does not own it.

Enforcement

C.32: If a class has a raw pointer (T*) or reference (T&), consider whether it might be owning

Reason

There is a lot of code that is non-specific about ownership.

Example
???
Note

If the T* or T& is owning, mark it owning. If the T* is not owning, consider marking it ptr. This will aid documentation and analysis.

Enforcement

Look at the initialization of raw member pointers and member references and see if an allocation is used.

C.33: If a class has an owning pointer member, define a destructor

Reason

An owned object must be deleted upon destruction of the object that owns it.

Example

A pointer member may represent a resource. A T* should not do so, but in older code, that’s common. Consider a T* a possible owner and therefore suspect.

template<typename T>
class Smart_ptr {
    T* p;   // BAD: vague about ownership of *p
    // ...
public:
    // ... no user-defined default operations ...
};

void use(Smart_ptr<int> p1)
{
    // error: p2.p leaked (if not nullptr and not owned by some other code)
    auto p2 = p1;
}

Note that if you define a destructor, you must define or delete all default operations:

template<typename T>
class Smart_ptr2 {
    T* p;   // BAD: vague about ownership of *p
    // ...
public:
    // ... no user-defined copy operations ...
    ~Smart_ptr2() { delete p; }  // p is an owner!
};

void use(Smart_ptr2<int> p1)
{
    auto p2 = p1;   // error: double deletion
}

The default copy operation will just copy the p1.p into p2.p leading to a double destruction of p1.p. Be explicit about ownership:

template<typename T>
class Smart_ptr3 {
    owner<T*> p;   // OK: explicit about ownership of *p
    // ...
public:
    // ...
    // ... copy and move operations ...
    ~Smart_ptr3() { delete p; }
};

void use(Smart_ptr3<int> p1)
{
    auto p2 = p1;   // error: double deletion
}
Note

Often the simplest way to get a destructor is to replace the pointer with a smart pointer (e.g., std::unique_ptr) and let the compiler arrange for proper destruction to be done implicitly.

Note

Why not just require all owning pointers to be “smart pointers”? That would sometimes require non-trivial code changes and may affect ABIs.

Enforcement

C.34: If a class has an owning reference member, define a destructor

Reason

A reference member may represent a resource. It should not do so, but in older code, that’s common. See pointer members and destructors. Also, copying may lead to slicing.

Example, bad
class Handle {  // Very suspect
    Shape& s;   // use reference rather than pointer to prevent rebinding
                // BAD: vague about ownership of *p
    // ...
public:
    Handle(Shape& ss) : s{ss} { /* ... */ }
    // ...
};

The problem of whether Handle is responsible for the destruction of its Shape is the same as for the pointer case: If the Handle owns the object referred to by s it must have a destructor.

Example
class Handle {        // OK
    owner<Shape&> s;  // use reference rather than pointer to prevent rebinding
    // ...
public:
    Handle(Shape& ss) : s{ss} { /* ... */ }
    ~Handle() { delete &s; }
    // ...
};

Independently of whether Handle owns its Shape, we must consider the default copy operations suspect:

// the Handle had better own the Circle or we have a leak
Handle x {*new Circle{p1, 17}};

Handle y {*new Triangle{p1, p2, p3}};
x = y;     // the default assignment will try *x.s = *y.s

That x = y is highly suspect. Assigning a Triangle to a Circle? Unless Shape has its copy assignment =deleted, only the Shape part of Triangle is copied into the Circle.

Note

Why not just require all owning references to be replaced by “smart pointers”? Changing from references to smart pointers implies code changes. We don’t (yet) have smart references. Also, that may affect ABIs.

Enforcement

C.35: A base class destructor should be either public and virtual, or protected and nonvirtual

Reason

To prevent undefined behavior. If the destructor is public, then calling code can attempt to destroy a derived class object through a base class pointer, and the result is undefined if the base class’s destructor is non-virtual. If the destructor is protected, then calling code cannot destroy through a base class pointer and the destructor does not need to be virtual; it does need to be protected, not private, so that derived destructors can invoke it. In general, the writer of a base class does not know the appropriate action to be done upon destruction.

Discussion

See this in the Discussion section.

Example, bad
struct Base {  // BAD: no virtual destructor
    virtual void f();
};

struct D : Base {
    string s {"a resource needing cleanup"};
    ~D() { /* ... do some cleanup ... */ }
    // ...
};

void use()
{
    unique_ptr<Base> p = make_unique<D>();
    // ...
} // p's destruction calls ~Base(), not ~D(), which leaks D::s and possibly more
Note

A virtual function defines an interface to derived classes that can be used without looking at the derived classes. If the interface allows destroying, it should be safe to do so.

Note

A destructor must be nonprivate or it will prevent using the type :

class X {
    ~X();   // private destructor
    // ...
};

void use()
{
    X a;                        // error: cannot destroy
    auto p = make_unique<X>();  // error: cannot destroy
}
Exception

We can imagine one case where you could want a protected virtual destructor: When an object of a derived type (and only of such a type) should be allowed to destroy another object (not itself) through a pointer to base. We haven’t seen such a case in practice, though.

Enforcement

C.36: A destructor may not fail

Reason

In general we do not know how to write error-free code if a destructor should fail. The standard library requires that all classes it deals with have destructors that do not exit by throwing.

Example
class X {
public:
    ~X() noexcept;
    // ...
};

X::~X() noexcept
{
    // ...
    if (cannot_release_a_resource) terminate();
    // ...
}
Note

Many have tried to devise a fool-proof scheme for dealing with failure in destructors. None have succeeded to come up with a general scheme. This can be a real practical problem: For example, what about a socket that won’t close? The writer of a destructor does not know why the destructor is called and cannot “refuse to act” by throwing an exception. See discussion. To make the problem worse, many “close/release” operations are not retryable. If at all possible, consider failure to close/cleanup a fundamental design error and terminate.

Note

Declare a destructor noexcept. That will ensure that it either completes normally or terminate the program.

Note

If a resource cannot be released and the program may not fail, try to signal the failure to the rest of the system somehow (maybe even by modifying some global state and hope something will notice and be able to take care of the problem). Be fully aware that this technique is special-purpose and error-prone. Consider the “my connection will not close” example. Probably there is a problem at the other end of the connection and only a piece of code responsible for both ends of the connection can properly handle the problem. The destructor could send a message (somehow) to the responsible part of the system, consider that to have closed the connection, and return normally.

Note

If a destructor uses operations that may fail, it can catch exceptions and in some cases still complete successfully (e.g., by using a different clean-up mechanism from the one that threw an exception).

Enforcement

(Simple) A destructor should be declared noexcept.

C.37: Make destructors noexcept

Reason

A destructor may not fail. If a destructor tries to exit with an exception, it’s a bad design error and the program had better terminate.

Note

A destructor (either user-defined or compiler-generated) is implicitly declared noexcept (independently of what code is in its body) if all of the members of its class have noexcept destructors.

Enforcement

(Simple) A destructor should be declared noexcept.

C.ctor: Constructors

A constructor defines how an object is initialized (constructed).

C.40: Define a constructor if a class has an invariant

Reason

That’s what constructors are for.

Example
class Date {  // a Date represents a valid date
              // in the January 1, 1900 to December 31, 2100 range
    Date(int dd, int mm, int yy)
        :d{dd}, m{mm}, y{yy}
    {
        if (!is_valid(d, m, y)) throw Bad_date{};  // enforce invariant
    }
    // ...
private:
    int d, m, y;
};

It is often a good idea to express the invariant as an Ensures on the constructor.

Note

A constructor can be used for convenience even if a class does not have an invariant. For example:

struct Rec {
    string s;
    int i {0};
    Rec(const string& ss) : s{ss} {}
    Rec(int ii) :i{ii} {}
};

Rec r1 {7};
Rec r2 {"Foo bar"};
Note

The C++11 initializer list rule eliminates the need for many constructors. For example:

struct Rec2{
    string s;
    int i;
    Rec2(const string& ss, int ii = 0) :s{ss}, i{ii} {}   // redundant
};

Rec2 r1 {"Foo", 7};
Rec2 r2 {"Bar"};

The Rec2 constructor is redundant. Also, the default for int would be better done as a member initializer.

See also: construct valid object and constructor throws.

Enforcement

C.41: A constructor should create a fully initialized object

Reason

A constructor establishes the invariant for a class. A user of a class should be able to assume that a constructed object is usable.

Example, bad
class X1 {
    FILE* f;   // call init() before any other function
    // ...
public:
    X1() {}
    void init();   // initialize f
    void read();   // read from f
    // ...
};

void f()
{
    X1 file;
    file.read();   // crash or bad read!
    // ...
    file.init();   // too late
    // ...
}

Compilers do not read comments.

Exception

If a valid object cannot conveniently be constructed by a constructor, use a factory function.

Enforcement
Note

If a constructor acquires a resource (to create a valid object), that resource should be released by the destructor. The idiom of having constructors acquire resources and destructors release them is called RAII (“Resource Acquisition Is Initialization”).

C.42: If a constructor cannot construct a valid object, throw an exception

Reason

Leaving behind an invalid object is asking for trouble.

Example
class X2 {
    FILE* f;   // call init() before any other function
    // ...
public:
    X2(const string& name)
        :f{fopen(name.c_str(), "r")}
    {
        if (f == nullptr) throw runtime_error{"could not open" + name};
        // ...
    }

    void read();      // read from f
    // ...
};

void f()
{
    X2 file {"Zeno"}; // throws if file isn't open
    file.read();      // fine
    // ...
}
Example, bad
class X3 {     // bad: the constructor leaves a non-valid object behind
    FILE* f;   // call init() before any other function
    bool valid;
    // ...
public:
    X3(const string& name)
        :f{fopen(name.c_str(), "r")}, valid{false}
    {
        if (f) valid = true;
        // ...
    }

    bool is_valid() { return valid; }
    void read();   // read from f
    // ...
};

void f()
{
    X3 file {"Heraclides"};
    file.read();   // crash or bad read!
    // ...
    if (file.is_valid()) {
        file.read();
        // ...
    }
    else {
        // ... handle error ...
    }
    // ...
}
Note

For a variable definition (e.g., on the stack or as a member of another object) there is no explicit function call from which an error code could be returned. Leaving behind an invalid object and relying on users to consistently check an is_valid() function before use is tedious, error-prone, and inefficient.

Exception

There are domains, such as some hard-real-time systems (think airplane controls) where (without additional tool support) exception handling is not sufficiently predictable from a timing perspective. There the is_valid() technique must be used. In such cases, check is_valid() consistently and immediately to simulate RAII.

Alternative: If you feel tempted to use some “post-constructor initialization” or “two-stage initialization” idiom, try not to do that. If you really have to, look at factory functions.

Note

One reason people have used init() functions rather than doing the initialization work in a constructor has been to avoid code replication. Delegating constructors and default member initialization do that better. Another reason is been to delay initialization until an object is needed; the solution to that is often not to declare a variable until it can be properly initialized

Enforcement

C.43: Ensure that a class has a default constructor

Reason

Many language and library facilities rely on default constructors to initialize their elements, e.g. T a[10] and std::vector<T> v(10).

Example , bad
class Date { // BAD: no default constructor
public:
    Date(int dd, int mm, int yyyy);
    // ...
};

vector<Date> vd1(1000);   // default Date needed here
vector<Date> vd2(1000, Date{Month::october, 7, 1885});   // alternative

The default constructor is only auto-generated if there is no user-declared constructor, hence it’s impossible to initialize the vector vd1 in the example above.

There is no “natural” default date (the big bang is too far back in time to be useful for most people), so this example is non-trivial. {0, 0, 0} is not a valid date in most calendar systems, so choosing that would be introducing something like floating-point’s NaN. However, most realistic Date classes have a “first date” (e.g. January 1, 1970 is popular), so making that the default is usually trivial.

Example
class Date {
public:
    Date(int dd, int mm, int yyyy);
    Date() = default; // See also C.45
    // ...
private:
    int dd = 1;
    int mm = 1;
    int yyyy = 1970;
    // ...
};

vector<Date> vd1(1000);
Note

A class with members that all have default constructors implicitly gets a default constructor:

struct X {
    string s;
    vector<int> v;
};

X x; // means X{{}, {}}; that is the empty string and the empty vector

Beware that built-in types are not properly default constructed:

struct X {
    string s;
    int i;
};

void f()
{
    X x;    // x.s is initialized to the empty string; x.i is uninitialized

    cout << x.s << ' ' << x.i << '\n';
    ++x.i;
}

Statically allocated objects of built-in types are by default initialized to 0, but local built-in variables are not. Beware that your compiler may default initialize local built-in variables, whereas an optimized build will not. Thus, code like the example above may appear to work, but it relies on undefined behavior. Assuming that you want initialization, an explicit default initialization can help:

struct X {
    string s;
    int i {};   // default initialize (to 0)
};
Enforcement

C.44: Prefer default constructors to be simple and non-throwing

Reason

Being able to set a value to “the default” without operations that might fail simplifies error handling and reasoning about move operations.

Example, problematic
template<typename T>
// elem points to space-elem element allocated using new
class Vector0 {
public:
    Vector0() :Vector0{0} {}
    Vector0(int n) :elem{new T[n]}, space{elem + n}, last{elem} {}
    // ...
private:
    own<T*> elem;
    T* space;
    T* last;
};

This is nice and general, but setting a Vector0 to empty after an error involves an allocation, which may fail. Also, having a default Vector represented as {new T[0], 0, 0} seems wasteful. For example, Vector0 v(100) costs 100 allocations.

Example
template<typename T>
// elem is nullptr or elem points to space-elem element allocated using new
class Vector1 {
public:
    // sets the representation to {nullptr, nullptr, nullptr}; doesn't throw
    Vector1() noexcept {}
    Vector1(int n) :elem{new T[n]}, space{elem + n}, last{elem} {}
    // ...
private:
    own<T*> elem = nullptr;
    T* space = nullptr;
    T* last = nullptr;
};

Using {nullptr, nullptr, nullptr} makes Vector1{} cheap, but a special case and implies run-time checks. Setting a Vector1 to empty after detecting an error is trivial.

Enforcement

C.45: Don’t define a default constructor that only initializes data members; use in-class member initializers instead

Reason

Using in-class member initializers lets the compiler generate the function for you. The compiler-generated function can be more efficient.

Example, bad
class X1 { // BAD: doesn't use member initializers
    string s;
    int i;
public:
    X1() :s{"default"}, i{1} { }
    // ...
};
Example
class X2 {
    string s = "default";
    int i = 1;
public:
    // use compiler-generated default constructor
    // ...
};
Enforcement

(Simple) A default constructor should do more than just initialize member variables with constants.

C.46: By default, declare single-argument constructors explicit

Reason

To avoid unintended conversions.

Example, bad
class String {
    // ...
public:
    String(int);   // BAD
    // ...
};

String s = 10;   // surprise: string of size 10
Exception

If you really want an implicit conversion from the constructor argument type to the class type, don’t use explicit:

class Complex {
    // ...
public:
    Complex(double d);   // OK: we want a conversion from d to {d, 0}
    // ...
};

Complex z = 10.7;   // unsurprising conversion

See also: Discussion of implicit conversions.

Enforcement

(Simple) Single-argument constructors should be declared explicit. Good single argument non-explicit constructors are rare in most code based. Warn for all that are not on a “positive list”.

C.47: Define and initialize member variables in the order of member declaration

Reason

To minimize confusion and errors. That is the order in which the initialization happens (independent of the order of member initializers).

Example, bad
class Foo {
    int m1;
    int m2;
public:
    Foo(int x) :m2{x}, m1{++x} { }   // BAD: misleading initializer order
    // ...
};

Foo x(1); // surprise: x.m1 == x.m2 == 2
Enforcement

(Simple) A member initializer list should mention the members in the same order they are declared.

See also: Discussion

C.48: Prefer in-class initializers to member initializers in constructors for constant initializers

Reason

Makes it explicit that the same value is expected to be used in all constructors. Avoids repetition. Avoids maintenance problems. It leads to the shortest and most efficient code.

Example, bad
class X {   // BAD
    int i;
    string s;
    int j;
public:
    X() :i{666}, s{"qqq"} { }   // j is uninitialized
    X(int ii) :i{ii} {}         // s is "" and j is uninitialized
    // ...
};

How would a maintainer know whether j was deliberately uninitialized (probably a poor idea anyway) and whether it was intentional to give s the default value "" in one case and qqq in another (almost certainly a bug)? The problem with j (forgetting to initialize a member) often happens when a new member is added to an existing class.

Example
class X2 {
    int i {666};
    string s {"qqq"};
    int j {0};
public:
    X2() = default;        // all members are initialized to their defaults
    X2(int ii) :i{ii} {}   // s and j initialized to their defaults
    // ...
};

Alternative: We can get part of the benefits from default arguments to constructors, and that is not uncommon in older code. However, that is less explicit, causes more arguments to be passed, and is repetitive when there is more than one constructor:

class X3 {   // BAD: inexplicit, argument passing overhead
    int i;
    string s;
    int j;
public:
    X3(int ii = 666, const string& ss = "qqq", int jj = 0)
        :i{ii}, s{ss}, j{jj} { }   // all members are initialized to their defaults
    // ...
};
Enforcement

C.49: Prefer initialization to assignment in constructors

Reason

An initialization explicitly states that initialization, rather than assignment, is done and can be more elegant and efficient. Prevents “use before set” errors.

Example, good
class A {   // Good
    string s1;
public:
    A() : s1{"Hello, "} { }    // GOOD: directly construct
    // ...
};
Example, bad
class B {   // BAD
    string s1;
public:
    B() { s1 = "Hello, "; }   // BAD: default constructor followed by assignment
    // ...
};

class C {   // UGLY, aka very bad
    int* p;
public:
    C() { cout << *p; p = new int{10}; }   // accidental use before initialized
    // ...
};

C.50: Use a factory function if you need “virtual behavior” during initialization

Reason

If the state of a base class object must depend on the state of a derived part of the object, we need to use a virtual function (or equivalent) while minimizing the window of opportunity to misuse an imperfectly constructed object.

Example, bad
class B {
public:
    B()
    {
        // ...
        f();   // BAD: virtual call in constructor
        // ...
    }

    virtual void f() = 0;

    // ...
};
Example
class B {
protected:
    B() { /* ... */ }              // create an imperfectly initialized object

    virtual void PostInitialize()  // to be called right after construction
    {
        // ...
        f();    // GOOD: virtual dispatch is safe
        // ...
    }

public:
    virtual void f() = 0;

    template<class T>
    static shared_ptr<T> Create()  // interface for creating objects
    {
        auto p = make_shared<T>();
        p->PostInitialize();
        return p;
    }
};

class D : public B { /* ... */ };            // some derived class

shared_ptr<D> p = D::Create<D>();  // creating a D object

By making the constructor protected we avoid an incompletely constructed object escaping into the wild. By providing the factory function Create(), we make construction (on the free store) convenient.

Note

Conventional factory functions allocate on the free store, rather than on the stack or in an enclosing object.

See also: Discussion

C.51: Use delegating constructors to represent common actions for all constructors of a class

Reason

To avoid repetition and accidental differences.

Example, bad
class Date {   // BAD: repetitive
    int d;
    Month m;
    int y;
public:
    Date(int ii, Month mm, year yy)
        :i{ii}, m{mm}, y{yy}
        { if (!valid(i, m, y)) throw Bad_date{}; }

    Date(int ii, Month mm)
        :i{ii}, m{mm} y{current_year()}
        { if (!valid(i, m, y)) throw Bad_date{}; }
    // ...
};

The common action gets tedious to write and may accidentally not be common.

Example
class Date2 {
    int d;
    Month m;
    int y;
public:
    Date2(int ii, Month mm, year yy)
        :i{ii}, m{mm}, y{yy}
        { if (!valid(i, m, y)) throw Bad_date{}; }

    Date2(int ii, Month mm)
        :Date2{ii, mm, current_year()} {}
    // ...
};

See also: If the “repeated action” is a simple initialization, consider an in-class member initializer.

Enforcement

(Moderate) Look for similar constructor bodies.

C.52: Use inheriting constructors to import constructors into a derived class that does not need further explicit initialization

Reason

If you need those constructors for a derived class, re-implementing them is tedious and error prone.

Example

std::vector has a lot of tricky constructors, so if I want my own vector, I don’t want to reimplement them:

class Rec {
    // ... data and lots of nice constructors ...
};

class Oper : public Rec {
    using Rec::Rec;
    // ... no data members ...
    // ... lots of nice utility functions ...
};
Example, bad
struct Rec2 : public Rec {
    int x;
    using Rec::Rec;
};

Rec2 r {"foo", 7};
int val = r.x;   // uninitialized
Enforcement

Make sure that every member of the derived class is initialized.

C.copy: Copy and move

Value types should generally be copyable, but interfaces in a class hierarchy should not. Resource handles may or may not be copyable. Types can be defined to move for logical as well as performance reasons.

C.60: Make copy assignment non-virtual, take the parameter by const&, and return by non-const&

Reason

It is simple and efficient. If you want to optimize for rvalues, provide an overload that takes a && (see F.24).

Example
class Foo {
public:
    Foo& operator=(const Foo& x)
    {
        // GOOD: no need to check for self-assignment (other than performance)
        auto tmp = x;
        std::swap(*this, tmp);
        return *this;
    }
    // ...
};

Foo a;
Foo b;
Foo f();

a = b;    // assign lvalue: copy
a = f();  // assign rvalue: potentially move
Note

The swap implementation technique offers the strong guarantee.

Example

But what if you can get significantly better performance by not making a temporary copy? Consider a simple Vector intended for a domain where assignment of large, equal-sized Vectors is common. In this case, the copy of elements implied by the swap implementation technique could cause an order of magnitude increase in cost:

template<typename T>
class Vector {
public:
    Vector& operator=(const Vector&);
    // ...
private:
    T* elem;
    int sz;
};

Vector& Vector::operator=(const Vector& a)
{
    if (a.sz > sz) {
        // ... use the swap technique, it can't be bettered ...
        return *this
    }
    // ... copy sz elements from *a.elem to elem ...
    if (a.sz < sz) {
        // ... destroy the surplus elements in *this* and adjust size ...
    }
    return *this;
}

By writing directly to the target elements, we will get only the basic guarantee rather than the strong guarantee offered by the swap technique. Beware of self assignment.

Alternatives: If you think you need a virtual assignment operator, and understand why that’s deeply problematic, don’t call it operator=. Make it a named function like virtual void assign(const Foo&). See copy constructor vs. clone().

Enforcement

C.61: A copy operation should copy

Reason

That is the generally assumed semantics. After x = y, we should have x == y. After a copy x and y can be independent objects (value semantics, the way non-pointer built-in types and the standard-library types work) or refer to a shared object (pointer semantics, the way pointers work).

Example
class X {   // OK: value semantics
public:
    X();
    X(const X&);     // copy X
    void modify();   // change the value of X
    // ...
    ~X() { delete[] p; }
private:
    T* p;
    int sz;
};

bool operator==(const X& a, const X& b)
{
    return a.sz == b.sz && equal(a.p, a.p + a.sz, b.p, b.p + b.sz);
}

X::X(const X& a)
    :p{new T[a.sz]}, sz{a.sz}
{
    copy(a.p, a.p + sz, a.p);
}

X x;
X y = x;
if (x != y) throw Bad{};
x.modify();
if (x == y) throw Bad{};   // assume value semantics
Example
class X2 {  // OK: pointer semantics
public:
    X2();
    X2(const X&) = default; // shallow copy
    ~X2() = default;
    void modify();          // change the value of X
    // ...
private:
    T* p;
    int sz;
};

bool operator==(const X2& a, const X2& b)
{
    return a.sz == b.sz && a.p == b.p;
}

X2 x;
X2 y = x;
if (x != y) throw Bad{};
x.modify();
if (x != y) throw Bad{};  // assume pointer semantics
Note

Prefer copy semantics unless you are building a “smart pointer”. Value semantics is the simplest to reason about and what the standard library facilities expect.

Enforcement

(Not enforceable)

C.62: Make copy assignment safe for self-assignment

Reason

If x = x changes the value of x, people will be surprised and bad errors will occur (often including leaks).

Example

The standard-library containers handle self-assignment elegantly and efficiently:

std::vector<int> v = {3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9};
v = v;
// the value of v is still {3, 1, 4, 1, 5, 9}
Note

The default assignment generated from members that handle self-assignment correctly handles self-assignment.

struct Bar {
    vector<pair<int, int>> v;
    map<string, int> m;
    string s;
};

Bar b;
// ...
b = b;   // correct and efficient
Note

You can handle self-assignment by explicitly testing for self-assignment, but often it is faster and more elegant to cope without such a test (e.g., using swap).

class Foo {
    string s;
    int i;
public:
    Foo& operator=(const Foo& a);
    // ...
};

Foo& Foo::operator=(const Foo& a)   // OK, but there is a cost
{
    if (this == &a) return *this;
    s = a.s;
    i = a.i;
    return *this;
}

This is obviously safe and apparently efficient. However, what if we do one self-assignment per million assignments? That’s about a million redundant tests (but since the answer is essentially always the same, the computer’s branch predictor will guess right essentially every time). Consider:

Foo& Foo::operator=(const Foo& a)   // simpler, and probably much better
{
    s = a.s;
    i = a.i;
    return *this;
}

std::string is safe for self-assignment and so are int. All the cost is carried by the (rare) case of self-assignment.

Enforcement

(Simple) Assignment operators should not contain the pattern if (this == &a) return *this; ???

C.63: Make move assignment non-virtual, take the parameter by &&, and return by non-const &

Reason

It is simple and efficient.

See: The rule for copy-assignment.

Enforcement

Equivalent to what is done for copy-assignment.

C.64: A move operation should move and leave its source in a valid state

Reason

That is the generally assumed semantics. After y = std::move(x) the value of y should be the value x had and x should be in a valid state.

Example
template<typename T>
class X {   // OK: value semantics
public:
    X();
    X(X&& a);          // move X
    void modify();     // change the value of X
    // ...
    ~X() { delete[] p; }
private:
    T* p;
    int sz;
};


X::X(X&& a)
    :p{a.p}, sz{a.sz}  // steal representation
{
    a.p = nullptr;     // set to "empty"
    a.sz = 0;
}

void use()
{
    X x{};
    // ...
    X y = std::move(x);
    x = X{};   // OK
} // OK: x can be destroyed
Note

Ideally, that moved-from should be the default value of the type. Ensure that unless there is an exceptionally good reason not to. However, not all types have a default value and for some types establishing the default value can be expensive. The standard requires only that the moved-from object can be destroyed. Often, we can easily and cheaply do better: The standard library assumes that it it possible to assign to a moved-from object. Always leave the moved-from object in some (necessarily specified) valid state.

Note

Unless there is an exceptionally strong reason not to, make x = std::move(y); y = z; work with the conventional semantics.

Enforcement

(Not enforceable) Look for assignments to members in the move operation. If there is a default constructor, compare those assignments to the initializations in the default constructor.

C.65: Make move assignment safe for self-assignment

Reason

If x = x changes the value of x, people will be surprised and bad errors may occur. However, people don’t usually directly write a self-assignment that turn into a move, but it can occur. However, std::swap is implemented using move operations so if you accidentally do swap(a, b) where a and b refer to the same object, failing to handle self-move could be a serious and subtle error.

Example
class Foo {
    string s;
    int i;
public:
    Foo& operator=(Foo&& a);
    // ...
};

Foo& Foo::operator=(Foo&& a)       // OK, but there is a cost
{
    if (this == &a) return *this;  // this line is redundant
    s = std::move(a.s);
    i = a.i;
    return *this;
}

The one-in-a-million argument against if (this == &a) return *this; tests from the discussion of self-assignment is even more relevant for self-move.

Note

There is no know general way of avoiding a if (this == &a) return *this; test for a move assignment and still get a correct answer (i.e., after x = x the value of x is unchanged).

Note

The ISO standard guarantees only a “valid but unspecified” state for the standard library containers. Apparently this has not been a problem in about 10 years of experimental and production use. Please contact the editors if you find a counter example. The rule here is more caution and insists on complete safety.

Example

Here is a way to move a pointer without a test (imagine it as code in the implementation a move assignment):

// move from other.ptr to this->ptr
T* temp = other.ptr;
other.ptr = nullptr;
delete ptr;
ptr = temp;
Enforcement

C.66: Make move operations noexcept

Reason

A throwing move violates most people’s reasonably assumptions. A non-throwing move will be used more efficiently by standard-library and language facilities.

Example
template<typename T>
class Vector {
    // ...
    Vector(Vector&& a) noexcept :elem{a.elem}, sz{a.sz} { a.sz = 0; a.elem = nullptr; }
    Vector& operator=(Vector&& a) noexcept { elem = a.elem; sz = a.sz; a.sz = 0; a.elem = nullptr; }
    // ...
public:
    T* elem;
    int sz;
};

These copy operations do not throw.

Example, bad
template<typename T>
class Vector2 {
    // ...
    Vector2(Vector2&& a) { *this = a; }             // just use the copy
    Vector2& operator=(Vector2&& a) { *this = a; }  // just use the copy
    // ...
public:
    T* elem;
    int sz;
};

This Vector2 is not just inefficient, but since a vector copy requires allocation, it can throw.

Enforcement

(Simple) A move operation should be marked noexcept.

C.67: A base class should suppress copying, and provide a virtual clone instead if “copying” is desired

Reason

To prevent slicing, because the normal copy operations will copy only the base portion of a derived object.

Example, bad
class B { // BAD: base class doesn't suppress copying
    int data;
    // ... nothing about copy operations, so uses default ...
};

class D : public B {
    string more_data; // add a data member
    // ...
};

auto d = make_unique<D>();

// oops, slices the object; gets only d.data but drops d.more_data
auto b = make_unique<B>(d);
Example
class B { // GOOD: base class suppresses copying
    B(const B&) = delete;
    B& operator=(const B&) = delete;
    virtual unique_ptr<B> clone() { return /* B object */; }
    // ...
};

class D : public B {
    string more_data; // add a data member
    unique_ptr<B> clone() override { return /* D object */; }
    // ...
};

auto d = make_unique<D>();
auto b = d.clone(); // ok, deep clone
Note

It’s good to return a smart pointer, but unlike with raw pointers the return type cannot be covariant (for example, D::clone can’t return a unique_ptr<D>. Don’t let this tempt you into returning an owning raw pointer; this is a minor drawback compared to the major robustness benefit delivered by the owning smart pointer.

Exception

If you need covariant return types, return an owner<derived*>. See C.130.

Enforcement

A class with any virtual function should not have a copy constructor or copy assignment operator (compiler-generated or handwritten).

C.other: Other default operation rules

In addition to the operations for which the language offer default implementations, there are a few operations that are so foundational that it rules for their definition are needed: comparisons, swap, and hash.

C.80: Use =default if you have to be explicit about using the default semantics

Reason

The compiler is more likely to get the default semantics right and you cannot implement these functions better than the compiler.

Example
class Tracer {
    string message;
public:
    Tracer(const string& m) : message{m} { cerr << "entering " << message << '\n'; }
    ~Tracer() { cerr << "exiting " << message << '\n'; }

    Tracer(const Tracer&) = default;
    Tracer& operator=(const Tracer&) = default;
    Tracer(Tracer&&) = default;
    Tracer& operator=(Tracer&&) = default;
};

Because we defined the destructor, we must define the copy and move operations. The = default is the best and simplest way of doing that.

Example, bad
class Tracer2 {
    string message;
public:
    Tracer2(const string& m) : message{m} { cerr << "entering " << message << '\n'; }
    ~Tracer2() { cerr << "exiting " << message << '\n'; }

    Tracer2(const Tracer2& a) : message{a.message} {}
    Tracer2& operator=(const Tracer2& a) { message = a.message; return *this; }
    Tracer2(Tracer2&& a) :message{a.message} {}
    Tracer2& operator=(Tracer2&& a) { message = a.message; return *this; }
};

Writing out the bodies of the copy and move operations is verbose, tedious, and error-prone. A compiler does it better.

Enforcement

(Moderate) The body of a special operation should not have the same accessibility and semantics as the compiler-generated version, because that would be redundant

C.81: Use =delete when you want to disable default behavior (without wanting an alternative)

Reason

In a few cases, a default operation is not desirable.

Example
class Immortal {
public:
    ~Immortal() = delete;   // do not allow destruction
    // ...
};

void use()
{
    Immortal ugh;   // error: ugh cannot be destroyed
    Immortal* p = new Immortal{};
    delete p;       // error: cannot destroy *p
}
Example

A unique_ptr can be moved, but not copied. To achieve that its copy operations are deleted. To avoid copying it is necessary to =delete its copy operations from lvalues:

template <class T, class D = default_delete<T>> class unique_ptr {
public:
    // ...
    constexpr unique_ptr() noexcept;
    explicit unique_ptr(pointer p) noexcept;
    // ...
    unique_ptr(unique_ptr&& u) noexcept;   // move constructor
    // ...
    unique_ptr(const unique_ptr&) = delete; // disable copy from lvalue
    // ...
};

unique_ptr<int> make();   // make "something" and return it by moving

void f()
{
    unique_ptr<int> pi {};
    auto pi2 {pi};      // error: no move constructor from lvalue
    auto pi3 {make()};  // OK, move: the result of make() is an rvalue
}
Enforcement

The elimination of a default operation is (should be) based on the desired semantics of the class. Consider such classes suspect, but maintain a “positive list” of classes where a human has asserted that the semantics is correct.

C.82: Don’t call virtual functions in constructors and destructors

Reason

The function called will be that of the object constructed so far, rather than a possibly overriding function in a derived class. This can be most confusing. Worse, a direct or indirect call to an unimplemented pure virtual function from a constructor or destructor results in undefined behavior.

Example, bad
class Base {
public:
    virtual void f() = 0;   // not implemented
    virtual void g();       // implemented with Base version
    virtual void h();       // implemented with Base version
};

class Derived : public Base {
public:
    void g() override;   // provide Derived implementation
    void h() final;      // provide Derived implementation

    Derived()
    {
        // BAD: attempt to call an unimplemented virtual function
        f();

        // BAD: will call Derived::g, not dispatch further virtually
        g();

        // GOOD: explicitly state intent to call only the visible version
        Derived::g();

        // ok, no qualification needed, h is final
        h();
    }
};

Note that calling a specific explicitly qualified function is not a virtual call even if the function is virtual.

See also factory functions for how to achieve the effect of a call to a derived class function without risking undefined behavior.

Note

There is nothing inherently wrong with calling virtual functions from constructors and destructors. The semantics of such calls is type safe. However, experience shows that such calls are rarely needed, easily confuse maintainers, and become a source of errors when used by novices.

Enforcement

C.83: For value-like types, consider providing a noexcept swap function

Reason

A swap can be handy for implementing a number of idioms, from smoothly moving objects around to implementing assignment easily to providing a guaranteed commit function that enables strongly error-safe calling code. Consider using swap to implement copy assignment in terms of copy construction. See also destructors, deallocation, and swap must never fail.

Example, good
class Foo {
    // ...
public:
    void swap(Foo& rhs) noexcept
    {
        m1.swap(rhs.m1);
        std::swap(m2, rhs.m2);
    }
private:
    Bar m1;
    int m2;
};

Providing a nonmember swap function in the same namespace as your type for callers’ convenience.

void swap(Foo& a, Foo& b)
{
    a.swap(b);
}
Enforcement

C.84: A swap function may not fail

Reason

swap is widely used in ways that are assumed never to fail and programs cannot easily be written to work correctly in the presence of a failing swap. The standard-library containers and algorithms will not work correctly if a swap of an element type fails.

Example, bad
void swap(My_vector& x, My_vector& y)
{
    auto tmp = x;   // copy elements
    x = y;
    y = tmp;
}

This is not just slow, but if a memory allocation occurs for the elements in tmp, this swap may throw and would make STL algorithms fail if used with them.

Enforcement

(Simple) When a class has a swap member function, it should be declared noexcept.

C.85: Make swap noexcept

Reason

A swap may not fail. If a swap tries to exit with an exception, it’s a bad design error and the program had better terminate.

Enforcement

(Simple) When a class has a swap member function, it should be declared noexcept.

C.86: Make == symmetric with respect to operand types and noexcept

Reason

Asymmetric treatment of operands is surprising and a source of errors where conversions are possible. == is a fundamental operations and programmers should be able to use it without fear of failure.

Example
class X {
    string name;
    int number;
};

bool operator==(const X& a, const X& b) noexcept {
    return a.name == b.name && a.number == b.number;
}
Example, bad
class B {
    string name;
    int number;
    bool operator==(const B& a) const {
        return name == a.name && number == a.number;
    }
    // ...
};

B’s comparison accepts conversions for its second operand, but not its first.

Note

If a class has a failure state, like double’s NaN, there is a temptation to make a comparison against the failure state throw. The alternative is to make two failure states compare equal and any valid state compare false against the failure state.

Note

This rule applies to all the usual comparison operators: !=, <, <=, >, and >=.

Enforcement

C.87: Beware of == on base classes

Reason

It is really hard to write a foolproof and useful == for a hierarchy.

Example, bad
class B {
    string name;
    int number;
    virtual bool operator==(const B& a) const
    {
         return name == a.name && number == a.number;
    }
    // ...
};

B’s comparison accepts conversions for its second operand, but not its first.

class D :B {
    char character;
    virtual bool operator==(const D& a) const
    {
        return name == a.name && number == a.number && character == a.character;
    }
    // ...
};

B b = ...
D d = ...
b == d;    // compares name and number, ignores d's character
d == b;    // error: no == defined
D d2;
d == d2;   // compares name, number, and character
B& b2 = d2;
b2 == d;   // compares name and number, ignores d2's and d's character

Of course there are ways of making == work in a hierarchy, but the naive approaches do not scale

Note

This rule applies to all the usual comparison operators: !=, <, <=, >, and >=.

Enforcement

C.89: Make a hash noexcept

Reason

Users of hashed containers use hash indirectly and don’t expect simple access to throw. It’s a standard-library requirement.

Example, bad
template<>
struct hash<My_type> {  // thoroughly bad hash specialization
    using result_type = size_t;
    using argument_type = My_type;

    size_t operator() (const My_type & x) const
    {
        size_t xs = x.s.size();
        if (xs < 4) throw Bad_My_type{};    // "Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition!"
        return hash<size_t>()(x.s.size()) ^ trim(x.s);
    }
};

int main()
{
    unordered_map<My_type, int> m;
    My_type mt{ "asdfg" };
    m[mt] = 7;
    cout << m[My_type{ "asdfg" }] << '\n';
}

If you have to define a hash specialization, try simply to let it combine standard-library hash specializations with ^ (xor). That tends to work better than “cleverness” for non-specialists.

Enforcement

C.con: Containers and other resource handles

A container is an object holding a sequence of objects of some type; std::vector is the archetypical container. A resource handle is a class that owns a resource; std::vector is the typical resource handle; its resource is its sequence of elements.

Summary of container rules:

See also: Resources

C.lambdas: Function objects and lambdas

A function object is an object supplying an overloaded () so that you can call it. A lambda expression (colloquially often shortened to “a lambda”) is a notation for generating a function object. Function objects should be cheap to copy (and therefore passed by value).

Summary:

C.hier: Class hierarchies (OOP)

A class hierarchy is constructed to represent a set of hierarchically organized concepts (only). Typically base classes act as interfaces. There are two major uses for hierarchies, often named implementation inheritance and interface inheritance.

Class hierarchy rule summary:

Designing rules for classes in a hierarchy summary:

Accessing objects in a hierarchy rule summary:

C.120: Use class hierarchies to represent concepts with inherent hierarchical structure (only)

Reason

Direct representation of ideas in code eases comprehension and maintenance. Make sure the idea represented in the base class exactly matches all derived types and there is not a better way to express it than using the tight coupling of inheritance.

Do not use inheritance when simply having a data member will do. Usually this means that the derived type needs to override a base virtual function or needs access to a protected member.

Example
??? Good old Shape example?
Example, bad

Do not represent non-hierarchical domain concepts as class hierarchies.

template<typename T>
class Container {
public:
    // list operations:
    virtual T& get() = 0;
    virtual void put(T&) = 0;
    virtual void insert(Position) = 0;
    // ...
    // vector operations:
    virtual T& operator[](int) = 0;
    virtual void sort() = 0;
    // ...
    // tree operations:
    virtual void balance() = 0;
    // ...
};

Here most overriding classes cannot implement most of the functions required in the interface well. Thus the base class becomes an implementation burden. Furthermore, the user of Container cannot rely on the member functions actually performing a meaningful operations reasonably efficiently; it may throw an exception instead. Thus users have to resort to run-time checking and/or not using this (over)general interface in favor of a particular interface found by a run-time type inquiry (e.g., a dynamic_cast).

Enforcement

C.121: If a base class is used as an interface, make it a pure abstract class

Reason

A class is more stable (less brittle) if it does not contain data. Interfaces should normally be composed entirely of public pure virtual functions and a default/empty virtual destructor.

Example
class My_interface {
public:
    // ...only pure virtual functions here ...
    virtual ~My_interface() {}   // or =default
};
Example, bad
class Goof {
public:
    // ...only pure virtual functions here ...
    // no virtual destructor
};

class Derived : public Goof {
    string s;
    // ...
};

void use()
{
    unique_ptr<Goof> p {new Derived{"here we go"}};
    f(p.get()); // use Derived through the Goof interface
    g(p.get()); // use Derived through the Goof interface
} // leak

The Derived is deleted through its Goof interface, so its string is leaked. Give Goof a virtual destructor and all is well.

Enforcement

C.122: Use abstract classes as interfaces when complete separation of interface and implementation is needed

Reason

Such as on an ABI (link) boundary.

Example
struct Device {
    virtual void write(span<const char> outbuf) = 0;
    virtual void read(span<char> inbuf) = 0;
};

class D1 : public Device {
    // ... data ...

    void write(span<const char> outbuf) override;
    void read(span<char> inbuf) override;
};

class D2 : public Device {
    // ... different data ...

    void write(span<const char> outbuf) override;
    void read(span<char> inbuf) override;
};

A user can now use D1s and D2s interchangeably through the interface provided by Device. Furthermore, we can update D1 and D2 in a ways that are not binary compatible with older versions as long as all access goes through Device.

Enforcement
???

C.hierclass: Designing classes in a hierarchy:

C.126: An abstract class typically doesn’t need a constructor

Reason

An abstract class typically does not have any data for a constructor to initialize.

Example
???
Exception
Enforcement

Flag abstract classes with constructors.

C.127: A class with a virtual function should have a virtual or protected destructor

Reason

A class with a virtual function is usually (and in general) used via a pointer to base. Usually, the last user has to call delete on a pointer to base, often via a smart pointer to base, so the destructor should be public and virtual. Less commonly, if deletion through a pointer to base is not intended to be supported, the destructor should be protected and nonvirtual; see C.35.

Example, bad
struct B {
    virtual int f() = 0;
    // ... no user-written destructor, defaults to public nonvirtual ...
};

// bad: derived from a class without a virtual destructor
struct D : B {
    string s {"default"};
};

void use()
{
    unique_ptr<B> p = make_unique<D>();
    // ...
} // undefined behavior. May call B::~B only and leak the string
Note

There are people who don’t follow this rule because they plan to use a class only through a shared_ptr: std::shared_ptr<B> p = std::make_shared<D>(args); Here, the shared pointer will take care of deletion, so no leak will occur from an inappropriate delete of the base. People who do this consistently can get a false positive, but the rule is important – what if one was allocated using make_unique? It’s not safe unless the author of B ensures that it can never be misused, such as by making all constructors private and providing a factory function to enforce the allocation with make_shared.

Enforcement

C.128: Virtual functions should specify exactly one of virtual, override, or final

Reason

Readability. Detection of mistakes. Writing explicit virtual, override, or final is self-documenting and enables the compiler to catch mismatch of types and/or names between base and derived classes. However, writing more than one of these three is both redundant and a potential source of errors.

Use virtual only when declaring a new virtual function. Use override only when declaring an overrider. Use final only when declaring a final overrider. If a base class destructor is declared virtual, derived class destructors should neither be declared virtual nor override.

Example, bad
struct B {
    void f1(int);
    virtual void f2(int) const;
    virtual void f3(int);
    // ...
};

struct D : B {
    void f1(int);        // bad (hope for a warning): D::f1() hides B::f1()
    void f2(int) const;  // bad (but conventional and valid): no explicit override
    void f3(double);     // bad (hope for a warning): D::f3() hides B::f3()
    // ...
};

struct Better : B {
    void f1(int) override;        // error (caught): D::f1() hides B::f1()
    void f2(int) const override;
    void f3(double) override;     // error (caught): D::f3() hides B::f3()
    // ...
};
Enforcement

C.129: When designing a class hierarchy, distinguish between implementation inheritance and interface inheritance

Reason

Implementation details in an interface makes the interface brittle; that is, makes its users vulnerable to having to recompile after changes in the implementation. Data in a base class increases the complexity of implementing the base and can lead to replication of code.

Note

Definition:

A pure interface class is simply a set of pure virtual functions; see I.25.

In early OOP (e.g., in the 1980s and 1990s), implementation inheritance and interface inheritance were often mixed and bad habits die hard. Even now, mixtures are not uncommon in old code bases and in old-style teaching material.

The importance of keeping the two kinds of inheritance increases

Example, bad
class Shape {   // BAD, mixed interface and implementation
public:
    Shape();
    Shape(Point ce = {0, 0}, Color co = none): cent{ce}, col {co} { /* ... */}

    Point center() const { return cent; }
    Color color() const { return col; }

    virtual void rotate(int) = 0;
    virtual void move(Point p) { cent = p; redraw(); }

    virtual void redraw();

    // ...
public:
    Point cent;
    Color col;
};

class Circle : public Shape {
public:
    Circle(Point c, int r) :Shape{c}, rad{r} { /* ... */ }

    // ...
private:
    int rad;
};

class Triangle : public Shape {
public:
    Triangle(Point p1, Point p2, Point p3); // calculate center
    // ...
};

Problems:

The implementation of Shape::move() is an example of implementation inheritance: we have defined move() once and for all for all derived classes. The more code there is in such base class member function implementations and the more data is shared by placing it in the base, the more benefits we gain - and the less stable the hierarchy is.

Example

This Shape hierarchy can be rewritten using interface inheritance:

class Shape {  // pure interface
public:
    virtual Point center() const = 0;
    virtual Color color() const = 0;

    virtual void rotate(int) = 0;
    virtual void move(Point p) = 0;

    virtual void redraw() = 0;

    // ...
};

Note that a pure interface rarely have constructors: there is nothing to construct.

class Circle : public Shape {
public:
    Circle(Point c, int r, Color c) :cent{c}, rad{r}, col{c} { /* ... */ }

    Point center() const override { return cent; }
    Color color() const override { return col; }

    // ...
private:
    Point cent;
    int rad;
    Color col;
};

The interface is now less brittle, but there is more work in implementing the member functions. For example, center has to be implemented by every class derived from Shape.

Example, dual hierarchy

How can we gain the benefit of the stable hierarchies from implementation hierarchies and the benefit of implementation reuse from implementation inheritance. One popular technique is dual hierarchies. There are many ways of implementing the idea of dual hierarchies; here, we use a multiple-inheritance variant.

First we devise a hierarchy of interface classes:

class Shape {   // pure interface
public:
    virtual Point center() const = 0;
    virtual Color color() const = 0;

    virtual void rotate(int) = 0;
    virtual void move(Point p) = 0;

    virtual void redraw() = 0;

    // ...
};

class Circle : public Shape {   // pure interface
public:
    int radius() = 0;
    // ...
};

To make this interface useful, we must provide its implementation classes (here, named equivalently, but in the Impl namespace):

class Impl::Shape : public Shape { // implementation
public:
    // constructors, destructor
    // ...
    virtual Point center() const { /* ... */ }
    virtual Color color() const { /* ... */ }

    virtual void rotate(int) { /* ... */ }
    virtual void move(Point p) { /* ... */ }

    virtual void redraw() { /* ... */ }

    // ...
};

Now Shape is a poor example of a class with an implementation, but bear with us because this is just a simple example of a technique aimed at more complex hierarchies.

class Impl::Circle : public Circle, public Impl::Shape {   // implementation
public:
    // constructors, destructor

    int radius() { /* ... */ }
    // ...
};

And we could extend the hierarchies by adding a Smiley class (:-)):

class Smiley : public Circle { // pure interface
public:
    // ...
};

class Impl::Smiley : Public Smiley, public Impl::Circle {   // implementation
public:
    // constructors, destructor
    // ...
}

There are now two hierarchies:

Since each implementation derived from its interface as well as its implementation base class we get a lattice (DAG):

Smiley     ->         Circle     ->  Shape
  ^                     ^               ^
  |                     |               |
Impl::Smiley -> Impl::Circle -> Impl::Shape

As mentioned, this is just one way to construct a dual hierarchy.

Another (related) technique for separating interface and implementation is PIMPL.

Note

There is often a choice between offering common functionality as (implemented) base class functions and free-standing functions (in an implementation namespace). Base classes gives a shorter notation and easier access to shared data (in the base) at the cost of the functionality being available only to users of the hierarchy.

Enforcement

C.130: Redefine or prohibit copying for a base class; prefer a virtual clone function instead

Reason

Copying a base is usually slicing. If you really need copy semantics, copy deeply: Provide a virtual clone function that will copy the actual most-derived type and return an owning pointer to the new object, and then in derived classes return the derived type (use a covariant return type).

Example
class Base {
public:
    virtual owner<Base*> clone() = 0;
    virtual ~Base() = 0;

    Base(const Base&) = delete;
    Base& operator=(const Base&) = delete;
};

class Derived : public Base {
public:
    owner<Derived*> clone() override;
    virtual ~Derived() override;
};

Note that because of language rules, the covariant return type cannot be a smart pointer. See also C.67.

Enforcement

C.131: Avoid trivial getters and setters

Reason

A trivial getter or setter adds no semantic value; the data item could just as well be public.

Example
class Point {   // Bad: verbose
    int x;
    int y;
public:
    Point(int xx, int yy) : x{xx}, y{yy} { }
    int get_x() const { return x; }
    void set_x(int xx) { x = xx; }
    int get_y() const { return y; }
    void set_y(int yy) { y = yy; }
    // no behavioral member functions
};

Consider making such a class a struct – that is, a behaviorless bunch of variables, all public data and no member functions.

struct Point {
    int x {0};
    int y {0};
};

Note that we can put default initializers on member variables: C.49: Prefer initialization to assignment in constructors.

Note

A getter or a setter that converts from an internal type to an interface type is not trivial (it provides a form of information hiding).

Enforcement

Flag multiple get and set member functions that simply access a member without additional semantics.

C.132: Don’t make a function virtual without reason

Reason

Redundant virtual increases run-time and object-code size. A virtual function can be overridden and is thus open to mistakes in a derived class. A virtual function ensures code replication in a templated hierarchy.

Example, bad
template<class T>
class Vector {
public:
    // ...
    virtual int size() const { return sz; }   // bad: what good could a derived class do?
private:
    T* elem;   // the elements
    int sz;    // number of elements
};

This kind of “vector” isn’t meant to be used as a base class at all.

Enforcement

C.133: Avoid protected data

Reason

protected data is a source of complexity and errors. protected data complicated the statement of invariants. protected data inherently violates the guidance against putting data in base classes, which usually leads to having to deal virtual inheritance as well.

Example
???
Note

Protected member function can be just fine.

Enforcement

Flag classes with protected data.

C.134: Ensure all non-const data members have the same access level

Reason

Prevention of logical confusion leading to errors. If the non-const data members don’t have the same access level, the type is confused about what it’s trying to do. Is it a type that maintains an invariant or simply a collection of values?

Discussion

The core question is: What code is responsible for maintaining a meaningful/correct value for that variable?

There are exactly two kinds of data members:

Data members in category A should just be public (or, more rarely, protected if you only want derived classes to see them). They don’t need encapsulation. All code in the system might as well see and manipulate them.

Data members in category B should be private or const. This is because encapsulation is important. To make them non-private and non-const would mean that the object can’t control its own state: An unbounded amount of code beyond the class would need to know about the invariant and participate in maintaining it accurately – if these data members were public, that would be all calling code that uses the object; if they were protected, it would be all the code in current and future derived classes. This leads to brittle and tightly coupled code that quickly becomes a nightmare to maintain. Any code that inadvertently sets the data members to an invalid or unexpected combination of values would corrupt the object and all subsequent uses of the object.

Most classes are either all A or all B:

Exception

Occasionally classes will mix A and B, usually for debug reasons. An encapsulated object may contain something like non-const debug instrumentation that isn’t part of the invariant and so falls into category A – it isn’t really part of the object’s value or meaningful observable state either. In that case, the A parts should be treated as A’s (made public, or in rarer cases protected if they should be visible only to derived classes) and the B parts should still be treated like B’s (private or const).

Enforcement

Flag any class that has non-const data members with different access levels.

C.135: Use multiple inheritance to represent multiple distinct interfaces

Reason

Not all classes will necessarily support all interfaces, and not all callers will necessarily want to deal with all operations. Especially to break apart monolithic interfaces into “aspects” of behavior supported by a given derived class.

Example
???
Note

This is a very common use of inheritance because the need for multiple different interfaces to an implementation is common and such interfaces are often not easily or naturally organized into a single-rooted hierarchy.

Note

Such interfaces are typically abstract classes.

Enforcement

???

C.136: Use multiple inheritance to represent the union of implementation attributes

Reason

??? Herb: Here’s the second mention of implementation inheritance. I’m very skeptical, even of single implementation inheritance, never mind multiple implementation inheritance which just seems frightening – I don’t think that even policy-based design really needs to inherit from the policy types. Am I missing some good examples, or could we consider discouraging this as an anti-pattern?

Example
???
Note

This a relatively rare use because implementation can often be organized into a single-rooted hierarchy.

Enforcement

??? Herb: How about opposite enforcement: Flag any type that inherits from more than one non-empty base class?

C.137: Use virtual bases to avoid overly general base classes

Reason

???

Example
???
Note

???

Enforcement

???

C.138: Create an overload set for a derived class and its bases with using

Reason

Without a using declaration, member functions in the derived class hide the entire inherited overload sets.

Example, bad
#include <iostream>
class B {
public:
    virtual int f(int i) { std::cout << "f(int): "; return i; }
    virtual double f(double d) { std::cout << "f(double): "; return d; }
};
class D: public B {
public:
    int f(int i) override { std::cout << "f(int): "; return i+1; }
};
int main()
{
    D d;
    std::cout << d.f(2) << '\n';   // prints "f(int): 3"
    std::cout << d.f(2.3) << '\n'; // prints "f(int): 3"
}
Example, good
class D: public B {
public:
    int f(int i) override { std::cout << "f(int): "; return i+1; }
    using B::f; // exposes f(double)
};
Note

This issue affects both virtual and non-virtual member functions

For variadic bases, C++17 introduced a variadic form of the using-declaration,

template <class... Ts>
struct Overloader : Ts... {
    using Ts::operator()...; // exposes operator() from every base
};
Enforcement

Diagnose name hiding

C.139: Use final sparingly

Reason

Capping a hierarchy with final is rarely needed for logical reasons and can be damaging to the extensibility of a hierarchy. Capping an individual virtual function with final is error-prone as that final can easily be overlooked when defining/overriding a set of functions.

Example, bad
class Widget { /* ... */ };

// nobody will ever want to improve My_widget (or so you thought)
class My_widget final : public Widget { /* ... */ };

class My_improved_widget : public My_widget { /* ... */ };  // error: can't do that
Example, bad
struct Interface {
    virtual int f() = 0;
    virtual int g() = 0;
};

class My_implementation : public Interface {
    int f() override;
    int g() final;  // I want g() to be FAST!
    // ...
};

class Better_implementation : public My_implementation {
    int f();
    int g();
    // ...
};

void use(Interface* p)
{
    int x = p->f();    // Better_implementation::f()
    int y = p->g();    // My_implementation::g() Surprise?
}

// ...

use(new Better_implementation{});

The problem is easy to see in a small example, but in a large hierarchy with many virtual functions, tools are required for reliably spotting such problems. Consistent use of override would catch this.

Note

Claims of performance improvements from final should be substantiated. Too often, such claims are based on conjecture or experience with other languages.

There are examples where final can be important for both logical and performance reasons. One example is a performance-critical AST hierarchy in a compiler or language analysis tool. New derived classes are not added every year and only by library implementers. However, misuses are (or at least have been) far more common.

Enforcement

Flag uses of final.

C.140: Do not provide different default arguments for a virtual function and an overrider

Reason

That can cause confusion: An overrider does not inherit default arguments.

Example, bad
class Base {
public:
    virtual int multiply(int value, int factor = 2) = 0;
};

class Derived : public Base {
public:
    int multiply(int value, int factor = 10) override;
};

Derived d;
Base& b = d;

b.multiply(10);  // these two calls will call the same function but
d.multiply(10);  // with different arguments and so different results
Enforcement

Flag default arguments on virtual functions if they differ between base and derived declarations.

C.hier-access: Accessing objects in a hierarchy

C.145: Access polymorphic objects through pointers and references

Reason

If you have a class with a virtual function, you don’t (in general) know which class provided the function to be used.

Example
struct B { int a; virtual int f(); };
struct D : B { int b; int f() override; };

void use(B b)
{
    D d;
    B b2 = d;   // slice
    B b3 = b;
}

void use2()
{
    D d;
    use(d);   // slice
}

Both ds are sliced.

Exception

You can safely access a named polymorphic object in the scope of its definition, just don’t slice it.

void use3()
{
    D d;
    d.f();   // OK
}
Enforcement

Flag all slicing.

C.146: Use dynamic_cast where class hierarchy navigation is unavoidable

Reason

dynamic_cast is checked at run time.

Example
struct B {   // an interface
    virtual void f();
    virtual void g();
};

struct D : B {   // a wider interface
    void f() override;
    virtual void h();
};

void user(B* pb)
{
    if (D* pd = dynamic_cast<D*>(pb)) {
        // ... use D's interface ...
    }
    else {
        // ... make do with B's interface ...
    }
}
Note

Like other casts, dynamic_cast is overused. Prefer virtual functions to casting. Prefer static polymorphism to hierarchy navigation where it is possible (no run-time resolution necessary) and reasonably convenient.

Note

Some people use dynamic_cast where a typeid would have been more appropriate; dynamic_cast is a general “is kind of” operation for discovering the best interface to an object, whereas typeid is a “give me the exact type of this object” operation to discover the actual type of an object. The latter is an inherently simpler operation that ought to be faster. The latter (typeid) is easily hand-crafted if necessary (e.g., if working on a system where RTTI is – for some reason – prohibited), the former (dynamic_cast) is far harder to implement correctly in general.

Consider:

struct B {
    const char * name {"B"};
    virtual const char* id() const { return name; }
    // ...
};

struct D : B {
    const char * name {"D"};
    const char* id() const override { return name; }
    // ...
};

void use()
{
    B* pb1 = new B;
    B* pb2 = new D;

    cout << pb1->id(); // "B"
    cout << pb2->id(); // "D"

    if (pb1->id() == pb2->id()) // *pb1 is the same type as *pb2
    if (pb2->id() == "D") {         // looks innocent
        D* pd = static_cast<D*>(pb1);
        // ...
    }
    // ...
}

The result of pb2->id() == "D" is actually implementation defined. We added it to warn of the dangers of home-brew RTTI. This code may work as expected for years, just to fail on a new machine, new compiler, or a new linker that does not unify character literals.

If you implement your own RTTI, be careful.

Exception

If your implementation provided a really slow dynamic_cast, you may have to use a workaround. However, all workarounds that cannot be statically resolved involve explicit casting (typically static_cast) and are error-prone. You will basically be crafting your own special-purpose dynamic_cast. So, first make sure that your dynamic_cast really is as slow as you think it is (there are a fair number of unsupported rumors about) and that your use of dynamic_cast is really performance critical.

We are of the opinion that current implementations of dynamic_cast are unnecessarily slow. For example, under suitable conditions, it is possible to perform a dynamic_cast in fast constant time. However, compatibility makes changes difficult even if all agree that an effort to optimize is worthwhile.

In very rare cases, if you have measured that the dynamic_cast overhead is material, you have other means to statically guarantee that a downcast will succeed (e.g., you are using CRTP carefully), and there is no virtual inheritance involved, consider tactically resorting static_cast with a prominent comment and disclaimer summarizing this paragraph and that human attention is needed under maintenance because the type system can’t verify correctness. Even so, in our experience such “I know what I’m doing” situations are still a known bug source.

Enforcement

Flag all uses of static_cast for downcasts, including C-style casts that perform a static_cast.

C.147: Use dynamic_cast to a reference type when failure to find the required class is considered an error

Reason

Casting to a reference expresses that you intend to end up with a valid object, so the cast must succeed. dynamic_cast will then throw if it does not succeed.

Example
???
Enforcement

???

C.148: Use dynamic_cast to a pointer type when failure to find the required class is considered a valid alternative

Reason

???

Example
???
Enforcement

???

C.149: Use unique_ptr or shared_ptr to avoid forgetting to delete objects created using new

Reason

Avoid resource leaks.

Example
void use(int i)
{
    auto p = new int {7};           // bad: initialize local pointers with new
    auto q = make_unique<int>(9);   // ok: guarantee the release of the memory allocated for 9
    if (0 < i) return;              // maybe return and leak
    delete p;                       // too late
}
Enforcement

C.150: Use make_unique() to construct objects owned by unique_ptrs

Reason

make_unique gives a more concise statement of the construction. It also ensures exception safety in complex expressions.

Example
unique_ptr<Foo> p {new<Foo>{7}};   // OK: but repetitive

auto q = make_unique<Foo>(7);      // Better: no repetition of Foo

// Not exception-safe: the compiler may interleave the computations of arguments as follows:
//
// 1. allocate memory for Foo,
// 2. construct Foo,
// 3. call bar,
// 4. construct unique_ptr<Foo>.
//
// If bar throws, Foo will not be destroyed, and the memory allocated for it will leak.
f(unique_ptr<Foo>(new Foo()), bar());

// Exception-safe: calls to functions are never interleaved.
f(make_unique<Foo>(), bar());
Enforcement

C.151: Use make_shared() to construct objects owned by shared_ptrs

Reason

make_shared gives a more concise statement of the construction. It also gives an opportunity to eliminate a separate allocation for the reference counts, by placing the shared_ptr’s use counts next to its object.

Example
// OK: but repetitive; and separate allocations for the Foo and shared_ptr's use count
shared_ptr<Foo> p {new<Foo>{7}};

auto q = make_shared<Foo>(7);   // Better: no repetition of Foo; one object
Enforcement

C.152: Never assign a pointer to an array of derived class objects to a pointer to its base

Reason

Subscripting the resulting base pointer will lead to invalid object access and probably to memory corruption.

Example
struct B { int x; };
struct D : B { int y; };

void use(B*);

D a[] = {{1, 2}, {3, 4}, {5, 6}};
B* p = a;     // bad: a decays to &a[0] which is converted to a B*
p[1].x = 7;   // overwrite D[0].y

use(a);       // bad: a decays to &a[0] which is converted to a B*
Enforcement

C.over: Overloading and overloaded operators

You can overload ordinary functions, template functions, and operators. You cannot overload function objects.

Overload rule summary:

C.160: Define operators primarily to mimic conventional usage

Reason

Minimize surprises.

Example
class X {
public:
    // ...
    X& operator=(const X&); // member function defining assignment
    friend bool operator==(const X&, const X&); // == needs access to representation
                                                // after a = b we have a == b
    // ...
};

Here, the conventional semantics is maintained: Copies compare equal.

Example, bad
X operator+(X a, X b) { return a.v - b.v; }   // bad: makes + subtract
Note

Non-member operators should be either friends or defined in the same namespace as their operands. Binary operators should treat their operands equivalently.

Enforcement

Possibly impossible.

C.161: Use nonmember functions for symmetric operators

Reason

If you use member functions, you need two. Unless you use a non-member function for (say) ==, a == b and b == a will be subtly different.

Example
bool operator==(Point a, Point b) { return a.x == b.x && a.y == b.y; }
Enforcement

Flag member operator functions.

C.162: Overload operations that are roughly equivalent

Reason

Having different names for logically equivalent operations on different argument types is confusing, leads to encoding type information in function names, and inhibits generic programming.

Example

Consider:

void print(int a);
void print(int a, int base);
void print(const string&);

These three functions all print their arguments (appropriately). Conversely:

void print_int(int a);
void print_based(int a, int base);
void print_string(const string&);

These three functions all print their arguments (appropriately). Adding to the name just introduced verbosity and inhibits generic code.

Enforcement

???

C.163: Overload only for operations that are roughly equivalent

Reason

Having the same name for logically different functions is confusing and leads to errors when using generic programming.

Example

Consider:

void open_gate(Gate& g);   // remove obstacle from garage exit lane
void fopen(const char* name, const char* mode);   // open file

The two operations are fundamentally different (and unrelated) so it is good that their names differ. Conversely:

void open(Gate& g);   // remove obstacle from garage exit lane
void open(const char* name, const char* mode ="r");   // open file

The two operations are still fundamentally different (and unrelated) but the names have been reduced to their (common) minimum, opening opportunities for confusion. Fortunately, the type system will catch many such mistakes.

Note

Be particularly careful about common and popular names, such as open, move, +, and ==.

Enforcement

???

C.164: Avoid conversion operators

Reason

Implicit conversions can be essential (e.g., double to int) but often cause surprises (e.g., String to C-style string).

Note

Prefer explicitly named conversions until a serious need is demonstrated. By “serious need” we mean a reason that is fundamental in the application domain (such as an integer to complex number conversion) and frequently needed. Do not introduce implicit conversions (through conversion operators or non-explicit constructors) just to gain a minor convenience.

Example, bad
class String {   // handle ownership and access to a sequence of characters
    // ...
    String(czstring p); // copy from *p to *(this->elem)
    // ...
    operator zstring() { return elem; }
    // ...
};

void user(zstring p)
{
    if (*p == "") {
        String s {"Trouble ahead!"};
        // ...
        p = s;
    }
    // use p
}

The string allocated for s and assigned to p is destroyed before it can be used.

Enforcement

Flag all conversion operators.

C.165: Use using for customization points

Reason

To find function objects and functions defined in a separate namespace to “customize” a common function.

Example

Consider swap. It is a general (standard library) function with a definition that will work for just about any type. However, it is desirable to define specific swap()s for specific types. For example, the general swap() will copy the elements of two vectors being swapped, whereas a good specific implementation will not copy elements at all.

namespace N {
    My_type X { /* ... */ };
    void swap(X&, X&);   // optimized swap for N::X
    // ...
}

void f1(N::X& a, N::X& b)
{
    std::swap(a, b);   // probably not what we wanted: calls std::swap()
}

The std::swap() in f1() does exactly what we asked it to do: it calls the swap() in namespace std. Unfortunately, that’s probably not what we wanted. How do we get N::X considered?

void f2(N::X& a, N::X& b)
{
    swap(a, b);   // calls N::swap
}

But that may not be what we wanted for generic code. There, we typically want the specific function if it exists and the general function if not. This is done by including the general function in the lookup for the function:

void f3(N::X& a, N::X& b)
{
    using std::swap;  // make std::swap available
    swap(a, b);        // calls N::swap if it exists, otherwise std::swap
}
Enforcement

Unlikely, except for known customization points, such as swap. The problem is that the unqualified and qualified lookups both have uses.

C.166: Overload unary & only as part of a system of smart pointers and references

Reason

The & operator is fundamental in C++. Many parts of the C++ semantics assumes its default meaning.

Example
class Ptr { // a somewhat smart pointer
    Ptr(X* pp) :p(pp) { /* check */ }
    X* operator->() { /* check */ return p; }
    X operator[](int i);
    X operator*();
private:
    T* p;
};

class X {
    Ptr operator&() { return Ptr{this}; }
    // ...
};
Note

If you “mess with” operator & be sure that its definition has matching meanings for ->, [], *, and . on the result type. Note that operator . currently cannot be overloaded so a perfect system is impossible. We hope to remedy that: http://www.open-std.org/jtc1/sc22/wg21/docs/papers/2015/n4477.pdf. Note that std::addressof() always yields a built-in pointer.

Enforcement

Tricky. Warn if & is user-defined without also defining -> for the result type.

C.168: Define overloaded operators in the namespace of their operands

Reason

Readability. Ability for find operators using ADL. Avoiding inconsistent definition in different namespaces

Example
struct S { };
bool operator==(S, S);   // OK: in the same namespace as S, and even next to S
S s;

bool x = (s == s);

This is what a default == would do, if we had such defaults.

Example
namespace N {
    struct S { };
    bool operator==(S, S);   // OK: in the same namespace as S, and even next to S
}

N::S s;

bool x = (s == s);  // finds N::operator==() by ADL
Example, bad
struct S { };
S s;

namespace N {
    S::operator!(S a) { return true; }
    S not_s = !s;
}

namespace M {
    S::operator!(S a) { return false; }
    S not_s = !s;
}

Here, the meaning of !s differs in N and M. This can be most confusing. Remove the definition of namespace M and the confusion is replaced by an opportunity to make the mistake.

Note

If a binary operator is defined for two types that are defined in different namespaces, you cannot follow this rule. For example:

Vec::Vector operator*(const Vec::Vector&, const Mat::Matrix&);

This may be something best avoided.

See also

This is a special case of the rule that helper functions should be defined in the same namespace as their class.

Enforcement

C.167: Use an operator for an operation with its conventional meaning

Reason

Readability. Convention. Reusability. Support for generic code

Example
void cout_my_class(const My_class& c) // confusing, not conventional,not generic
{
    std::cout << /* class members here */;
}

std::ostream& operator<<(std::ostream& os, const my_class& c) // OK
{
    return os << /* class members here */;
}

By itself, cout_my_class would be OK, but it is not usable/composable with code that rely on the << convention for output:

My_class var { /* ... */ };
// ...
cout << "var = " << var << '\n';
Note

There are strong and vigorous conventions for the meaning most operators, such as

Don’t define those unconventionally and don’t invent your own names for them.

Enforcement

Tricky. Requires semantic insight.

C.170: If you feel like overloading a lambda, use a generic lambda

Reason

You cannot overload by defining two different lambdas with the same name.

Example
void f(int);
void f(double);
auto f = [](char);   // error: cannot overload variable and function

auto g = [](int) { /* ... */ };
auto g = [](double) { /* ... */ };   // error: cannot overload variables

auto h = [](auto) { /* ... */ };   // OK
Enforcement

The compiler catches the attempt to overload a lambda.

C.union: Unions

A union is a struct where all members start at the same address so that it can hold only one member at a time. A union does not keep track of which member is stored so the programmer has to get it right; this is inherently error-prone, but there are ways to compensate.

A type that is a union plus an indicator of which member is currently held is called a tagged union, a discriminated union, or a variant.

Union rule summary:

C.180: Use unions to save memory

Reason

A union allows a single piece of memory to be used for different types of objects at different times. Consequently, it can be used to save memory when we have several objects that are never used at the same time.

Example
union Value {
    int x;
    double d;
};

Value v = { 123 };  // now v holds an int
cout << v.x << '\n';    // write 123
v.d = 987.654;  // now v holds a double
cout << v.d << '\n';    // write 987.654

But heed the warning: Avoid “naked” unions

Example
// Short string optimization

constexpr size_t buffer_size = 16; // Slightly larger than the size of a pointer

class Immutable_string {
public:
    Immutable_string(const char* str) :
        size(strlen(str))
    {
        if (size < buffer_size)
            strcpy_s(string_buffer, buffer_size, str);
        else {
            string_ptr = new char[size + 1];
            strcpy_s(string_ptr, size + 1, str);
        }
    }

    ~Immutable_string()
    {
        if (size >= buffer_size)
            delete string_ptr;
    }

    const char* get_str() const
    {
        return (size < buffer_size) ? string_buffer : string_ptr;
    }

private:
    // If the string is short enough, we store the string itself
    // instead of a pointer to the string.
    union {
        char* string_ptr;
        char string_buffer[buffer_size];
    };

    const size_t size;
};
Enforcement

???

C.181: Avoid “naked” unions

Reason

A naked union is a union without an associated indicator which member (if any) it holds, so that the programmer has to keep track. Naked unions are a source of type errors.

Example, bad
union Value {
    int x;
    double d;
};

Value v;
v.d = 987.654;  // v holds a double

So far, so good, but we can easily misuse the union:

cout << v.x << '\n';    // BAD, undefined behavior: v holds a double, but we read it as an int

Note that the type error happened without any explicit cast. When we tested that program the last value printed was 1683627180 which it the integer value for the bit pattern for 987.654. What we have here is an “invisible” type error that happens to give a result that could easily look innocent.

And, talking about “invisible”, this code produced no output:

v.x = 123;
cout << v.d << '\n';    // BAD: undefined behavior
Alternative

Wrap a union in a class together with a type field.

The soon-to-be-standard variant type (to be found in <variant>) does that for you:

variant<int, double> v;
v = 123;        // v holds an int
int x = get<int>(v);
v = 123.456;    // v holds a double
w = get<double>(v);
Enforcement

???

C.182: Use anonymous unions to implement tagged unions

Reason

A well-designed tagged union is type safe. An anonymous union simplifies the definition of a class with a (tag, union) pair.

Example

This example is mostly borrowed from TC++PL4 pp216-218. You can look there for an explanation.

The code is somewhat elaborate. Handling a type with user-defined assignment and destructor is tricky. Saving programmers from having to write such code is one reason for including variant in the standard.

class Value { // two alternative representations represented as a union
private:
    enum class Tag { number, text };
    Tag type; // discriminant

    union { // representation (note: anonymous union)
        int i;
        string s; // string has default constructor, copy operations, and destructor
    };
public:
    struct Bad_entry { }; // used for exceptions

    ~Value();
    Value& operator=(const Value&);   // necessary because of the string variant
    Value(const Value&);
    // ...
    int number() const;
    string text() const;

    void set_number(int n);
    void set_text(const string&);
    // ...
};

int Value::number() const
{
    if (type != Tag::number) throw Bad_entry{};
    return i;
}

string Value::text() const
{
    if (type != Tag::text) throw Bad_entry{};
    return s;
}

void Value::set_number(int n)
{
    if (type == Tag::text) {
        s.~string();      // explicitly destroy string
        type = Tag::number;
    }
    i = n;
}

void Value::set_text(const string& ss)
{
    if (type == Tag::text)
        s = ss;
    else {
        new(&s) string{ss};   // placement new: explicitly construct string
        type = Tag::text;
    }
}

Value& Value::operator=(const Value& e)   // necessary because of the string variant
{
    if (type == Tag::text && e.type == Tag::text) {
        s = e.s;    // usual string assignment
        return *this;
    }

    if (type == Tag::text) s.~string(); // explicit destroy

    switch (e.type) {
    case Tag::number:
        i = e.i;
        break;
    case Tag::text:
        new(&s)(e.s);   // placement new: explicit construct
        type = e.type;
    }

    return *this;
}

Value::~Value()
{
    if (type == Tag::text) s.~string(); // explicit destroy
}
Enforcement

???

C.183: Don’t use a union for type punning

Reason

It is undefined behavior to read a union member with a different type from the one with which it was written. Such punning is invisible, or at least harder to spot than using a named cast. Type punning using a union is a source of errors.

Example, bad
union Pun {
    int x;
    unsigned char c[sizeof(int)];
};

The idea of Pun is to be able to look at the character representation of an int.

void bad(Pun& u)
{
    u.x = 'x';
    cout << u.c[0] << '\n';     // undefined behavior
}

If you wanted to see the bytes of an int, use a (named) cast:

void if_you_must_pun(int& x)
{
    auto p = reinterpret_cast<unsigned char*>(&x);
    cout << p[0] << '\n';     // undefined behavior
    // ...
}

Accessing the result of an reinterpret_cast to a different type from the objects declared type is still undefined behavior, but at least we can see that something tricky is going on.

Note

Unfortunately, unions are commonly used for type punning. We don’t consider “sometimes, it works as expected” a strong argument.

Enforcement

???

Enum: Enumerations

Enumerations are used to define sets of integer values and for defining types for such sets of values. There are two kind of enumerations, “plain” enums and class enums.

Enumeration rule summary:

Enum.1: Prefer enumerations over macros

Reason

Macros do not obey scope and type rules. Also, macro names are removed during preprocessing and so usually don’t appear in tools like debuggers.

Example

First some bad old code:

// webcolors.h (third party header)
#define RED   0xFF0000
#define GREEN 0x00FF00
#define BLUE  0x0000FF

// productinfo.h
// The following define product subtypes based on color
#define RED    0
#define PURPLE 1
#define BLUE   2

int webby = BLUE;   // webby == 2; probably not what was desired

Instead use an enum:

enum class Web_color { red = 0xFF0000, green = 0x00FF00, blue = 0x0000FF };
enum class Product_info { red = 0, purple = 1, blue = 2 };

int webby = blue;   // error: be specific
Web_color webby = Web_color::blue;

We used an enum class to avoid name clashes.

Enforcement

Flag macros that define integer values.

Reason

An enumeration shows the enumerators to be related and can be a named type.

Example
enum class Web_color { red = 0xFF0000, green = 0x00FF00, blue = 0x0000FF };
Note

Switching on an enumeration is common and the compiler can warn against unusual patterns of case labels. For example:

enum class Product_info { red = 0, purple = 1, blue = 2 };

void print(Product_info inf)
{
    switch (inf) {
    case Product_info::red: cout << "red"; break;
    case Product_info::purple: cout << "purple"; break;
    }
}

Such off-by-one switch`statements are often the results of an added enumerator and insufficient testing.

Enforcement

Enum.3: Prefer class enums over “plain” enums

Reason

To minimize surprises: traditional enums convert to int too readily.

Example
void Print_color(int color);

enum Web_color { red = 0xFF0000, green = 0x00FF00, blue = 0x0000FF };
enum Product_info { Red = 0, Purple = 1, Blue = 2 };

Web_color webby = Web_color::blue;

// Clearly at least one of these calls is buggy.
Print_color(webby);
Print_color(Product_info::Blue);

Instead use an enum class:

void Print_color(int color);

enum class Web_color { red = 0xFF0000, green = 0x00FF00, blue = 0x0000FF };
enum class Product_info { red = 0, purple = 1, blue = 2 };

Web_color webby = Web_color::blue;
Print_color(webby);  // Error: cannot convert Web_color to int.
Print_color(Product_info::Red);  // Error: cannot convert Product_info to int.
Enforcement

(Simple) Warn on any non-class enum definition.

Enum.4: Define operations on enumerations for safe and simple use

Reason

Convenience of use and avoidance of errors.

Example
enum class Day { mon, tue, wed, thu, fri, sat, sun };

Day operator++(Day& d)
{
    return d == Day::sun ? Day::mon : Day{++d};
}

Day today = Day::sat;
Day tomorrow = ++today;
Enforcement

Flag repeated expressions cast back into an enumeration.

Enum.5: Don’t use ALL_CAPS for enumerators

Reason

Avoid clashes with macros.

Example, bad
 // webcolors.h (third party header)
#define RED   0xFF0000
#define GREEN 0x00FF00
#define BLUE  0x0000FF

// productinfo.h
// The following define product subtypes based on color

enum class Product_info { RED, PURPLE, BLUE };   // syntax error
Enforcement

Flag ALL_CAPS enumerators.

Enum.6: Avoid unnamed enumerations

Reason

If you can’t name an enumeration, the values are not related

Example, bad
enum { red = 0xFF0000, scale = 4, is_signed = 1 };

Such code is not uncommon in code written before there were convenient alternative ways of specifying integer constants.

Alternative

Use constexpr values instead. For example:

constexpr int red = 0xFF0000;
constexpr short scale = 4;
constexpr bool is_signed = true;
Enforcement

Flag unnamed enumerations.

Enum.7: Specify the underlying type of an enumeration only when necessary

Reason

The default is the easiest to read and write. int is the default integer type. int is compatible with C enums.

Example
enum class Direction : char { n, s, e, w,
                              ne, nw, se, sw };  // underlying type saves space

enum class Web_color : int { red   = 0xFF0000,
                             green = 0x00FF00,
                             blue  = 0x0000FF };  // underlying type is redundant
Note

Specifying the underlying type is necessary in forward declarations of enumerations:

enum Flags : char;

void f(Flags);

// ....

enum flags : char { /* ... */ };
Enforcement

????

Enum.8: Specify enumerator values only when necessary

Reason

It’s the simplest. It avoids duplicate enumerator values. The default gives a consecutive set of values that is good for switch-statement implementations.

Example
enum class Col1 { red, yellow, blue };
enum class Col2 { red = 1, yellow = 2, blue = 2 }; // typo
enum class Month { jan = 1, feb, mar, apr, may, jun,
                   jul, august, sep, oct, nov, dec }; // starting with 1 is conventional
enum class Base_flag { dec = 1, oct = dec << 1, hex = dec << 2 }; // set of bits

Specifying values is necessary to match conventional values (e.g., Month) and where consecutive values are undesirable (e.g., to get separate bits as in Base_flag).

Enforcement

R: Resource management

This section contains rules related to resources. A resource is anything that must be acquired and (explicitly or implicitly) released, such as memory, file handles, sockets, and locks. The reason it must be released is typically that it can be in short supply, so even delayed release may do harm. The fundamental aim is to ensure that we don’t leak any resources and that we don’t hold a resource longer than we need to. An entity that is responsible for releasing a resource is called an owner.

There are a few cases where leaks can be acceptable or even optimal: If you are writing a program that simply produces an output based on an input and the amount of memory needed is proportional to the size of the input, the optimal strategy (for performance and ease of programming) is sometimes simply never to delete anything. If you have enough memory to handle your largest input, leak away, but be sure to give a good error message if you are wrong. Here, we ignore such cases.

R.1: Manage resources automatically using resource handles and RAII (Resource Acquisition Is Initialization)

Reason

To avoid leaks and the complexity of manual resource management. C++’s language-enforced constructor/destructor symmetry mirrors the symmetry inherent in resource acquire/release function pairs such as fopen/fclose, lock/unlock, and new/delete. Whenever you deal with a resource that needs paired acquire/release function calls, encapsulate that resource in an object that enforces pairing for you – acquire the resource in its constructor, and release it in its destructor.

Example, bad

Consider:

void send(X* x, cstring_span destination)
{
    auto port = open_port(destination);
    my_mutex.lock();
    // ...
    send(port, x);
    // ...
    my_mutex.unlock();
    close_port(port);
    delete x;
}

In this code, you have to remember to unlock, close_port, and delete on all paths, and do each exactly once. Further, if any of the code marked ... throws an exception, then x is leaked and my_mutex remains locked.

Example

Consider:

void send(unique_ptr<X> x, cstring_span destination)  // x owns the X
{
    Port port{destination};            // port owns the PortHandle
    lock_guard<mutex> guard{my_mutex}; // guard owns the lock
    // ...
    send(port, x);
    // ...
} // automatically unlocks my_mutex and deletes the pointer in x

Now all resource cleanup is automatic, performed once on all paths whether or not there is an exception. As a bonus, the function now advertises that it takes over ownership of the pointer.

What is Port? A handy wrapper that encapsulates the resource:

class Port {
    PortHandle port;
public:
    Port(cstring_span destination) : port{open_port(destination)} { }
    ~Port() { close_port(port); }
    operator PortHandle() { return port; }

    // port handles can't usually be cloned, so disable copying and assignment if necessary
    Port(const Port&) = delete;
    Port& operator=(const Port&) = delete;
};
Note

Where a resource is “ill-behaved” in that it isn’t represented as a class with a destructor, wrap it in a class or use finally

See also: RAII.

R.2: In interfaces, use raw pointers to denote individual objects (only)

Reason

Arrays are best represented by a container type (e.g., vector (owning)) or a span (non-owning). Such containers and views hold sufficient information to do range checking.

Example, bad
void f(int* p, int n)   // n is the number of elements in p[]
{
    // ...
    p[2] = 7;   // bad: subscript raw pointer
    // ...
}

The compiler does not read comments, and without reading other code you do not know whether p really points to n elements. Use a span instead.

Example
void g(int* p, int fmt)   // print *p using format #fmt
{
    // ... uses *p and p[0] only ...
}
Exception

C-style strings are passed as single pointers to a zero-terminated sequence of characters. Use zstring rather than char* to indicate that you rely on that convention.

Note

Many current uses of pointers to a single element could be references. However, where nullptr is a possible value, a reference may not be an reasonable alternative.

Enforcement

R.3: A raw pointer (a T*) is non-owning

Reason

There is nothing (in the C++ standard or in most code) to say otherwise and most raw pointers are non-owning. We want owning pointers identified so that we can reliably and efficiently delete the objects pointed to by owning pointers.

Example
void f()
{
    int* p1 = new int{7};           // bad: raw owning pointer
    auto p2 = make_unique<int>(7);  // OK: the int is owned by a unique pointer
    // ...
}

The unique_ptr protects against leaks by guaranteeing the deletion of its object (even in the presence of exceptions). The T* does not.

Example
template<typename T>
class X {
    // ...
public:
    T* p;   // bad: it is unclear whether p is owning or not
    T* q;   // bad: it is unclear whether q is owning or not
};

We can fix that problem by making ownership explicit:

template<typename T>
class X2 {
    // ...
public:
    owner<T*> p;  // OK: p is owning
    T* q;         // OK: q is not owning
};
Exception

A major class of exception is legacy code, especially code that must remain compilable as C or interface with C and C-style C++ through ABIs. The fact that there are billions of lines of code that violate this rule against owning T*s cannot be ignored. We’d love to see program transformation tools turning 20-year-old “legacy” code into shiny modern code, we encourage the development, deployment and use of such tools, we hope the guidelines will help the development of such tools, and we even contributed (and contribute) to the research and development in this area. However, it will take time: “legacy code” is generated faster than we can renovate old code, and so it will be for a few years.

This code cannot all be rewritten (ever assuming good code transformation software), especially not soon. This problem cannot be solved (at scale) by transforming all owning pointers to unique_ptrs and shared_ptrs, partly because we need/use owning “raw pointers” as well as simple pointers in the implementation of our fundamental resource handles. For example, common vector implementations have one owning pointer and two non-owning pointers. Many ABIs (and essentially all interfaces to C code) use T*s, some of them owning. Some interfaces cannot be simply annotated with owner because they need to remain compilable as C (although this would be a rare good use for a macro, that expands to owner in C++ mode only).

Note

owner<T*> has no default semantics beyond T*. It can be used without changing any code using it and without affecting ABIs. It is simply a indicator to programmers and analysis tools. For example, if an owner<T*> is a member of a class, that class better have a destructor that deletes it.

Example, bad

Returning a (raw) pointer imposes a life-time management uncertainty on the caller; that is, who deletes the pointed-to object?

Gadget* make_gadget(int n)
{
    auto p = new Gadget{n};
    // ...
    return p;
}

void caller(int n)
{
    auto p = make_gadget(n);   // remember to delete p
    // ...
    delete p;
}

In addition to suffering from the problem from leak, this adds a spurious allocation and deallocation operation, and is needlessly verbose. If Gadget is cheap to move out of a function (i.e., is small or has an efficient move operation), just return it “by value” (see “out” return values):

Gadget make_gadget(int n)
{
    Gadget g{n};
    // ...
    return g;
}
Note

This rule applies to factory functions.

Note

If pointer semantics are required (e.g., because the return type needs to refer to a base class of a class hierarchy (an interface)), return a “smart pointer.”

Enforcement

R.4: A raw reference (a T&) is non-owning

Reason

There is nothing (in the C++ standard or in most code) to say otherwise and most raw references are non-owning. We want owners identified so that we can reliably and efficiently delete the objects pointed to by owning pointers.

Example
void f()
{
    int& r = *new int{7};  // bad: raw owning reference
    // ...
    delete &r;             // bad: violated the rule against deleting raw pointers
}

See also: The raw pointer rule

Enforcement

See the raw pointer rule

R.5: Don’t heap-allocate unnecessarily

Reason

A scoped object is a local object, a global object, or a member. This implies that there is no separate allocation and deallocation cost in excess of that already used for the containing scope or object. The members of a scoped object are themselves scoped and the scoped object’s constructor and destructor manage the members’ lifetimes.

Example

The following example is inefficient (because it has unnecessary allocation and deallocation), vulnerable to exception throws and returns in the ... part (leading to leaks), and verbose:

void f(int n)
{
    auto p = new Gadget{n};
    // ...
    delete p;
}

Instead, use a local variable:

void f(int n)
{
    Gadget g{n};
    // ...
}
Enforcement

R.6: Avoid non-const global variables

Reason

Global variables can be accessed from everywhere so they can introduce surprising dependencies between apparently unrelated objects. They are a notable source of errors.

Warning: The initialization of global objects is not totally ordered. If you use a global object initialize it with a constant. Note that it is possible to get undefined initialization order even for const objects.

Exception

A global object is often better than a singleton.

Exception

An immutable (const) global does not introduce the problems we try to avoid by banning global objects.

Enforcement

(??? NM: Obviously we can warn about non-const statics … do we want to?)

R.alloc: Allocation and deallocation

R.10: Avoid malloc() and free()

Reason

malloc() and free() do not support construction and destruction, and do not mix well with new and delete.

Example
class Record {
    int id;
    string name;
    // ...
};

void use()
{
    // p1 may be nullptr
    // *p1 is not initialized; in particular,
    // that string isn't a string, but a string-sized bag of bits
    Record* p1 = static_cast<Record*>(malloc(sizeof(Record)));

    auto p2 = new Record;

    // unless an exception is thrown, *p2 is default initialized
    auto p3 = new(nothrow) Record;
    // p3 may be nullptr; if not, *p3 is default initialized

    // ...

    delete p1;    // error: cannot delete object allocated by malloc()
    free(p2);    // error: cannot free() object allocated by new
}

In some implementations that delete and that free() might work, or maybe they will cause run-time errors.

Exception

There are applications and sections of code where exceptions are not acceptable. Some of the best such examples are in life-critical hard real-time code. Beware that many bans on exception use are based on superstition (bad) or by concerns for older code bases with unsystematic resource management (unfortunately, but sometimes necessary). In such cases, consider the nothrow versions of new.

Enforcement

Flag explicit use of malloc and free.

R.11: Avoid calling new and delete explicitly

Reason

The pointer returned by new should belong to a resource handle (that can call delete). If the pointer returned by new is assigned to a plain/naked pointer, the object can be leaked.

Note

In a large program, a naked delete (that is a delete in application code, rather than part of code devoted to resource management) is a likely bug: if you have N deletes, how can you be certain that you don’t need N+1 or N-1? The bug may be latent: it may emerge only during maintenance. If you have a naked new, you probably need a naked delete somewhere, so you probably have a bug.

Enforcement

(Simple) Warn on any explicit use of new and delete. Suggest using make_unique instead.

R.12: Immediately give the result of an explicit resource allocation to a manager object

Reason

If you don’t, an exception or a return may lead to a leak.

Example, bad
void f(const string& name)
{
    FILE* f = fopen(name, "r");          // open the file
    vector<char> buf(1024);
    auto _ = finally([f] { fclose(f); })  // remember to close the file
    // ...
}

The allocation of buf may fail and leak the file handle.

Example
void f(const string& name)
{
    ifstream f{name};   // open the file
    vector<char> buf(1024);
    // ...
}

The use of the file handle (in ifstream) is simple, efficient, and safe.

Enforcement

R.13: Perform at most one explicit resource allocation in a single expression statement

Reason

If you perform two explicit resource allocations in one statement, you could leak resources because the order of evaluation of many subexpressions, including function arguments, is unspecified.

Example
void fun(shared_ptr<Widget> sp1, shared_ptr<Widget> sp2);

This fun can be called like this:

// BAD: potential leak
fun(shared_ptr<Widget>(new Widget(a, b)), shared_ptr<Widget>(new Widget(c, d)));

This is exception-unsafe because the compiler may reorder the two expressions building the function’s two arguments. In particular, the compiler can interleave execution of the two expressions: Memory allocation (by calling operator new) could be done first for both objects, followed by attempts to call the two Widget constructors. If one of the constructor calls throws an exception, then the other object’s memory will never be released!

This subtle problem has a simple solution: Never perform more than one explicit resource allocation in a single expression statement. For example:

shared_ptr<Widget> sp1(new Widget(a, b)); // Better, but messy
fun(sp1, new Widget(c, d));

The best solution is to avoid explicit allocation entirely use factory functions that return owning objects:

fun(make_shared<Widget>(a, b), make_shared<Widget>(c, d)); // Best

Write your own factory wrapper if there is not one already.

Enforcement

R.14: ??? array vs. pointer parameter

Reason

An array decays to a pointer, thereby losing its size, opening the opportunity for range errors.

Example
??? what do we recommend: f(int*[]) or f(int**) ???

Alternative: Use span to preserve size information.

Enforcement

Flag [] parameters.

R.15: Always overload matched allocation/deallocation pairs

Reason

Otherwise you get mismatched operations and chaos.

Example
class X {
    // ...
    void* operator new(size_t s);
    void operator delete(void*);
    // ...
};
Note

If you want memory that cannot be deallocated, =delete the deallocation operation. Don’t leave it undeclared.

Enforcement

Flag incomplete pairs.

R.smart: Smart pointers

R.20: Use unique_ptr or shared_ptr to represent ownership

Reason

They can prevent resource leaks.

Example

Consider:

void f()
{
    X x;
    X* p1 { new X };              // see also ???
    unique_ptr<T> p2 { new X };   // unique ownership; see also ???
    shared_ptr<T> p3 { new X };   // shared ownership; see also ???
}

This will leak the object used to initialize p1 (only).

Enforcement

(Simple) Warn if the return value of new or a function call with return value of pointer type is assigned to a raw pointer.

R.21: Prefer unique_ptr over shared_ptr unless you need to share ownership

Reason

A unique_ptr is conceptually simpler and more predictable (you know when destruction happens) and faster (you don’t implicitly maintain a use count).

Example, bad

This needlessly adds and maintains a reference count.

void f()
{
    shared_ptr<Base> base = make_shared<Derived>();
    // use base locally, without copying it -- refcount never exceeds 1
} // destroy base
Example

This is more efficient:

void f()
{
    unique_ptr<Base> base = make_unique<Derived>();
    // use base locally
} // destroy base
Enforcement

(Simple) Warn if a function uses a Shared_ptr with an object allocated within the function, but never returns the Shared_ptr or passes it to a function requiring a Shared_ptr&. Suggest using unique_ptr instead.

R.22: Use make_shared() to make shared_ptrs

Reason

If you first make an object and then give it to a shared_ptr constructor, you (most likely) do one more allocation (and later deallocation) than if you use make_shared() because the reference counts must be allocated separately from the object.

Example

Consider:

shared_ptr<X> p1 { new X{2} }; // bad
auto p = make_shared<X>(2);    // good

The make_shared() version mentions X only once, so it is usually shorter (as well as faster) than the version with the explicit new.

Enforcement

(Simple) Warn if a shared_ptr is constructed from the result of new rather than make_shared.

R.23: Use make_unique() to make unique_ptrs

Reason

For convenience and consistency with shared_ptr.

Note

make_unique() is C++14, but widely available (as well as simple to write).

Enforcement

(Simple) Warn if a unique_ptr is constructed from the result of new rather than make_unique.

R.24: Use std::weak_ptr to break cycles of shared_ptrs

Reason

shared_ptr’s rely on use counting and the use count for a cyclic structure never goes to zero, so we need a mechanism to be able to destroy a cyclic structure.

Example
???
Note

??? (HS: A lot of people say “to break cycles”, while I think “temporary shared ownership” is more to the point.) ???(BS: breaking cycles is what you must do; temporarily sharing ownership is how you do it. You could “temporarily share ownership” simply by using another shared_ptr.)

Enforcement

??? probably impossible. If we could statically detect cycles, we wouldn’t need weak_ptr

R.30: Take smart pointers as parameters only to explicitly express lifetime semantics

Reason

Accepting a smart pointer to a widget is wrong if the function just needs the widget itself. It should be able to accept any widget object, not just ones whose lifetimes are managed by a particular kind of smart pointer. A function that does not manipulate lifetime should take raw pointers or references instead.

Example, bad
// callee
void f(shared_ptr<widget>& w)
{
    // ...
    use(*w); // only use of w -- the lifetime is not used at all
    // ...
};

// caller
shared_ptr<widget> my_widget = /* ... */;
f(my_widget);

widget stack_widget;
f(stack_widget); // error
Example, good
// callee
void f(widget& w)
{
    // ...
    use(w);
    // ...
};

// caller
shared_ptr<widget> my_widget = /* ... */;
f(*my_widget);

widget stack_widget;
f(stack_widget); // ok -- now this works
Enforcement

R.31: If you have non-std smart pointers, follow the basic pattern from std

Reason

The rules in the following section also work for other kinds of third-party and custom smart pointers and are very useful for diagnosing common smart pointer errors that cause performance and correctness problems. You want the rules to work on all the smart pointers you use.

Any type (including primary template or specialization) that overloads unary * and -> is considered a smart pointer:

Example
// use Boost's intrusive_ptr
#include<boost/intrusive_ptr.hpp>
void f(boost::intrusive_ptr<widget> p)  // error under rule 'sharedptrparam'
{
    p->foo();
}

// use Microsoft's CComPtr
#include<atlbase.h>
void f(CComPtr<widget> p)               // error under rule 'sharedptrparam'
{
    p->foo();
}

Both cases are an error under the sharedptrparam guideline: p is a Shared_ptr, but nothing about its sharedness is used here and passing it by value is a silent pessimization; these functions should accept a smart pointer only if they need to participate in the widget’s lifetime management. Otherwise they should accept a widget*, if it can be nullptr. Otherwise, and ideally, the function should accept a widget&. These smart pointers match the Shared_ptr concept, so these guideline enforcement rules work on them out of the box and expose this common pessimization.

R.32: Take a unique_ptr<widget> parameter to express that a function assumes ownership of a widget

Reason

Using unique_ptr in this way both documents and enforces the function call’s ownership transfer.

Example
void sink(unique_ptr<widget>); // consumes the widget

void sink(widget*);            // just uses the widget
Example, bad
void thinko(const unique_ptr<widget>&); // usually not what you want
Enforcement

R.33: Take a unique_ptr<widget>& parameter to express that a function reseats thewidget

Reason

Using unique_ptr in this way both documents and enforces the function call’s reseating semantics.

Note

“reseat” means “making a reference or a smart pointer refer to a different object.”

Example
void reseat(unique_ptr<widget>&); // "will" or "might" reseat pointer
Example, bad
void thinko(const unique_ptr<widget>&); // usually not what you want
Enforcement

R.34: Take a shared_ptr<widget> parameter to express that a function is part owner

Reason

This makes the function’s ownership sharing explicit.

Example, good
void share(shared_ptr<widget>);            // share -- "will" retain refcount

void reseat(shared_ptr<widget>&);          // "might" reseat ptr

void may_share(const shared_ptr<widget>&); // "might" retain refcount
Enforcement

R.35: Take a shared_ptr<widget>& parameter to express that a function might reseat the shared pointer

Reason

This makes the function’s reseating explicit.

Note

“reseat” means “making a reference or a smart pointer refer to a different object.”

Example, good
void share(shared_ptr<widget>);            // share -- "will" retain refcount

void reseat(shared_ptr<widget>&);          // "might" reseat ptr

void may_share(const shared_ptr<widget>&); // "might" retain refcount
Enforcement

R.36: Take a const shared_ptr<widget>& parameter to express that it might retain a reference count to the object ???

Reason

This makes the function’s ??? explicit.

Example, good
void share(shared_ptr<widget>);            // share -- "will" retain refcount

void reseat(shared_ptr<widget>&);          // "might" reseat ptr

void may_share(const shared_ptr<widget>&); // "might" retain refcount
Enforcement

R.37: Do not pass a pointer or reference obtained from an aliased smart pointer

Reason

Violating this rule is the number one cause of losing reference counts and finding yourself with a dangling pointer. Functions should prefer to pass raw pointers and references down call chains. At the top of the call tree where you obtain the raw pointer or reference from a smart pointer that keeps the object alive. You need to be sure that the smart pointer cannot inadvertently be reset or reassigned from within the call tree below.

Note

To do this, sometimes you need to take a local copy of a smart pointer, which firmly keeps the object alive for the duration of the function and the call tree.

Example

Consider this code:

// global (static or heap), or aliased local ...
shared_ptr<widget> g_p = ...;

void f(widget& w)
{
    g();
    use(w);  // A
}

void g()
{
    g_p = ...; // oops, if this was the last shared_ptr to that widget, destroys the widget
}

The following should not pass code review:

void my_code()
{
    // BAD: passing pointer or reference obtained from a nonlocal smart pointer
    //      that could be inadvertently reset somewhere inside f or it callees
    f(*g_p);

    // BAD: same reason, just passing it as a "this" pointer
     g_p->func();
}

The fix is simple – take a local copy of the pointer to “keep a ref count” for your call tree:

void my_code()
{
    // cheap: 1 increment covers this entire function and all the call trees below us
    auto pin = g_p;

    // GOOD: passing pointer or reference obtained from a local unaliased smart pointer
    f(*pin);

    // GOOD: same reason
    pin->func();
}
Enforcement

ES: Expressions and Statements

Expressions and statements are the lowest and most direct way of expressing actions and computation. Declarations in local scopes are statements.

For naming, commenting, and indentation rules, see NL: Naming and layout.

General rules:

Declaration rules:

Expression rules:

Statement rules:

Arithmetic rules:

ES.1: Prefer the standard library to other libraries and to “handcrafted code”

Reason

Code using a library can be much easier to write than code working directly with language features, much shorter, tend to be of a higher level of abstraction, and the library code is presumably already tested. The ISO C++ standard library is among the most widely known and best tested libraries. It is available as part of all C++ Implementations.

Example
auto sum = accumulate(begin(a), end(a), 0.0);   // good

a range version of accumulate would be even better:

auto sum = accumulate(v, 0.0); // better

but don’t hand-code a well-known algorithm:

int max = v.size();   // bad: verbose, purpose unstated
double sum = 0.0;
for (int i = 0; i < max; ++i)
    sum = sum + v[i];
Exception

Large parts of the standard library rely on dynamic allocation (free store). These parts, notably the containers but not the algorithms, are unsuitable for some hard-real time and embedded applications. In such cases, consider providing/using similar facilities, e.g., a standard-library-style container implemented using a pool allocator.

Enforcement

Not easy. ??? Look for messy loops, nested loops, long functions, absence of function calls, lack of use of non-built-in types. Cyclomatic complexity?

ES.2: Prefer suitable abstractions to direct use of language features

Reason

A “suitable abstraction” (e.g., library or class) is closer to the application concepts than the bare language, leads to shorter and clearer code, and is likely to be better tested.

Example
vector<string> read1(istream& is)   // good
{
    vector<string> res;
    for (string s; is >> s;)
        res.push_back(s);
    return res;
}

The more traditional and lower-level near-equivalent is longer, messier, harder to get right, and most likely slower:

char** read2(istream& is, int maxelem, int maxstring, int* nread)   // bad: verbose and incomplete
{
    auto res = new char*[maxelem];
    int elemcount = 0;
    while (is && elemcount < maxelem) {
        auto s = new char[maxstring];
        is.read(s, maxstring);
        res[elemcount++] = s;
    }
    nread = &elemcount;
    return res;
}

Once the checking for overflow and error handling has been added that code gets quite messy, and there is the problem remembering to delete the returned pointer and the C-style strings that array contains.

Enforcement

Not easy. ??? Look for messy loops, nested loops, long functions, absence of function calls, lack of use of non-built-in types. Cyclomatic complexity?

ES.dcl: Declarations

A declaration is a statement. A declaration introduces a name into a scope and may cause the construction of a named object.

ES.5: Keep scopes small

Reason

Readability. Minimize resource retention. Avoid accidental misuse of value.

Alternative formulation: Don’t declare a name in an unnecessarily large scope.

Example
void use()
{
    int i;    // bad: i is needlessly accessible after loop
    for (i = 0; i < 20; ++i) { /* ... */ }
    // no intended use of i here
    for (int i = 0; i < 20; ++i) { /* ... */ }  // good: i is local to for-loop

    if (auto pc = dynamic_cast<Circle*>(ps)) {  // good: pc is local to if-statement
        // ... deal with Circle ...
    }
    else {
        // ... handle error ...
    }
}
Example, bad
void use(const string& name)
{
    string fn = name + ".txt";
    ifstream is {fn};
    Record r;
    is >> r;
    // ... 200 lines of code without intended use of fn or is ...
}

This function is by most measure too long anyway, but the point is that the resources used by fn and the file handle held by is are retained for much longer than needed and that unanticipated use of is and fn could happen later in the function. In this case, it might be a good idea to factor out the read:

Record load_record(const string& name)
{
    string fn = name + ".txt";
    ifstream is {fn};
    Record r;
    is >> r;
    return r;
}

void use(const string& name)
{
    Record r = load_record(name);
    // ... 200 lines of code ...
}
Enforcement

ES.6: Declare names in for-statement initializers and conditions to limit scope

Reason

Readability. Minimize resource retention.

Example
void use()
{
    for (string s; cin >> s;)
        v.push_back(s);

    for (int i = 0; i < 20; ++i) {   // good: i is local to for-loop
        // ...
    }

    if (auto pc = dynamic_cast<Circle*>(ps)) {   // good: pc is local to if-statement
        // ... deal with Circle ...
    }
    else {
        // ... handle error ...
    }
}
Enforcement

ES.7: Keep common and local names short, and keep uncommon and nonlocal names longer

Reason

Readability. Lowering the chance of clashes between unrelated non-local names.

Example

Conventional short, local names increase readability:

template<typename T>    // good
void print(ostream& os, const vector<T>& v)
{
    for (int i = 0; i < v.size(); ++i)
        os << v[i] << '\n';
}

An index is conventionally called i and there is no hint about the meaning of the vector in this generic function, so v is as good name as any. Compare

template<typename Element_type>   // bad: verbose, hard to read
void print(ostream& target_stream, const vector<Element_type>& current_vector)
{
    for (int current_element_index = 0;
            current_element_index < current_vector.size();
            ++current_element_index
    )
    target_stream << current_vector[current_element_index] << '\n';
}

Yes, it is a caricature, but we have seen worse.

Example

Unconventional and short non-local names obscure code:

void use1(const string& s)
{
    // ...
    tt(s);   // bad: what is tt()?
    // ...
}

Better, give non-local entities readable names:

void use1(const string& s)
{
    // ...
    trim_tail(s);   // better
    // ...
}

Here, there is a chance that the reader knows what trim_tail means and that the reader can remember it after looking it up.

Example, bad

Argument names of large functions are de facto non-local and should be meaningful:

void complicated_algorithm(vector<Record>& vr, const vector<int>& vi, map<string, int>& out)
// read from events in vr (marking used Records) for the indices in
// vi placing (name, index) pairs into out
{
    // ... 500 lines of code using vr, vi, and out ...
}

We recommend keeping functions short, but that rule isn’t universally adhered to and naming should reflect that.

Enforcement

Check length of local and non-local names. Also take function length into account.

ES.8: Avoid similar-looking names

Reason

Code clarity and readability. Too-similar names slow down comprehension and increase the likelihood of error.

Example; bad
if (readable(i1 + l1 + ol + o1 + o0 + ol + o1 + I0 + l0)) surprise();
Example; bad

Do not declare a non-type with the same name as a type in the same scope. This removes the need to disambiguate with a keyword such as struct or enum. It also removes a source of errors, as struct X can implicitly declare X if lookup fails.

struct foo { int n; };
struct foo foo();       // BAD, foo is a type already in scope
struct foo x = foo();   // requires disambiguation
Exception

Antique header files might declare non-types and types with the same name in the same scope.

Enforcement

ES.9: Avoid ALL_CAPS names

Reason

Such names are commonly used for macros. Thus, ALL_CAPS name are vulnerable to unintended macro substitution.

Example
// somewhere in some header:
#define NE !=

// somewhere else in some other header:
enum Coord { N, NE, NW, S, SE, SW, E, W };

// somewhere third in some poor programmer's .cpp:
switch (direction) {
case N:
    // ...
case NE:
    // ...
// ...
}
Note

Do not use ALL_CAPS for constants just because constants used to be macros.

Enforcement

Flag all uses of ALL CAPS. For older code, accept ALL CAPS for macro names and flag all non-ALL-CAPS macro names.

ES.10: Declare one name (only) per declaration

Reason

One-declaration-per line increases readability and avoids mistakes related to the C/C++ grammar. It also leaves room for a more descriptive end-of-line comment.

Example, bad
char *p, c, a[7], *pp[7], **aa[10];   // yuck!
Exception

A function declaration can contain several function argument declarations.

Example
template <class InputIterator, class Predicate>
bool any_of(InputIterator first, InputIterator last, Predicate pred);

or better using concepts:

bool any_of(InputIterator first, InputIterator last, Predicate pred);
Example
double scalbn(double x, int n);   // OK: x * pow(FLT_RADIX, n); FLT_RADIX is usually 2

or:

double scalbn(    // better: x * pow(FLT_RADIX, n); FLT_RADIX is usually 2
    double x,     // base value
    int n         // exponent
);

or:

// better: base * pow(FLT_RADIX, exponent); FLT_RADIX is usually 2
double scalbn(double base, int exponent);
Enforcement

Flag non-function arguments with multiple declarators involving declarator operators (e.g., int* p, q;)

ES.11: Use auto to avoid redundant repetition of type names

Reason
Example

Consider:

auto p = v.begin();   // vector<int>::iterator
auto s = v.size();
auto h = t.future();
auto q = make_unique<int[]>(s);
auto f = [](int x){ return x + 10; };

In each case, we save writing a longish, hard-to-remember type that the compiler already knows but a programmer could get wrong.

Example
template<class T>
auto Container<T>::first() -> Iterator;   // Container<T>::Iterator
Exception

Avoid auto for initializer lists and in cases where you know exactly which type you want and where an initializer might require conversion.

Example
auto lst = { 1, 2, 3 };   // lst is an initializer list
auto x{1};   // x is an int (after correction of the C++14 standard; initializer_list in C++11)
Note

When concepts become available, we can (and should) be more specific about the type we are deducing:

// ...
ForwardIterator p = algo(x, y, z);
Enforcement

Flag redundant repetition of type names in a declaration.

ES.12: Do not reuse names in nested scopes

Reason

It is easy to get confused about which variable is used. Can cause maintenance problems.

Example, bad
int d = 0;
// ...
if (cond) {
    // ...
    d = 9;
    // ...
}
else {
    // ...
    int d = 7;
    // ...
    d = value_to_be_returned;
    // ...
}

return d;

If this is a large if-statement, it is easy to overlook that a new d has been introduced in the inner scope. This is a known source of bugs. Sometimes such reuse of a name in an inner scope is called “shadowing”.

Note

Shadowing is primarily a problem when functions are too large and too complex.

Example

Shadowing of function arguments in the outermost block is disallowed by the language:

void f(int x)
{
    int x = 4;  // error: reuse of function argument name

    if (x) {
        int x = 7;  // allowed, but bad
        // ...
    }
}
Example, bad

Reuse of a member name as a local variable can also be a problem:

struct S {
    int m;
    void f(int x);
};

void S::f(int x)
{
    m = 7;    // assign to member
    if (x) {
        int m = 9;
        // ...
        m = 99; // assign to member
        // ...
    }
}
Exception

We often reuse function names from a base class in a derived class:

struct B {
    void f(int);
};

struct D : B {
    void f(double);
    using B::f;
};

This is error-prone. For example, had we forgotten the using declaration, a call d.f(1) would not have found the int version of f.

??? Do we need a specific rule about shadowing/hiding in class hierarchies?

Enforcement

ES.20: Always initialize an object

Reason

Avoid used-before-set errors and their associated undefined behavior. Avoid problems with comprehension of complex initialization. Simplify refactoring.

Example
void use(int arg)
{
    int i;   // bad: uninitialized variable
    // ...
    i = 7;   // initialize i
}

No, i = 7 does not initialize i; it assigns to it. Also, i can be read in the ... part. Better:

void use(int arg)   // OK
{
    int i = 7;   // OK: initialized
    string s;    // OK: default initialized
    // ...
}
Note

The always initialize rule is deliberately stronger than the an object must be set before used language rule. The latter, more relaxed rule, catches the technical bugs, but:

The always initialize rule is a style rule aimed to improve maintainability as well as a rule protecting against used-before-set errors.

Example

Here is an example that is often considered to demonstrate the need for a more relaxed rule for initialization

widget i;    // "widget" a type that's expensive to initialize, possibly a large POD
widget j;

if (cond) {  // bad: i and j are initialized "late"
    i = f1();
    j = f2();
}
else {
    i = f3();
    j = f4();
}

This cannot trivially be rewritten to initialize i and j with initializers. Note that for types with a default constructor, attempting to postpone initialization simply leads to a default initialization followed by an assignment. A popular reason for such examples is “efficiency”, but a compiler that can detect whether we made a used-before-set error can also eliminate any redundant double initialization.

At the cost of repeating cond we could write:

widget i = (cond) ? f1() : f3();
widget j = (cond) ? f2() : f4();

Assuming that there is a logical connection between i and j, that connection should probably be expressed in code:

pair<widget, widget> make_related_widgets(bool x)
{
    return (x) ? {f1(), f2()} : {f3(), f4() };
}

auto init = make_related_widgets(cond);
widget i = init.first;
widget j = init.second;

Obviously, what we really would like is a construct that initialized n variables from a tuple. For example:

auto [i,j] = make_related_widgets(cond);    // C++17, not C++14

Today, we might approximate that using tie():

widget i;       // bad: uninitialized variable
widget j;
tie(i, j) = make_related_widgets(cond);

This may be seen as an example of the immediately initialize from input exception below.

Creating optimal and equivalent code from all of these examples should be well within the capabilities of modern C++ compilers (but don’t make performance claims without measuring; a compiler may very well not generate optimal code for every example and there may be language rules preventing some optimization that you would have liked in a particular case).

Note

Complex initialization has been popular with clever programmers for decades. It has also been a major source of errors and complexity. Many such errors are introduced during maintenance years after the initial implementation.

Exception

It you are declaring an object that is just about to be initialized from input, initializing it would cause a double initialization. However, beware that this may leave uninitialized data beyond the input – and that has been a fertile source of errors and security breaches:

constexpr int max = 8 * 1024;
int buf[max];         // OK, but suspicious: uninitialized
f.read(buf, max);

The cost of initializing that array could be significant in some situations. However, such examples do tend to leave uninitialized variables accessible, so they should be treated with suspicion.

constexpr int max = 8 * 1024;
int buf[max] = {};   // zero all elements; better in some situations
f.read(buf, max);

When feasible use a library function that is known not to overflow. For example:

string s;   // s is default initialized to ""
cin >> s;   // s expands to hold the string

Don’t consider simple variables that are targets for input operations exceptions to this rule:

int i;   // bad
// ...
cin >> i;

In the not uncommon case where the input target and the input operation get separated (as they should not) the possibility of used-before-set opens up.

int i2 = 0;   // better
// ...
cin >> i;

A good optimizer should know about input operations and eliminate the redundant operation.

Example

Using an uninitialized or sentinel value is a symptom of a problem and not a solution:

widget i = uninit;  // bad
widget j = uninit;

// ...
use(i);         // possibly used before set
// ...

if (cond) {     // bad: i and j are initialized "late"
    i = f1();
    j = f2();
}
else {
    i = f3();
    j = f4();
}

Now the compiler cannot even simply detect a used-before-set. Further, we’ve introduced complexity in the state space for widget: which operations are valid on an uninit widget and which are not?

Note

Sometimes, a lambda can be used as an initializer to avoid an uninitialized variable:

error_code ec;
Value v = [&] {
    auto p = get_value();   // get_value() returns a pair<error_code, Value>
    ec = p.first;
    return p.second;
}();

or maybe:

Value v = [] {
    auto p = get_value();   // get_value() returns a pair<error_code, Value>
    if (p.first) throw Bad_value{p.first};
    return p.second;
}();

See also: ES.28

Enforcement

ES.21: Don’t introduce a variable (or constant) before you need to use it

Reason

Readability. To limit the scope in which the variable can be used.

Example
int x = 7;
// ... no use of x here ...
++x;
Enforcement

Flag declarations that are distant from their first use.

ES.22: Don’t declare a variable until you have a value to initialize it with

Reason

Readability. Limit the scope in which a variable can be used. Don’t risk used-before-set. Initialization is often more efficient than assignment.

Example, bad
string s;
// ... no use of s here ...
s = "what a waste";
Example, bad
SomeLargeType var;   // ugly CaMeLcAsEvArIaBlE

if (cond)   // some non-trivial condition
    Set(&var);
else if (cond2 || !cond3) {
    var = Set2(3.14);
}
else {
    var = 0;
    for (auto& e : something)
        var += e;
}

// use var; that this isn't done too early can be enforced statically with only control flow

This would be fine if there was a default initialization for SomeLargeType that wasn’t too expensive. Otherwise, a programmer might very well wonder if every possible path through the maze of conditions has been covered. If not, we have a “use before set” bug. This is a maintenance trap.

For initializers of moderate complexity, including for const variables, consider using a lambda to express the initializer; see ES.28.

Enforcement

ES.23: Prefer the {} initializer syntax

Reason

The rules for {} initialization are simpler, more general, less ambiguous, and safer than for other forms of initialization.

Example
int x {f(99)};
vector<int> v = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6};
Exception

For containers, there is a tradition for using {...} for a list of elements and (...) for sizes:

vector<int> v1(10);    // vector of 10 elements with the default value 0
vector<int> v2 {10};   // vector of 1 element with the value 10
Note

{}-initializers do not allow narrowing conversions.

Example
int x {7.9};   // error: narrowing
int y = 7.9;   // OK: y becomes 7. Hope for a compiler warning
Note

{} initialization can be used for all initialization; other forms of initialization can’t:

auto p = new vector<int> {1, 2, 3, 4, 5};   // initialized vector
D::D(int a, int b) :m{a, b} {   // member initializer (e.g., m might be a pair)
    // ...
};
X var {};   // initialize var to be empty
struct S {
    int m {7};   // default initializer for a member
    // ...
};
Note

Initialization of a variable declared using auto with a single value, e.g., {v}, had surprising results until recently:

auto x1 {7};        // x1 is an int with the value 7
// x2 is an initializer_list<int> with an element 7
// (this will will change to "element 7" in C++17)
auto x2 = {7};

auto x11 {7, 8};    // error: two initializers
auto x22 = {7, 8};  // x2 is an initializer_list<int> with elements 7 and 8
Exception

Use ={...} if you really want an initializer_list<T>

auto fib10 = {0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55};   // fib10 is a list
Note

Old habits die hard, so this rule is hard to apply consistently, especially as there are so many cases where = is innocent.

Example
template<typename T>
void f()
{
    T x1(1);    // T initialized with 1
    T x0();     // bad: function declaration (often a mistake)

    T y1 {1};   // T initialized with 1
    T y0 {};    // default initialized T
    // ...
}

See also: Discussion

Enforcement

Tricky.

ES.24: Use a unique_ptr<T> to hold pointers

Reason

Using std::unique_ptr is the simplest way to avoid leaks. It is reliable, it makes the type system do much of the work to validate ownership safety, it increases readability, and it has zero or near zero runtime cost.

Example
void use(bool leak)
{
    auto p1 = make_unique<int>(7);   // OK
    int* p2 = new int{7};            // bad: might leak
    // ...
    if (leak) return;
    // ...
}

If leak == true the object pointed to by p2 is leaked and the object pointed to by p1 is not.

Enforcement

Look for raw pointers that are targets of new, malloc(), or functions that may return such pointers.

ES.25: Declare an object const or constexpr unless you want to modify its value later on

Reason

That way you can’t change the value by mistake. That way may offer the compiler optimization opportunities.

Example
void f(int n)
{
    const int bufmax = 2 * n + 2;  // good: we can't change bufmax by accident
    int xmax = n;                  // suspicious: is xmax intended to change?
    // ...
}
Enforcement

Look to see if a variable is actually mutated, and flag it if not. Unfortunately, it may be impossible to detect when a non-const was not intended to vary (vs when it merely did not vary).

ES.26: Don’t use a variable for two unrelated purposes

Reason

Readability and safety.

Example, bad
void use()
{
    int i;
    for (i = 0; i < 20; ++i) { /* ... */ }
    for (i = 0; i < 200; ++i) { /* ... */ } // bad: i recycled
}
Note

As an optimization, you may want to reuse a buffer as a scratchpad, but even then prefer to limit the variables’s scope as much as possible and be careful not to cause bugs from data left in a recycled buffer as this is a common source of security bugs.

{
    std::string buffer;             // to avoid reallocations on every loop iteration
    for (auto& o : objects)
    {
        // First part of the work.
        generateFirstString(buffer, o);
        writeToFile(buffer);

        // Second part of the work.
        generateSecondString(buffer, o);
        writeToFile(buffer);

        // etc...
    }
}
Enforcement

Flag recycled variables.

ES.27: Use std::array or stack_array for arrays on the stack

Reason

They are readable and don’t implicitly convert to pointers. They are not confused with non-standard extensions of built-in arrays.

Example, bad
const int n = 7;
int m = 9;

void f()
{
    int a1[n];
    int a2[m];   // error: not ISO C++
    // ...
}
Note

The definition of a1 is legal C++ and has always been. There is a lot of such code. It is error-prone, though, especially when the bound is non-local. Also, it is a “popular” source of errors (buffer overflow, pointers from array decay, etc.). The definition of a2 is C but not C++ and is considered a security risk

Example
const int n = 7;
int m = 9;

void f()
{
    array<int, n> a1;
    stack_array<int> a2(m);
    // ...
}
Enforcement

ES.28: Use lambdas for complex initialization, especially of const variables

Reason

It nicely encapsulates local initialization, including cleaning up scratch variables needed only for the initialization, without needing to create a needless nonlocal yet nonreusable function. It also works for variables that should be const but only after some initialization work.

Example, bad
widget x;   // should be const, but:
for (auto i = 2; i <= N; ++i) {             // this could be some
    x += some_obj.do_something_with(i);  // arbitrarily long code
}                                        // needed to initialize x
// from here, x should be const, but we can't say so in code in this style
Example, good
const widget x = [&]{
    widget val;                                // assume that widget has a default constructor
    for (auto i = 2; i <= N; ++i) {            // this could be some
        val += some_obj.do_something_with(i);  // arbitrarily long code
    }                                          // needed to initialize x
    return val;
}();
Example
string var = [&]{
    if (!in) return "";   // default
    string s;
    for (char c : in >> c)
        s += toupper(c);
    return s;
}(); // note ()

If at all possible, reduce the conditions to a simple set of alternatives (e.g., an enum) and don’t mix up selection and initialization.

Example
owner<istream&> in = [&]{
    switch (source) {
    case default:       owned = false; return cin;
    case command_line:  owned = true;  return *new istringstream{argv[2]};
    case file:          owned = true;  return *new ifstream{argv[2]};
}();
Enforcement

Hard. At best a heuristic. Look for an uninitialized variable followed by a loop assigning to it.

ES.30: Don’t use macros for program text manipulation

Reason

Macros are a major source of bugs. Macros don’t obey the usual scope and type rules. Macros ensure that the human reader sees something different from what the compiler sees. Macros complicate tool building.

Example, bad
#define Case break; case   /* BAD */

This innocuous-looking macro makes a single lower case c instead of a C into a bad flow-control bug.

Note

This rule does not ban the use of macros for “configuration control” use in #ifdefs, etc.

Enforcement

Scream when you see a macro that isn’t just used for source control (e.g., #ifdef)

ES.31: Don’t use macros for constants or “functions”

Reason

Macros are a major source of bugs. Macros don’t obey the usual scope and type rules. Macros don’t obey the usual rules for argument passing. Macros ensure that the human reader sees something different from what the compiler sees. Macros complicate tool building.

Example, bad
#define PI 3.14
#define SQUARE(a, b) (a * b)

Even if we hadn’t left a well-known bug in SQUARE there are much better behaved alternatives; for example:

constexpr double pi = 3.14;
template<typename T> T square(T a, T b) { return a * b; }
Enforcement

Scream when you see a macro that isn’t just used for source control (e.g., #ifdef)

ES.32: Use ALL_CAPS for all macro names

Reason

Convention. Readability. Distinguishing macros.

Example
#define forever for (;;)   /* very BAD */

#define FOREVER for (;;)   /* Still evil, but at least visible to humans */
Enforcement

Scream when you see a lower case macro.

ES.33: If you must use macros, give them unique names

Reason

Macros do not obey scope rules.

Example
#define MYCHAR        /* BAD, will eventually clash with someone else's MYCHAR*/

#define ZCORP_CHAR    /* Still evil, but less likely to clash */
Note

Avoid macros if you can: ES.30, ES.31, and ES.32. However, there are billions of lines of code littered with macros and a long tradition for using and overusing macros. If you are forced to use macros, use long names and supposedly unique prefixes (e.g., your organization’s name) to lower the likelihood of a clash.

Enforcement

Warn against short macro names.

ES.34: Don’t define a (C-style) variadic function

Reason

Not type safe. Requires messy cast-and-macro-laden code to get working right.

Example
#include<cstdarg>

// "severity" followed by a zero-terminated list of char*s; write the C-style strings to cerr
void error(int severity ...)
{
    va_list ap;             // a magic type for holding arguments
    va_start(ap, severity); // arg startup: "severity" is the first argument of error()

    for (;;) {
        // treat the next var as a char*; no checking: a cast in disguise
        char* p = va_arg(ap, char*);
        if (p == nullptr) break;
        cerr << p << ' ';
    }

    va_end(ap);             // arg cleanup (don't forget this)

    cerr << '\n';
    if (severity) exit(severity);
}

void use()
{
    error(7, "this", "is", "an", "error", nullptr);
    error(7); // crash
    error(7, "this", "is", "an", "error");  // crash
    const char* is = "is";
    string an = "an";
    error(7, "this", "is", an, "error"); // crash
}

Alternative: Overloading. Templates. Variadic templates.

Note

This is basically the way printf is implemented.

Enforcement

ES.stmt: Statements

Statements control the flow of control (except for function calls and exception throws, which are expressions).

ES.70: Prefer a switch-statement to an if-statement when there is a choice

Reason
Example
void use(int n)
{
    switch (n) {   // good
    case 0:   // ...
    case 7:   // ...
    }
}

rather than:

void use2(int n)
{
    if (n == 0)   // bad: if-then-else chain comparing against a set of constants
        // ...
    else if (n == 7)
        // ...
}
Enforcement

Flag if-then-else chains that check against constants (only).

ES.71: Prefer a range-for-statement to a for-statement when there is a choice

Reason

Readability. Error prevention. Efficiency.

Example
for (int i = 0; i < v.size(); ++i)   // bad
        cout << v[i] << '\n';

for (auto p = v.begin(); p != v.end(); ++p)   // bad
    cout << *p << '\n';

for (auto& x : v)    // OK
    cout << x << '\n';

for (int i = 1; i < v.size(); ++i) // touches two elements: can't be a range-for
    cout << v[i] + v[i - 1] << '\n';

for (int i = 0; i < v.size(); ++i) // possible side-effect: can't be a range-for
    cout << f(v, &v[i]) << '\n';

for (int i = 0; i < v.size(); ++i) { // body messes with loop variable: can't be a range-for
    if (i % 2 == 0)
        continue;   // skip even elements
    else
        cout << v[i] << '\n';
}

A human or a good static analyzer may determine that there really isn’t a side effect on v in f(v, &v[i]) so that the loop can be rewritten.

“Messing with the loop variable” in the body of a loop is typically best avoided.

Note

Don’t use expensive copies of the loop variable of a range-for loop:

for (string s : vs) // ...

This will copy each elements of vs into s. Better:

for (string& s : vs) // ...

Better still, if the loop variable isn’t modified or copied:

for (const string& s : vs) // ...
Enforcement

Look at loops, if a traditional loop just looks at each element of a sequence, and there are no side-effects on what it does with the elements, rewrite the loop to a ranged-for loop.

ES.72: Prefer a for-statement to a while-statement when there is an obvious loop variable

Reason

Readability: the complete logic of the loop is visible “up front”. The scope of the loop variable can be limited.

Example
for (int i = 0; i < vec.size(); i++) {
    // do work
}
Example, bad
int i = 0;
while (i < vec.size()) {
    // do work
    i++;
}
Enforcement

???

ES.73: Prefer a while-statement to a for-statement when there is no obvious loop variable

Reason

???

Example
???
Enforcement

???

ES.74: Prefer to declare a loop variable in the initializer part of a for-statement

Reason

Limit the loop variable visibility to the scope of the loop. Avoid using the loop variable for other purposes after the loop.

Example
for (int i = 0; i < 100; ++i) {   // GOOD: i var is visible only inside the loop
    // ...
}
Example, don’t
int j;                            // BAD: j is visible outside the loop
for (j = 0; j < 100; ++j) {
    // ...
}
// j is still visible here and isn't needed

See also: Don’t use a variable for two unrelated purposes

Enforcement

Warn when a variable modified inside the for-statement is declared outside the loop and not being used outside the loop.

Discussion: Scoping the loop variable to the loop body also helps code optimizers greatly. Recognizing that the induction variable is only accessible in the loop body unblocks optimizations such as hoisting, strength reduction, loop-invariant code motion, etc.

ES.75: Avoid do-statements

Reason

Readability, avoidance of errors. The termination condition is at the end (where it can be overlooked) and the condition is not checked the first time through. ???

Example
int x;
do {
    cin >> x;
    // ...
} while (x < 0);
Enforcement

???

ES.76: Avoid goto

Reason

Readability, avoidance of errors. There are better control structures for humans; goto is for machine generated code.

Exception

Breaking out of a nested loop. In that case, always jump forwards.

Example
???
Example

There is a fair amount of use of the C goto-exit idiom:

void f()
{
    // ...
        goto exit;
    // ...
        goto exit;
    // ...
exit:
    ... common cleanup code ...
}

This is an ad-hoc simulation of destructors. Declare your resources with handles with destructors that clean up.

Enforcement

ES.77: ??? continue

Reason

???

Example
???
Enforcement

???

ES.78: Always end a non-empty case with a break

Reason

Accidentally leaving out a break is a fairly common bug. A deliberate fallthrough is a maintenance hazard.

Example
switch (eventType)
{
case Information:
    update_status_bar();
    break;
case Warning:
    write_event_log();
case Error:
    display_error_window(); // Bad
    break;
}

It is easy to overlook the fallthrough. Be explicit:

switch (eventType)
{
case Information:
    update_status_bar();
    break;
case Warning:
    write_event_log();
    // fallthrough
case Error:
    display_error_window(); // Bad
    break;
}

There is a proposal for a [[fallthrough]] annotation.

Note

Multiple case labels of a single statement is OK:

switch (x) {
case 'a':
case 'b':
case 'f':
    do_something(x);
    break;
}
Enforcement

Flag all fallthroughs from non-empty cases.

ES.79: ??? default

Reason

???

Example
???
Enforcement

???

ES.85: Make empty statements visible

Reason

Readability.

Example
for (i = 0; i < max; ++i);   // BAD: the empty statement is easily overlooked
v[i] = f(v[i]);

for (auto x : v) {           // better
    // nothing
}
v[i] = f(v[i]);
Enforcement

Flag empty statements that are not blocks and don’t contain comments.

ES.86: Avoid modifying loop control variables inside the body of raw for-loops

Reason

The loop control up front should enable correct reasoning about what is happening inside the loop. Modifying loop counters in both the iteration-expression and inside the body of the loop is a perennial source of surprises and bugs.

Example
for (int i = 0; i < 10; ++i) {
    // no updates to i -- ok
}

for (int i = 0; i < 10; ++i) {
    //
    if (/* something */) ++i; // BAD
    //
}

bool skip = false;
for (int i = 0; i < 10; ++i) {
    if (skip) { skip = false; continue; }
    //
    if (/* something */) skip = true;  // Better: using two variable for two concepts.
    //
}
Enforcement

Flag variables that are potentially updated (have a non-const use) in both the loop control iteration-expression and the loop body.

ES.expr: Expressions

Expressions manipulate values.

ES.40: Avoid complicated expressions

Reason

Complicated expressions are error-prone.

Example
// bad: assignment hidden in subexpression
while ((c = getc()) != -1)

// bad: two non-local variables assigned in a sub-expressions
while ((cin >> c1, cin >> c2), c1 == c2)

// better, but possibly still too complicated
for (char c1, c2; cin >> c1 >> c2 && c1 == c2;)

// OK: if i and j are not aliased
int x = ++i + ++j;

// OK: if i != j and i != k
v[i] = v[j] + v[k];

// bad: multiple assignments "hidden" in subexpressions
x = a + (b = f()) + (c = g()) * 7;

// bad: relies on commonly misunderstood precedence rules
x = a & b + c * d && e ^ f == 7;

// bad: undefined behavior
x = x++ + x++ + ++x;

Some of these expressions are unconditionally bad (e.g., they rely on undefined behavior). Others are simply so complicated and/or unusual that even good programmers could misunderstand them or overlook a problem when in a hurry.

Note

A programmer should know and use the basic rules for expressions.

Example
x = k * y + z;             // OK

auto t1 = k * y;           // bad: unnecessarily verbose
x = t1 + z;

if (0 <= x && x < max)   // OK

auto t1 = 0 <= x;        // bad: unnecessarily verbose
auto t2 = x < max;
if (t1 && t2)            // ...
Enforcement

Tricky. How complicated must an expression be to be considered complicated? Writing computations as statements with one operation each is also confusing. Things to consider:

ES.41: If in doubt about operator precedence, parenthesize

Reason

Avoid errors. Readability. Not everyone has the operator table memorized.

Example
const unsigned int flag = 2;
unsigned int a = flag;

if (a & flag != 0)  // bad: means a&(flag != 0)

Note: We recommend that programmers know their precedence table for the arithmetic operations, the logical operations, but consider mixing bitwise logical operations with other operators in need of parentheses.

if ((a & flag) != 0)  // OK: works as intended
Note

You should know enough not to need parentheses for:

if (a < 0 || a <= max) {
    // ...
}
Enforcement

ES.42: Keep use of pointers simple and straightforward

Reason

Complicated pointer manipulation is a major source of errors.

Example
???
Enforcement

We need a heuristic limiting the complexity of pointer arithmetic statement.

ES.43: Avoid expressions with undefined order of evaluation

Reason

You have no idea what such code does. Portability. Even if it does something sensible for you, it may do something different on another compiler (e.g., the next release of your compiler) or with a different optimizer setting.

Example
v[i] = ++i;   //  the result is undefined

A good rule of thumb is that you should not read a value twice in an expression where you write to it.

Example
???
Note

What is safe?

Enforcement

Can be detected by a good analyzer.

ES.44: Don’t depend on order of evaluation of function arguments

Reason

Because that order is unspecified.

Example
int i = 0;
f(++i, ++i);

The call will most likely be f(0, 1) or f(1, 0), but you don’t know which. Technically, the behavior is undefined.

Example

??? overloaded operators can lead to order of evaluation problems (shouldn’t :-()

f1()->m(f2());   // m(f1(), f2())
cout << f1() << f2();   // operator<<(operator<<(cout, f1()), f2())
Enforcement

Can be detected by a good analyzer.

ES.45: Avoid “magic constants”; use symbolic constants

Reason

Unnamed constants embedded in expressions are easily overlooked and often hard to understand:

Example
for (int m = 1; m <= 12; ++m)   // don't: magic constant 12
    cout << month[m] << '\n';

No, we don’t all know that there are 12 months, numbered 1..12, in a year. Better:

constexpr int month_count = 12;   // months are numbered 1..12

for (int m = first_month; m <= month_count; ++m)   // better
    cout << month[m] << '\n';

Better still, don’t expose constants:

for (auto m : month)
    cout << m << '\n';
Enforcement

Flag literals in code. Give a pass to 0, 1, nullptr, \n, "", and others on a positive list.

ES.46: Avoid lossy (narrowing, truncating) arithmetic conversions

Reason

A narrowing conversion destroys information, often unexpectedly so.

Example, bad

A key example is basic narrowing:

double d = 7.9;
int i = d;    // bad: narrowing: i becomes 7
i = (int) d;  // bad: we're going to claim this is still not explicit enough

void f(int x, long y, double d)
{
    char c1 = x;   // bad: narrowing
    char c2 = y;   // bad: narrowing
    char c3 = d;   // bad: narrowing
}
Note

The guideline support library offers a narrow operation for specifying that narrowing is acceptable and a narrow (“narrow if”) that throws an exception if a narrowing would throw away information:

i = narrow_cast<int>(d);   // OK (you asked for it): narrowing: i becomes 7
i = narrow<int>(d);        // OK: throws narrowing_error

We also include lossy arithmetic casts, such as from a negative floating point type to an unsigned integral type:

double d = -7.9;
unsigned u = 0;

u = d;                          // BAD
u = narrow_cast<unsigned>(d);   // OK (you asked for it): u becomes 0
u = narrow<unsigned>(d);        // OK: throws narrowing_error
Enforcement

A good analyzer can detect all narrowing conversions. However, flagging all narrowing conversions will lead to a lot of false positives. Suggestions:

ES.47: Use nullptr rather than 0 or NULL

Reason

Readability. Minimize surprises: nullptr cannot be confused with an int. nullptr also has a well-specified (very restrictive) type, and thus works in more scenarios where type deduction might do the wrong thing on NULL or 0.

Example

Consider:

void f(int);
void f(char*);
f(0);         // call f(int)
f(nullptr);   // call f(char*)
Enforcement

Flag uses of 0 and NULL for pointers. The transformation may be helped by simple program transformation.

ES.48: Avoid casts

Reason

Casts are a well-known source of errors. Makes some optimizations unreliable.

Example
???
Note

Programmer who write casts typically assumes that they know what they are doing. In fact, they often disable the general rules for using values. Overload resolution and template instantiation usually pick the right function if there is a right function to pick. If there is not, maybe there ought to be, rather than applying a local fix (cast).

Note

Casts are necessary in a systems programming language. For example, how else would we get the address of a device register into a pointer? However, casts are seriously overused as well as a major source of errors.

Note

If you feel the need for a lot of casts, there may be a fundamental design problem.

Enforcement

ES.49: If you must use a cast, use a named cast

Reason

Readability. Error avoidance. Named casts are more specific than a C-style or functional cast, allowing the compiler to catch some errors.

The named casts are:

Example
???
Note

When converting between types with no information loss (e.g. from float to double or int64 from int32), brace initialization may be used instead.

double d{some_float};
int64_t i{some_int32};

This makes it clear that the type conversion was intended and also prevents conversions between types that might result in loss of precision. (It is a compilation error to try to initialize a float from a double in this fashion, for example.)

Enforcement

Flag C-style and functional casts.

ES.50: Don’t cast away const

Reason

It makes a lie out of const.

Note

Usually the reason to “cast away const” is to allow the updating of some transient information of an otherwise immutable object. Examples are caching, memoization, and precomputation. Such examples are often handled as well or better using mutable or an indirection than with a const_cast.

Example

Consider keeping previously computed results around for a costly operation:

int compute(int x); // compute a value for x; assume this to be costly

class Cache {   // some type implementing a cache for an int->int operation
public:
    pair<bool, int> find(int x) const;   // is there a value for x?
    void set(int x, int v);             // make y the value for x
    // ...
private:
    // ...
};

class X {
public:
    int get_val(int x)
    {
        auto p = cache.find(x);
        if (p.first) return p.second;
        int val = compute(x);
        cache.set(x, val); // insert value for x
        return val;
    }
    // ...
private:
    Cache cache;
};

Here, get_val() is logically constant, so we would like to make it a const member. To do this we still need to mutate cache, so people sometimes resort to a const_cast:

class X {   // Suspicious solution based on casting
public:
    int get_val(int x) const
    {
        auto p = cache.find(x);
        if (p.first) return p.second;
        int val = compute(x);
        const_cast<Cache&>(cache).set(x, val);   // ugly
        return val;
    }
    // ...
private:
    Cache cache;
};

Fortunately, there is a better solution: State that cache is mutable even for a const object:

class X {   // better solution
public:
    int get_val(int x) const
    {
        auto p = cache.find(x);
        if (p.first) return p.second;
        int val = compute(x);
        cache.set(x, val);
        return val;
    }
    // ...
private:
    mutable Cache cache;
};

An alternative solution would to store a pointer to the cache:

class X {   // OK, but slightly messier solution
public:
    int get_val(int x) const
    {
        auto p = cache->find(x);
        if (p.first) return p.second;
        int val = compute(x);
        cache->set(x, val);
        return val;
    }
    // ...
private:
    unique_ptr<Cache> cache;
};

That solution is the most flexible, but requires explicit construction and destruction of *cache (most likely in the constructor and destructor of X).

In any variant, we must guard against data races on the cache in multithreaded code, possibly using a std::mutex.

Enforcement

Flag const_casts.

ES.55: Avoid the need for range checking

Reason

Constructs that cannot overflow do not overflow (and usually run faster):

Example
for (auto& x : v)      // print all elements of v
    cout << x << '\n';

auto p = find(v, x);   // find x in v
Enforcement

Look for explicit range checks and heuristically suggest alternatives.

ES.56: Write std::move() only when you need to explicitly move an object to another scope

Reason

We move, rather than copy, to avoid duplication and for improved performance.

A move typically leaves behind an empty object (C.64), which can be surprising or even dangerous, so we try to avoid moving from lvalues (they might be accessed later).

Notes

Moving is done implicitly when the source is an rvalue (e.g., value in a return treatment or a function result), so don’t pointlessly complicate code in those cases by writing move explicitly. Instead, write short functions that return values, and both the function’s return and the caller’s accepting of the return will be optimized naturally.

In general, following the guidelines in this document (including not making variables’ scopes needlessly large, writing short functions that return values, returning local variables) help eliminate most need for explicit std::move.

Explicit move is needed to explicitly move an object to another scope, notably to pass it to a “sink” function and in the implementations of the move operations themselves (move constructor, move assignment operator) and swap operations.

Example, bad
void sink(X&& x);   // sink takes ownership of x

void user()
{
    X x;
    // error: cannot bind an lvalue to a rvalue reference
    sink(x);
    // OK: sink takes the contents of x, x must now be assumed to be empty
    sink(std::move(x));

    // ...

    // probably a mistake
    use(x);
}

Usually, a std::move() is used as an argument to a && parameter. And after you do that, assume the object has been moved from (see C.64) and don’t read its state again until you first set it to a new value.

void f() {
    string s1 = "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious";

    string s2 = s1;             // ok, takes a copy
    assert(s1 == "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious");  // ok

    // bad, if you want to keep using s1's value
    string s3 = move(s1);

    // bad, assert will likely fail, s1 likely changed
    assert(s1 == "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious");
}
Example
void sink(unique_ptr<widget> p);  // pass ownership of p to sink()

void f() {
    auto w = make_unique<widget>();
    // ...
    sink(std::move(w));               // ok, give to sink()
    // ...
    sink(w);    // Error: unique_ptr is carefully designed so that you cannot copy it
}
Notes

std::move() is a cast to && in disguise; it doesn’t itself move anything, but marks a named object as a candidate that can be moved from. The language already knows the common cases where objects can be moved from, especially when returning values from functions, so don’t complicate code with redundant std::move()’s.

Never write std::move() just because you’ve heard “it’s more efficient.” In general, don’t believe claims of “efficiency” without data (???). In general, don’t complicate your code without reason (??)

Example, bad
vector<int> make_vector() {
    vector<int> result;
    // ... load result with data
    return std::move(result);       // bad; just write "return result;"
}

Never write return move(local_variable);, because the language already knows the variable is a move candidate. Writing move in this code won’t help, and can actually be detrimental because on some compilers it interferes with RVO (the return value optimization) by creating an additional reference alias to the local variable.

Example, bad
vector<int> v = std::move(make_vector());   // bad; the std::move is entirely redundant

Never write move on a returned value such as x = move(f()); where f returns by value. The language already knows that a returned value is a temporary object that can be moved from.

Example
void mover(X&& x) {
    call_something(std::move(x));         // ok
    call_something(std::forward<X>(x));   // bad, don't std::forward an rvalue reference
    call_something(x);                    // suspicious, why not std::move?
}

template<class T>
void forwarder(T&& t) {
    call_something(std::move(t));         // bad, don't std::move a forwarding reference
    call_something(std::forward<T>(t));   // ok
    call_something(t);                    // suspicious, why not std::forward?
}
Enforcement

ES.60: Avoid new and delete outside resource management functions

Reason

Direct resource management in application code is error-prone and tedious.

Note

also known as “No naked new!”

Example, bad
void f(int n)
{
    auto p = new X[n];   // n default constructed Xs
    // ...
    delete[] p;
}

There can be code in the ... part that causes the delete never to happen.

See also: R: Resource management.

Enforcement

Flag naked news and naked deletes.

ES.61: Delete arrays using delete[] and non-arrays using delete

Reason

That’s what the language requires and mistakes can lead to resource release errors and/or memory corruption.

Example, bad
void f(int n)
{
    auto p = new X[n];   // n default constructed Xs
    // ...
    delete p;   // error: just delete the object p, rather than delete the array p[]
}
Note

This example not only violates the no naked new rule as in the previous example, it has many more problems.

Enforcement

ES.62: Don’t compare pointers into different arrays

Reason

The result of doing so is undefined.

Example, bad
void f(int n)
{
    int a1[7];
    int a2[9];
    if (&a1[5] < &a2[7]) {}       // bad: undefined
    if (0 < &a1[5] - &a2[7]) {}   // bad: undefined
}
Note

This example has many more problems.

Enforcement

???

ES.63: Don’t slice

Reason

Slicing – that is, copying only part of an object using assignment or initialization – most often leads to errors because the object was meant to be considered as a whole. In the rare cases where the slicing was deliberate the code can be surprising.

Example
class Shape { /* ... */ };
class Circle : public Shape { /* ... */ Point c; int r; };

Circle c {{0, 0}, 42};
Shape s {c};    // copy Shape part of Circle

The result will be meaningless because the center and radius will not be copied from c into s. The first defense against this is to define the base class Shape not to allow this.

Alternative

If you mean to slice, define an explicit operation to do so. This saves readers from confusion. For example:

class Smiley : public Circle {
    public:
    Circle copy_circle();
    // ...
};

Smiley sm { /* ... */ };
Circle c1 {sm};  // ideally prevented by the definition of Circle
Circle c2 {sm.copy_circle()};
Enforcement

Warn against slicing.

Arithmetic

ES.100: Don’t mix signed and unsigned arithmetic

Reason

Avoid wrong results.

Example
int x = -3;
unsigned int y = 7;

cout << x - y << '\n';  // unsigned result, possibly 4294967286
cout << x + y << '\n';  // unsigned result: 4
cout << x * y << '\n';  // unsigned result, possibly 4294967275

It is harder to spot the problem in more realistic examples.

Note

Unfortunately, C++ uses signed integers for array subscripts and the standard library uses unsigned integers for container subscripts. This precludes consistency.

Enforcement

Compilers already know and sometimes warn.

ES.101: Use unsigned types for bit manipulation

Reason

Unsigned types support bit manipulation without surprises from sign bits.

Example
unsigned char x = 0b1010'1010;
unsigned char y = ~x;   // y == 0b0101'0101;
Note

Unsigned types can also be useful for modulo arithmetic. However, if you want modulo arithmetic add comments as necessary noting the reliance on wraparound behavior, as such code can be surprising for many programmers.

Enforcement

ES.102: Use signed types for arithmetic

Reason

Because most arithmetic is assumed to be signed; x-y yields a negative number when y>x except in the rare cases where you really want modulo arithmetic.

Example

Unsigned arithmetic can yield surprising results if you are not expecting it. This is even more true for mixed signed and unsigned arithmetic.

template<typename T, typename T2>
T subtract(T x, T2 y)
{
    return x-y;
}

void test()
{
    int s = 5;
    unsigned int us = 5;
    cout << subtract(s, 7) << '\n';     // -2
    cout << subtract(us, 7u) << '\n';   // 4294967294
    cout << subtract(s, 7u) << '\n';    // -2
    cout << subtract(us, 7) << '\n';    // 4294967294
    cout << subtract(s, us+2) << '\n';  // -2
    cout << subtract(us, s+2) << '\n';  // 4294967294
}

Here we have been very explicit about what’s happening, but if you had seen us-(s+2) or s+=2; ... us-s, would you reliably have suspected that the result would print as 4294967294?

Exception

Use unsigned types if you really want modulo arithmetic - add comments as necessary noting the reliance on overflow behavior, as such code is going to be surprising for many programmers.

Example

The standard library uses unsigned types for subscripts. The build-in array uses signed types for subscripts. This makes surprises (and bugs) inevitable.

int a[10];
for (int i=0; i < 10; ++i) a[i]=i;
vector<int> v(10);
// compares signed to unsigned; some compilers warn
for (int i=0; v.size() < 10; ++i) v[i]=i;

int a2[-2];         // error: negative size

// OK, but the number of ints (4294967294) is so large that we should get an exception
vector<int> v2(-2);
Enforcement

ES.103: Don’t overflow

Reason

Overflow usually makes your numeric algorithm meaningless. Incrementing a value beyond a maximum value can lead to memory corruption and undefined behavior.

Example, bad
int a[10];
a[10] = 7;   // bad

int n = 0;
while (n++ < 10)
    a[n - 1] = 9; // bad (twice)
Example, bad
int n = numeric_limits<int>::max();
int m = n + 1;   // bad
Example, bad
int area(int h, int w) { return h * w; }

auto a = area(10'000'000, 100'000'000);   // bad
Exception

Use unsigned types if you really want modulo arithmetic.

Alternative: For critical applications that can afford some overhead, use a range-checked integer and/or floating-point type.

Enforcement

???

ES.104: Don’t underflow

Reason

Decrementing a value beyond a minimum value can lead to memory corruption and undefined behavior.

Example, bad
int a[10];
a[-2] = 7;   // bad

int n = 101;
while (n--)
    a[n - 1] = 9;   // bad (twice)
Exception

Use unsigned types if you really want modulo arithmetic.

Enforcement

???

ES.105: Don’t divide by zero

Reason

The result is undefined and probably a crash.

Note

This also applies to %.

Example; bad
double divide(int a, int b) {
    // BAD, should be checked (e.g., in a precondition)
    return a / b;
}
Example; good
double divide(int a, int b) {
    // good, address via precondition (and replace with contracts once C++ gets them)
    Expects(b != 0);
    return a / b;
}

double divide(int a, int b) {
    // good, address via check
    return b ? a / b : quiet_NaN<double>();
}

Alternative: For critical applications that can afford some overhead, use a range-checked integer and/or floating-point type.

Enforcement

Per: Performance

??? should this section be in the main guide???

This section contains rules for people who need high performance or low-latency. That is, these are rules that relate to how to use as little time and as few resources as possible to achieve a task in a predictably short time. The rules in this section are more restrictive and intrusive than what is needed for many (most) applications. Do not blindly try to follow them in general code: achieving the goals of low latency requires extra work.

Performance rule summary:

Per.1: Don’t optimize without reason

Reason

If there is no need for optimization, the main result of the effort will be more errors and higher maintenance costs.

Note

Some people optimize out of habit or because it’s fun.

???

Per.2: Don’t optimize prematurely

Reason

Elaborately optimized code is usually larger and harder to change than unoptimized code.

???

Per.3: Don’t optimize something that’s not performance critical

Reason

Optimizing a non-performance-critical part of a program has no effect on system performance.

Note

If your program spends most of its time waiting for the web or for a human, optimization of in-memory computation is probably useless.

Put another way: If your program spends 4% of its processing time doing computation A and 40% of its time doing computation B, a 50% improvement on A is only as impactful as a 5% improvement on B. (If you don’t even know how much time is spent on A or B, see Per.1 and Per.2.)

Per.4: Don’t assume that complicated code is necessarily faster than simple code

Reason

Simple code can be very fast. Optimizers sometimes do marvels with simple code

Example, good
// clear expression of intent, fast execution

vector<uint8_t> v(100000);

for (auto& c : v)
    c = ~c;
Example, bad
// intended to be faster, but is actually slower

vector<uint8_t> v(100000);

for (size_t i = 0; i < v.size(); i += sizeof(uint64_t))
{
    uint64_t& quad_word = *reinterpret_cast<uint64_t*>(&v[i]);
    quad_word = ~quad_word;
}
Note

???

???

Per.5: Don’t assume that low-level code is necessarily faster than high-level code

Reason

Low-level code sometimes inhibits optimizations. Optimizers sometimes do marvels with high-level code.

Note

???

???

Per.6: Don’t make claims about performance without measurements

Reason

The field of performance is littered with myth and bogus folklore. Modern hardware and optimizers defy naive assumptions; even experts are regularly surprised.

Note

Getting good performance measurements can be hard and require specialized tools.

Note

A few simple microbenchmarks using Unix time or the standard library <chrono> can help dispel the most obvious myths. If you can’t measure your complete system accurately, at least try to measure a few of your key operations and algorithms. A profiler can help tell you which parts of your system are performance critical. Often, you will be surprised.

???

Per.7: Design to enable optimization

Reason

Because we often need to optimize the initial design. Because a design that ignore the possibility of later improvement is hard to change.

Example

From the C (and C++) standard:

void qsort (void* base, size_t num, size_t size, int (*compar)(const void*, const void*));

When did you even want to sort memory? Really, we sort sequences of elements, typically stored in containers. A call to qsort throws away much useful information (e.g., the element type), forces the user to repeat information already known (e.g., the element size), and forces the user to write extra code (e.g., a function to compare doubles). This implies added work for the programmer, is error prone, and deprives the compiler of information needed for optimization.

double data[100];
// ... fill a ...

// 100 chunks of memory of sizeof(double) starting at
// address data using the order defined by compare_doubles
qsort(data, 100, sizeof(double), compare_doubles);

From the point of view of interface design is that qsort throws away useful information.

We can do better (in C++98)

template<typename Iter>
    void sort(Iter b, Iter e);  // sort [b:e)

sort(data, data + 100);

Here, we use the compiler’s knowledge about the size of the array, the type of elements, and how to compare doubles.

With C++11 plus concepts, we can do better still

// Sortable specifies that c must be a
// random-access sequence of elements comparable with <
void sort(Sortable& c);

sort(c);

The key is to pass sufficient information for a good implementation to be chosen. In this, the sort interfaces shown here still have a weakness: They implicitly rely on the element type having less-than (<) defined. To complete the interface, we need a second version that accepts a comparison criteria:

// compare elements of c using p
void sort(Sortable& c, Predicate<Value_type<Sortable>> p);

The standard-library specification of sort offers those two versions, but the semantics is expressed in English rather than code using concepts.

Note

Premature optimization is said to be the root of all evil, but that’s not a reason to despise performance. It is never premature to consider what makes a design amenable to improvement, and improved performance is a commonly desired improvement. Aim to build a set of habits that by default results in efficient, maintainable, and optimizable code. In particular, when you write a function that is not a one-off implementation detail, consider

Example

Consider:

template <class ForwardIterator, class T>
bool binary_search(ForwardIterator first, ForwardIterator last, const T& val);

binary_search(begin(c), end(c), 7) will tell you whether 7 is in c or not. However, it will not tell you where that 7 is or whether there are more than one 7.

Sometimes, just passing the minimal amount of information back (here, true or false) is sufficient, but a good interface passes needed information back to the caller. Therefore, the standard library also offers

template <class ForwardIterator, class T>
ForwardIterator lower_bound(ForwardIterator first, ForwardIterator last, const T& val);

lower_bound returns an iterator to the first match if any, otherwise last.

However, lower_bound still doesn’t return enough information for all uses, so the standard library also offers

template <class ForwardIterator, class T>
pair<ForwardIterator, ForwardIterator>
equal_range(ForwardIterator first, ForwardIterator last, const T& val);

equal_range returns a pair of iterators specifying the first and one beyond last match.

auto r = equal_range(begin(c), end(c), 7);
for (auto p = r.first(); p != r.second(), ++p)
    cout << *p << '\n';

Obviously, these three interfaces are implemented by the same basic code. They are simply three ways of presenting the basic binary search algorithm to users, ranging from the simplest (“make simple things simple!”) to returning complete, but not always needed, information (“don’t hide useful information”). Naturally, crafting such a set of interfaces requires experience and domain knowledge.

Note

Do not simply craft the interface to match the first implementation and the first use case you think of. Once your first initial implementation is complete, review it; once you deploy it, mistakes will be hard to remedy.

Note

A need for efficiency does not imply a need for low-level code. High-level code does not imply slow or bloated.

Note

Things have costs. Don’t be paranoid about costs (modern computers really are very fast), but have a rough idea of the order of magnitude of cost of what you use. For example, have a rough idea of the cost of a memory access, a function call, a string comparison, a system call, a disk access, and a message through a network.

Note

If you can only think of one implementation, you probably don’t have something for which you can devise a stable interface. Maybe, it is just an implementation detail - not every piece of code needs a stable interface - but pause and consider. One question that can be useful is “what interface would be needed if this operation should be implemented using multiple threads? be vectorized?”

Note

This rule does not contradict the Don’t optimize prematurely rule. It complements it encouraging developers enable later - appropriate and non-premature - optimization, if and where needed.

Enforcement

Tricky. Maybe looking for void* function arguments will find examples of interfaces that hinder later optimization.

Per.10: Rely on the static type system

Reason

Type violations, weak types (e.g. void*s), and low level code (e.g., manipulation of sequences as individual bytes) make the job of the optimizer much harder. Simple code often optimizes better than hand-crafted complex code.

???

Per.11: Move computation from run time to compile time

???

Per.12: Eliminate redundant aliases

???

Per.13: Eliminate redundant indirections

???

Per.14: Minimize the number of allocations and deallocations

???

Per.15: Do not allocate on a critical branch

???

Per.16: Use compact data structures

Reason

Performance is typically dominated by memory access times.

???

Per.17: Declare the most used member of a time-critical struct first

???

Per.18: Space is time

Reason

Performance is typically dominated by memory access times.

???

Per.19: Access memory predictably

Reason

Performance is very sensitive to cache performance and cache algorithms favor simple (usually linear) access to adjacent data.

Example
int matrix[rows][cols];

// bad
for (int c = 0; c < cols; ++c)
    for (int r = 0; r < rows; ++r)
        sum += matrix[r][c];

// good
for (int r = 0; r < rows; ++r)
    for (int c = 0; c < cols; ++c)
        sum += matrix[r][c];

Per.30: Avoid context switches on the critical path

???

CP: Concurrency and Parallelism

We often want our computers to do many tasks at the same time (or at least make them appear to do them at the same time). The reasons for doing so varies (e.g., wanting to wait for many events using only a single processor, processing many data streams simultaneously, or utilizing many hardware facilities) and so does the basic facilities for expressing concurrency and parallelism. Here, we articulate a few general principles and rules for using the ISO standard C++ facilities for expressing basic concurrency and parallelism.

The core machine support for concurrent and parallel programming is the thread. Threads allow you to run multiple instances of your program independently, while sharing the same memory. Concurrent programming is tricky for many reasons, most importantly that it is undefined behavior to read data in one thread after it was written by another thread, if there is no proper synchronization between those threads. Making existing single-threaded code execute concurrently can be as trivial as adding std::async or std::thread strategically, or it can necessitate a full rewrite, depending on whether the original code was written in a thread-friendly way.

The concurrency/parallelism rules in this document are designed with three goals in mind:

It is also important to note that concurrency in C++ is an unfinished story. C++11 introduced many core concurrency primitives, C++14 improved on them, and it seems that there is much interest in making the writing of concurrent programs in C++ even easier. We expect some of the library-related guidance here to change significantly over time.

This section needs a lot of work (obviously). Please note that we start with rules for relative non-experts. Real experts must wait a bit; contributions are welcome, but please think about the majority of programmers who are struggling to get their concurrent programs correct and performant.

Concurrency and parallelism rule summary:

See also:

CP.1: Assume that your code will run as part of a multi-threaded program

Reason

It is hard to be certain that concurrency isn’t used now or will be sometime in the future. Code gets re-used. Libraries using threads may be used from some other part of the program. Note that this applies most urgently to library code and least urgently to stand-alone applications. However, thanks to the magic of cut-and-paste, code fragments can turn up in unexpected places.

Example
double cached_computation(double x)
{
    static double cached_x = 0.0;
    static double cached_result = COMPUTATION_OF_ZERO;
    double result;

    if (cached_x == x)
        return cached_result;
    result = computation(x);
    cached_x = x;
    cached_result = result;
    return result;
}

Although cached_computation works perfectly in a single-threaded environment, in a multi-threaded environment the two static variables result in data races and thus undefined behavior.

There are several ways that this example could be made safe for a multi-threaded environment:

Exception

Code that is never run in a multi-threaded environment.

Be careful: there are many examples where code that was “known” to never run in a multi-threaded program was run as part of a multi-threaded program. Often years later. Typically, such programs lead to a painful effort to remove data races. Therefore, code that is never intended to run in a multi-threaded environment should be clearly labeled as such and ideally come with compile or run-time enforcement mechanisms to catch those usage bugs early.

CP.2: Avoid data races

Reason

Unless you do, nothing is guaranteed to work and subtle errors will persist.

Note

In a nutshell, if two threads can access the same object concurrently (without synchronization), and at least one is a writer (performing a non-const operation), you have a data race. For further information of how to use synchronization well to eliminate data races, please consult a good book about concurrency.

Example, bad

There are many examples of data races that exist, some of which are running in production software at this very moment. One very simple example:

int get_id() {
  static int id = 1;
  return id++;
}

The increment here is an example of a data race. This can go wrong in many ways, including:

Local static variables are a common source of data races.

Example, bad:
void f(fstream&  fs, regex pat)
{
    array<double, max> buf;
    int sz = read_vec(fs, buf, max);            // read from fs into buf
    gsl::span<double> s {buf};
    // ...
    auto h1 = async([&]{ sort(par, s); });     // spawn a task to sort
    // ...
    auto h2 = async([&]{ return find_all(buf, sz, pat); });   // span a task to find matches
    // ...
}

Here, we have a (nasty) data race on the elements of buf (sort will both read and write). All data races are nasty. Here, we managed to get a data race on data on the stack. Not all data races are as easy to spot as this one.

Example, bad:
// code not controlled by a lock

unsigned val;

if (val < 5) {
    // ... other thread can change val here ...
    switch (val) {
    case 0: // ...
    case 1: // ...
    case 2: // ...
    case 3: // ...
    case 4: // ...
    }
}

Now, a compiler that does not know that val can change will most likely implement that switch using a jump table with five entries. Then, a val outside the [0..4] range will cause a jump to an address that could be anywhere in the program, and execution would proceed there. Really, “all bets are off” if you get a data race. Actually, it can be worse still: by looking at the generated code you may be able to determine where the stray jump will go for a given value; this can be a security risk.

Enforcement

When possible, rely on tooling enforcement, but be aware that any tooling solution has costs and blind spots. Defense in depth (multiple tools, multiple approaches) is particularly valuable here.

There are other ways you can mitigate the chance of data races:

CP.3: Minimize explicit sharing of writable data

Reason

If you don’t share writable data, you can’t have a data race. The less sharing you do, the less chance you have to forget to synchronize access (and get data races). The less sharing you do, the less chance you have to wait on a lock (so performance can improve).

Example
bool validate(const vector<Reading>&);
Graph<Temp_node> temperature_gradiants(const vector<Reading>&);
Image altitude_map(const vector<Reading>&);
// ...

void process_readings(istream& socket1)
{
    vector<Reading> surface_readings;
    socket1 >> surface_readings;
    if (!socket1) throw Bad_input{};

    auto h1 = async([&] { if (!validate(surface_readings) throw Invalide_data{}; });
    auto h2 = async([&] { return temperature_gradiants(surface_readings); });
    auto h3 = async([&] { return altitude_map(surface_readings); });
    // ...
    auto v1 = h1.get();
    auto v2 = h2.get();
    auto v3 = h3.get();
    // ...
}

Without those consts, we would have to review every asynchronously invoked function for potential data races on surface_readings.

Note

Immutable data can be safely and efficiently shared. No locking is needed: You can’t have a data race on a constant.

Enforcement

???

CP.4: Think in terms of tasks, rather than threads

Reason

A thread is an implementation concept, a way of thinking about the machine. A task is an application notion, something you’d like to do, preferably concurrently with other tasks. Application concepts are easier to reason about.

Example
???
Note

With the exception of async(), the standard-library facilities are low-level, machine-oriented, threads-and-lock level. This is a necessary foundation, but we have to try to raise the level of abstraction: for productivity, for reliability, and for performance. This is a potent argument for using higher level, more applications-oriented libraries (if possibly, built on top of standard-library facilities).

Enforcement

???

CP.8: Don’t try to use volatile for synchronization

Reason

In C++, unlike some other languages, volatile does not provide atomicity, does not synchronize between threads, and does not prevent instruction reordering (neither compiler nor hardware). It simply has nothing to do with concurrency.

Example, bad:
int free_slots = max_slots; // current source of memory for objects

Pool* use()
{
    if (int n = free_slots--) return &pool[n];
}

Here we have a problem: This is perfectly good code in a single-threaded program, but have two treads execute this and there is a race condition on free_slots so that two threads might get the same value and free_slots. That’s (obviously) a bad data race, so people trained in other languages may try to fix it like this:

volatile int free_slots = max_slots; // current source of memory for objects

Pool* use()
{
    if (int n = free_slots--) return &pool[n];
}

This has no effect on synchronization: The data race is still there!

The C++ mechanism for this is atomic types:

atomic<int> free_slots = max_slots; // current source of memory for objects

Pool* use()
{
    if (int n = free_slots--) return &pool[n];
}

Now the -- operation is atomic, rather than a read-increment-write sequence where another thread might get in-between the individual operations.

Alternative

Use atomic types where you might have used volatile in some other language. Use a mutex for more complicated examples.

See also

(rare) proper uses of volatile

CP.con: Concurrency

This section focuses on relatively ad-hoc uses of multiple threads communicating through shared data.

Concurrency rule summary:

CP.20: Use RAII, never plain lock()/unlock()

Reason

Avoids nasty errors from unreleased locks.

Example, bad
mutex mtx;

void do_stuff()
{
    mtx.lock();
    // ... do stuff ...
    mtx.unlock();
}

Sooner or later, someone will forget the mtx.unlock(), place a return in the ... do stuff ..., throw an exception, or something.

mutex mtx;

void do_stuff()
{
    unique_lock<mutex> lck {mtx};
    // ... do stuff ...
}
Enforcement

Flag calls of member lock() and unlock(). ???

CP.21: Use std::lock() to acquire multiple mutexes

Reason

To avoid deadlocks on multiple mutexs

Example

This is asking for deadlock:

// thread 1
lock_guard<mutex> lck1(m1);
lock_guard<mutex> lck2(m2);

// thread 2
lock_guard<mutex> lck2(m2);
lock_guard<mutex> lck1(m1);

Instead, use lock():

// thread 1
lock_guard<mutex> lck1(m1, defer_lock);
lock_guard<mutex> lck2(m2, defer_lock);
lock(lck1, lck2);

// thread 2
lock_guard<mutex> lck2(m2, defer_lock);
lock_guard<mutex> lck1(m1, defer_lock);
lock(lck2, lck1);

Here, the writers of thread1 and thread2 are still not agreeing on the order of the mutexes, but order no longer matters.

Note

In real code, mutexes are rarely named to conveniently remind the programmer of an intended relation and intended order of acquisition. In real code, mutexes are not always conveniently acquired on consecutive lines.

I’m really looking forward to be able to write plain

lock_guard lck1(m1, defer_lock);

and have the mutex type deduced.

Enforcement

Detect the acquisition of multiple mutexes. This is undecidable in general, but catching common simple examples (like the one above) is easy.

CP.22: Never call unknown code while holding a lock (e.g., a callback)

Reason

If you don’t know what a piece of code does, you are risking deadlock.

Example
void do_this(Foo* p)
{
    lock_guard<mutex> lck {my_mutex};
    // ... do something ...
    p->act(my_data);
    // ...
}

If you don’t know what Foo::act does (maybe it is a virtual function invoking a derived class member of a class not yet written), it may call do_this (recursively) and cause a deadlock on my_mutex. Maybe it will lock on a different mutex and not return in a reasonable time, causing delays to any code calling do_this.

Example

A common example of the “calling unknown code” problem is a call to a function that tries to gain locked access to the same object. Such problem can often be solved by using a recursive_mutex. For example:

recursive_mutex my_mutex;

template<typename Action>
void do_something(Action f)
{
    unique_lock<recursive_mutex> lck {my_mutex};
    // ... do something ...
    f(this);    // f will do something to *this
    // ...
}

If, as it is likely, f() invokes operations on *this, we must make sure that the object’s invariant holds before the call.

Enforcement

CP.23: Think of a joining thread as a scoped container

Reason

To maintain pointer safety and avoid leaks, we need to consider what pointers are used by a thread. If a thread joins, we can safely pass pointers to objects in the scope of the thread and its enclosing scopes.

Example
void f(int * p)
{
    // ...
    *p = 99;
    // ...
}
int glob = 33;

void some_fct(int* p)
{
    int x = 77;
    raii_thread t0(f, &x);           // OK
    raii_thread t1(f, p);            // OK
    raii_thread t2(f, &glob);        // OK
    auto q = make_unique<int>(99);
    raii_thread t3(f, q.get());      // OK
    // ...
}

An raii_thread is a std::thread with a destructor that joined and cannot be detached(). By “OK” we mean that the object will be in scope (“live”) for as long as a thread can use the pointer to it. The fact that threads run concurrently doesn’t affect the lifetime or ownership issues here; these threads can be seen as just a function object called from some_fct.

Enforcement

Ensure that raii_threads don’t detach(). After that, the usual lifetime and ownership (for local objects) enforcement applies.

CP.24: Think of a detached thread as a global container

Reason

To maintain pointer safety and avoid leaks, we need to consider what pointers are used by a thread. If a thread is detached, we can safely pass pointers to static and free store objects (only).

Example
void f(int * p)
{
    // ...
    *p = 99;
    // ...
}

int glob = 33;

void some_fct(int* p)
{
    int x = 77;
    std::thread t0(f, &x);           // bad
    std::thread t1(f, p);            // bad
    std::thread t2(f, &glob);        // OK
    auto q = make_unique<int>(99);
    std::thread t3(f, q.get());      // bad
    // ...
    t0.detach();
    t1.detach();
    t2.detach();
    t3.detach();
    // ...
}

By “OK” we mean that the object will be in scope (“live”) for as long as a thread can use the pointers to it. By “bad” we mean that a thread may use a pointer after the pointed-to object is destroyed. The fact that threads run concurrently doesn’t affect the lifetime or ownership issues here; these threads can be seen as just a function object called from some_fct.

Enforcement

In general, it is undecidable whether a detach() is executed for a thread, but simple common cases are easily detected. If we cannot prove that a thread does not detach(), we must assume that it does and that it outlives the scope in which it was constructed; After that, the usual lifetime and ownership (for global objects) enforcement applies.

CP.25: Prefer gsl::raii_thread over std::thread unless you plan to detach()

Reason

An raii_thread is a thread that joins at the end of its scope.

Detached threads are hard to monitor.

??? Place all “immortal threads” on the free store rather than detach()?

Example
???
Enforcement

???

CP.26: Prefer gsl::detached_thread over std::thread if you plan to detach()

Reason

Often, the need to detach is inherent in the threads task. Documenting that aids comprehension and helps static analysis.

Example
void heartbeat();

void use()
{
    gsl::detached_thread t1(heartbeat);    // obviously need not be joined
    std::thread t2(heartbeat);             // do we need to join? (read the code for heartbeat())
    // ...
}

Flag unconditional detach on a plain thread

CP.27: Use plain std::thread for threads that detach based on a run-time condition (only)

Reason

threads that are supposed to unconditionally join or unconditionally detach can be clearly identified as such. The plain threads should be assumed to use the full generality of std::thread.

Example
void tricky(thread* t, int n)
{
    // ...
    if (is_odd(n))
        t->detach();
    // ...
}

void use(int n)
{
    thread t { tricky, this, n };
    // ...
    // ... should I join here? ...
}
Enforcement

???

CP.28: Remember to join scoped threads that are not detach()ed

Reason

A thread that has not been detach()ed when it is destroyed terminates the program.

Example, bad
void f() { std::cout << "Hello "; }

struct F {
    void operator()() { std::cout << "parallel world "; }
};

int main()
{
    std::thread t1{f};      // f() executes in separate thread
    std::thread t2{F()};    // F()() executes in separate thread
}  // spot the bugs
Example
void f() { std::cout << "Hello "; }

struct F {
    void operator()() { std::cout << "parallel world "; }
};

int main()
{
    std::thread t1{f};      // f() executes in separate thread
    std::thread t2{F()};    // F()() executes in separate thread

    t1.join();
    t2.join();
}  // one bad bug left

??? Is cout synchronized?

Enforcement

CP.30: Do not pass pointers to local variables to non-raii_threads

Reason

In general, you cannot know whether a non-raii_thread will outlive the scope of the variables, so that those pointers will become invalid.

Example, bad
void use()
{
    int x = 7;
    thread t0 { f, ref(x) };
    // ...
    t0.detach();
}

The detach may not be so easy to spot. Use a raii_thread or don’t pass the pointer.

Example, bad
??? put pointer to a local on a queue that is read by a longer-lived thread ???
Enforcement

Flag pointers to locals passed in the constructor of a plain thread.

CP.31: Pass small amounts of data between threads by value, rather than by reference or pointer

Reason

Copying a small amount of data is cheaper to copy and access than to share it using some locking mechanism. Copying naturally gives unique ownership (simplifies code) and eliminates the possibility of data races.

Note

Defining “small amount” precisely is impossible.

Example
string modify1(string);
void modify2(shared_ptr<string>);

void fct(string& s)
{
    auto res = async(modify1, s);
    async(modify2, &s);
}

The call of modify1 involves copying two string values; the call of modify2 does not. On the other hand, the implementation of modify1 is exactly as we would have written it for single-threaded code, whereas the implementation of modify2 will need some form of locking to avoid data races. If the string is short (say 10 characters), the call of modify1 can be surprisingly fast; essentially all the cost is in the thread switch. If the string is long (say 1,000,000 characters), copying it twice is probably not a good idea.

Note that this argument has nothing to do with sync as such. It applies equally to considerations about whether to use message passing or shared memory.

Enforcement

???

[CP.32: To share ownership between unrelated threads use shared_ptr

Reason

If threads are unrelated (that is, not known to be in the same scope or one within the lifetime of the other) and they need to share free store memory that needs to be deleted, a shared_ptr (or equivalent) is the only safe way to ensure proper deletion.

Example
???
Note
Enforcement

???

CP.40: Minimize context switching

Reason

Context switches are expensive.

Example
???
Enforcement

???

CP.41: Minimize thread creation and destruction

Reason

Thread creation is expensive.

Example
void worker(Message m)
{
    // process
}

void master(istream& is)
{
    for (Message m; is >> m; )
        run_list.push_back(new thread(worker, m));
}

This spawns a thread per message, and the run_list is presumably managed to destroy those tasks once they are finished.

Instead, we could have a set of pre-created worker threads processing the messages

Sync_queue<Message> work;

void master(istream& is)
{
    for (Message m; is >> m; )
        work.put(m);
}

void worker()
{
    for (Message m; m = work.get(); ) {
        // process
    }
}

void workers()  // set up worker threads (specifically 4 worker threads)
{
    raii_thread w1 {worker};
    raii_thread w2 {worker};
    raii_thread w3 {worker};
    raii_thread w4 {worker};
}
Note

If your system has a good thread pool, use it. If your system has a good message queue, use it.

Enforcement

???

CP.42: Don’t wait without a condition

Reason

A wait without a condition can miss a wakeup or wake up simply to find that there is no work to do.

Example, bad
std::condition_variable cv;
std::mutex mx;

void thread1()
{
    while (true) {
        // do some work ...
        std::unique_lock<std::mutex> lock(mx);
        cv.notify_one();    // wake other thread
    }
}

void thread2()
{
    while (true) {
        std::unique_lock<std::mutex> lock(mx);
        cv.wait(lock);    // might block forever
        // do work ...
    }
}

Here, if some other thread consumes thread1’s notification, thread2 can wait forever.

Example
template<typename T>
class Sync_queue {
public:
    void put(const T& val);
    void put(T&& val);
    void get(T& val);
private:
    mutex mtx;
    condition_variable cond;    // this controls access
    list<T> q;
};

template<typename T>
void Sync_queue<T>::put(const T& val)
{
    lock_guard<mutex> lck(mtx);
    q.push_back(val);
    cond.notify_one();
}

template<typename T>
void Sync_queue<T>::get(T& val)
{
    unique_lock<mutex> lck(mtx);
    cond.wait(lck, [this]{ return !q.empty(); });    // prevent spurious wakeup
    val = q.front();
    q.pop_front();
}

Now if the queue is empty when a thread executing get() wakes up (e.g., because another thread has gotten to get() before it), it will immediately go back to sleep, waiting.

Enforcement

Flag all waits without conditions.

CP.43: Minimize time spent in a critical section

Reason

The less time is spent with a mutex taken, the less chance that another thread has to wait, and thread suspension and resumption are expensive.

Example
void do_something() // bad
{
    unique_lock<mutex> lck(my_lock);
    do0();  // preparation: does not need lock
    do1();  // transaction: needs locking
    do2();  // cleanup: does not need locking
}

Here, we are holding the lock for longer than necessary: We should not have taken the lock before we needed it and should have released it again before starting the cleanup. We could rewrite this to

void do_something() // bad
{
    do0();  // preparation: does not need lock
    my_lock.lock();
    do1();  // transaction: needs locking
    my_lock.unlock();
    do2();  // cleanup: does not need locking
}

But that compromises safety and violates the use RAII rule. Instead, add a block for the critical section:

void do_something() // OK
{
    do0();  // preparation: does not need lock
    {
        unique_lock<mutex> lck(my_lock);
        do1();  // transaction: needs locking
    }
    do2();  // cleanup: does not need locking
}
Enforcement

Impossible in general. Flag “naked” lock() and unlock().

CP.44: Remember to name your lock_guards and unique_locks

Reason

An unnamed local objects is a temporary that immediately goes out of scope.

Example
unique_lock<mutex>(m1);
lock_guard<mutex> {m2};
lock(m1, m2);

This looks innocent enough, but it isn’t.

Enforcement

Flag all unnamed lock_guards and unique_locks.

P.50: Define a mutex together with the data it guards

Reason

It should be obvious to a reader that the data is to be guarded and how.

Example
struct Record {
    std::mutex m;   // take this mutex before accessing other members
    // ...
};
Enforcement

??? Possible?

CP.par: Parallelism

By “parallelism” we refer to performing a task (more or less) simultaneously (“in parallel with”) on many data items.

Parallelism rule summary:

CP.mess: Message passing

The standard-library facilities are quite low level, focused on the needs of close-to the hardware critical programming using threads, mutexes, atomic types, etc. Most people shouldn’t work at this level: it’s error-prone and development is slow. If possible, use a higher level facility: messaging libraries, parallel algorithms, and vectorization. This section looks at passing messages so that a programmer doesn’t have to do explicit synchronization.

Message passing rules summary:

???? should there be a “use X rather than std::async” where X is something that would use a better specified thread pool?

??? Is std::async worth using in light of future (and even existing, as libraries) parallelism facilities? What should the guidelines recommend if someone wants to parallelize, e.g., std::accumulate (with the additional precondition of commutativity), or merge sort?

CP.60: Use a future to return a value from a concurrent task

Reason

A future preserves the usual function call return semantics for asynchronous tasks. The is no explicit locking and both correct (value) return and error (exception) return are handled simply.

Example
???
Note

???

Enforcement

???

CP.61: Use a async() to spawn a concurrent task

Reason

A future preserves the usual function call return semantics for asynchronous tasks. The is no explicit locking and both correct (value) return and error (exception) return are handled simply.

Example
???
Note

Unfortunately, async() is not perfect. For example, there is no guarantee that a thread pool is used to minimize thread construction. In fact, most current async() implementations don’t. However, async() is simple and logically correct so until something better comes along and unless you really need to optimize for many asynchronous tasks, stick with async().

Enforcement

???

CP.vec: Vectorization

Vectorization is a technique for executing a number of tasks concurrently without introducing explicit synchronization. An operation is simply applied to elements of a data structure (a vector, an array, etc.) in parallel. Vectorization has the interesting property of often requiring no non-local changes to a program. However, vectorization works best with simple data structures and with algorithms specifically crafted to enable it.

Vectorization rule summary:

CP.free: Lock-free programming

Synchronization using mutexes and condition_variables can be relatively expensive. Furthermore, it can lead to deadlock. For performance and to eliminate the possibility of deadlock, we sometimes have to use the tricky low-level “lock-free” facilities that rely on briefly gaining exclusive (“atomic”) access to memory. Lock free programming is also used to implement higher-level concurrency mechanisms, such as threads and mutexes.

Lock-free programming rule summary:

CP.100: Don’t use lock-free programming unless you absolutely have to

Reason

It’s error-prone and requires expert level knowledge of language features, machine architecture, and data structures.

Example, bad
extern atomic<Link*> head;        // the shared head of a linked list

Link* nh = new Link(data, nullptr);    // make a link ready for insertion
Link* h = head.load();                 // read the shared head of the list

do {
    if (h->data <= data) break;        // if so, insert elsewhere
    nh->next = h;                      // next element is the previous head
} while (!head.compare_exchange_weak(h, nh));    // write nh to head or to h

Spot the bug. It would be really hard to find through testing. Read up on the ABA problem.

Exception

Atomic variables can be used simply and safely.

Note

Higher-level concurrency mechanisms, such as threads and mutexes are implemented using lock-free programming.

Alternative: Use lock-free data structures implemented by others as part of some library.

CP.101: Distrust your hardware/compiler combination

Reason

The low-level hardware interfaces used by lock-free programming are among the hardest to implement well and among the areas where the most subtle portability problems occur. If you are doing lock-free programming for performance, you need to check for regressions.

Note

Instruction reordering (static and dynamic) makes it hard for us to think effectively at this level (especially if you use relaxed memory models). Experience, (semi)formal models and model checking can be useful. Testing - often to an extreme extent - is essential. “Don’t fly too close to the sun.”

Enforcement

Have strong rules for re-testing in place that covers any change in hardware, operating system, compiler, and libraries.

CP.102: Carefully study the literature

Reason

With the exception of atomics and a few use standard patterns, lock-free programming is really an expert-only topic. Become an expert before shipping lock-free code for others to use.

References

CP.110: Do not write your own double-checked locking for initialization

Reason

Since C++11, static local variables are now initialized in a thread-safe way. When combined with the RAII pattern, static local variables can replace the need for writing your own double-checked locking for initialization. std::call_once can also achieve the same purpose. Use either static local variables of C++11 or std::call_once instead of writing your own double-checked locking for initialization.

Example

Example with std::call_once.

void f()
{
    static std::once_flag my_once_flag;
    std::call_once(my_once_flag, []()
    {
        // do this only once
    });
    // ...
}

Example with thread-safe static local variables of C++11.

void f()
{
    // Assuming the compiler is compliant with C++11
    static My_class my_object; // Constructor called only once
    // ...
}

class My_class
{
public:
    My_class()
    {
        // ...
    }
};
Enforcement

??? Is it possible to detect the idiom?

CP.111: Use a conventional pattern if you really need double-checked locking

Reason

Double-checked locking is easy to mess up. If you really need to write your own double-checked locking, in spite of the rules CP.110: Do not write your own double-checked locking for initialization and CP.100: Don’t use lock-free programming unless you absolutely have to, then do it in a conventional pattern.

Example, bad

Even if the following example works correctly on most hardware platforms, it is not guaranteed to work by the C++ standard. The x_init.load(memory_order_relaxed) call may see a value from outside of the lock guard.

atomic<bool> x_init;

if (!x_init.load(memory_order_acquire)) {
    lock_guard<mutex> lck(x_mutex);
    if (!x_init.load(memory_order_relaxed)) {
        // ... initialize x ...
        x_init.store(true, memory_order_release);
    }
}
Example, good

One of the conventional patterns is below.

std::atomic<int> state;

// If state == SOME_ACTION_NEEDED maybe an action is needed, maybe not, we need to
// check again in a lock. However, if state != SOME_ACTION_NEEDED, then we can be
// sure that an action is not needed. This is the basic assumption of double-checked
// locking.

if (state == SOME_ACTION_NEEDED)
{
    std::lock_guard<std::mutex> lock(mutex);
    if (state == SOME_ACTION_NEEDED)
    {
        // do something
        state = NO_ACTION_NEEDED;
    }
}

In the example above (state == SOME_ACTION_NEEDED) could be any condition. It doesn’t necessarily needs to be equality comparison. For example, it could as well be (size > MIN_SIZE_TO_TAKE_ACTION).

Enforcement

??? Is it possible to detect the idiom?

CP.etc: Etc. concurrency rules

These rules defy simple categorization:

CP.200: Use volatile only to talk to non-C++ memory

Reason

volatile is used to refer to objects that are shared with “non-C++” code or hardware that does not follow the C++ memory model.

Example
const volatile long clock;

This describes a register constantly updated by a clock circuit. clock is volatile because its value will change without any action from the C++ program that uses it. For example, reading clock twice will often yield two different values, so the optimizer had better not optimize away the second read in this code:

long t1 = clock;
// ... no use of clock here ...
long t2 = clock;

clock is const because the program should not try to write to clock.

Note

Unless you are writing the lowest level code manipulating hardware directly, consider volatile an esoteric feature that is best avoided.

Example

Usually C++ code receives volatile memory that is owned Elsewhere (hardware or another language):

int volatile* vi = get_hardware_memory_location();
    // note: we get a pointer to someone else's memory here
    // volatile says "treat this with extra respect"

Sometimes C++ code allocates the volatile memory and shares it with “elsewhere” (hardware or another language) by deliberately escaping a pointer:

static volatile long vl;
please_use_this(&vl);   // escape a reference to this to "elsewhere" (not C++)
Example; bad

volatile local variables are nearly always wrong – how can they be shared with other languages or hardware if they’re ephemeral? The same applies almost as strongly to member variables, for the same reason.

void f() {
    volatile int i = 0; // bad, volatile local variable
    // etc.
}

class My_type {
    volatile int i = 0; // suspicious, volatile member variable
    // etc.
};
Note

In C++, unlike in some other languages, volatile has nothing to do with synchronization.

Enforcement

CP.201: ??? Signals

???UNIX signal handling???. May be worth reminding how little is async-signal-safe, and how to communicate with a signal handler (best is probably “not at all”)

E: Error handling

Error handling involves:

It is not possible to recover from all errors. If recovery from an error is not possible, it is important to quickly “get out” in a well-defined way. A strategy for error handling must be simple, or it becomes a source of even worse errors. Untested and rarely executed error-handling code is itself the source of many bugs.

The rules are designed to help avoid several kinds of errors:

Error-handling rule summary:

E.1: Develop an error-handling strategy early in a design

Reason

A consistent and complete strategy for handling errors and resource leaks is hard to retrofit into a system.

E.2: Throw an exception to signal that a function can’t perform its assigned task

Reason

To make error handling systematic, robust, and non-repetitive.

Example
struct Foo {
    vector<Thing> v;
    File_handle f;
    string s;
};

void use()
{
    Foo bar {{Thing{1}, Thing{2}, Thing{monkey}}, {"my_file", "r"}, "Here we go!"};
    // ...
}

Here, vector and strings constructors may not be able to allocate sufficient memory for their elements, vectors constructor may not be able copy the Things in its initializer list, and File_handle may not be able to open the required file. In each case, they throw an exception for use()’s caller to handle. If use() could handle the failure to construct bar it can take control using try/catch. In either case, Foo’s constructor correctly destroys constructed members before passing control to whatever tried to create a Foo. Note that there is no return value that could contain an error code.

The File_handle constructor might be defined like this:

File_handle::File_handle(const string& name, const string& mode)
    :f{fopen(name.c_str(), mode.c_str())}
{
    if (!f)
        throw runtime_error{"File_handle: could not open " + name + " as " + mode};
}
Note

It is often said that exceptions are meant to signal exceptional events and failures. However, that’s a bit circular because “what is exceptional?” Examples:

In contrast, termination of an ordinary loop is not exceptional. Unless the loop was meant to be infinite, termination is normal and expected.

Note

Don’t use a throw as simply an alternative way of returning a value from a function.

Exception

Some systems, such as hard-real time systems require a guarantee that an action is taken in a (typically short) constant maximum time known before execution starts. Such systems can use exceptions only if there is tool support for accurately predicting the maximum time to recover from a throw.

See also: RAII

See also: discussion

Note

Before deciding that you cannot afford or don’t like exception-based error handling, have a look at the alternatives; they have their own complexities and problems. Also, as far as possible, measure before making claims about efficiency.

E.3: Use exceptions for error handling only

Reason

To keep error handling separated from “ordinary code.” C++ implementations tend to be optimized based on the assumption that exceptions are rare.

Example, don’t
// don't: exception not used for error handling
int find_index(vector<string>& vec, const string& x)
{
    try {
        for (int i = 0; i < vec.size(); ++i)
            if (vec[i] == x) throw i;  // found x
    } catch (int i) {
        return i;
    }
    return -1;   // not found
}

This is more complicated and most likely runs much slower than the obvious alternative. There is nothing exceptional about finding a value in a vector.

Enforcement

Would need to be heuristic. Look for exception values “leaked” out of catch clauses.

E.4: Design your error-handling strategy around invariants

Reason

To use an object it must be in a valid state (defined formally or informally by an invariant) and to recover from an error every object not destroyed must be in a valid state.

Note

An invariant is logical condition for the members of an object that a constructor must establish for the public member functions to assume.

Enforcement

???

E.5: Let a constructor establish an invariant, and throw if it cannot

Reason

Leaving an object without its invariant established is asking for trouble. Not all member functions can be called.

Example
class Vector {  // very simplified vector of doubles
    // if elem != nullptr then elem points to sz doubles
public:
    Vector() : elem{nullptr}, sz{0}{}
    Vector(int s) : elem{new double}, sz{s} { /* initialize elements */ }
    ~Vector() { delete elem; }
    double& operator[](int s) { return elem[s]; }
    // ...
private:
    owner<double*> elem;
    int sz;
};

The class invariant - here stated as a comment - is established by the constructors. new throws if it cannot allocate the required memory. The operators, notably the subscript operator, relies on the invariant.

See also: If a constructor cannot construct a valid object, throw an exception

Enforcement

Flag classes with private state without a constructor (public, protected, or private).

E.6: Use RAII to prevent leaks

Reason

Leaks are typically unacceptable. RAII (“Resource Acquisition Is Initialization”) is the simplest, most systematic way of preventing leaks.

Example
void f1(int i)   // Bad: possibly leak
{
    int* p = new int[12];
    // ...
    if (i < 17) throw Bad {"in f()", i};
    // ...
}

We could carefully release the resource before the throw:

void f2(int i)   // Clumsy: explicit release
{
    int* p = new int[12];
    // ...
    if (i < 17) {
        delete[] p;
        throw Bad {"in f()", i};
    }
    // ...
}

This is verbose. In larger code with multiple possible throws explicit releases become repetitive and error-prone.

void f3(int i)   // OK: resource management done by a handle
{
    auto p = make_unique<int[]>(12);
    // ...
    if (i < 17) throw Bad {"in f()", i};
    // ...
}

Note that this works even when the throw is implicit because it happened in a called function:

void f4(int i)   // OK: resource management done by a handle
{
    auto p = make_unique<int[]>(12);
    // ...
    helper(i);   // may throw
    // ...
}

Unless you really need pointer semantics, use a local resource object:

void f5(int i)   // OK: resource management done by local object
{
    vector<int> v(12);
    // ...
    helper(i);   // may throw
    // ...
}
Note

If there is no obvious resource handle, cleanup actions can be represented by a final_action object

Note

But what do we do if we are writing a program where exceptions cannot be used? First challenge that assumption; there are many anti-exceptions myths around. We know of only a few good reasons:

Only the first of these reasons is fundamental, so whenever possible, use exceptions to implement RAII, or design your RAII objects to never fail. When exceptions cannot be used, simulate RAII. That is, systematically check that objects are valid after construction and still release all resources in the destructor. One strategy is to add a valid() operation to every resource handle:

void f()
{
    vector<string> vs(100);   // not std::vector: valid() added
    if (!vs.valid()) {
        // handle error or exit
    }

    ifstream fs("foo");   // not std::ifstream: valid() added
    if (!fs.valid()) {
        // handle error or exit
    }

    // ...
} // destructors clean up as usual

Obviously, this increases the size of the code, doesn’t allow for implicit propagation of “exceptions” (valid() checks), and valid() checks can be forgotten. Prefer to use exceptions.

See also: Use of noexcept.

Enforcement

???

E.7: State your preconditions

Reason

To avoid interface errors.

See also: precondition rule.

E.8: State your postconditions

Reason

To avoid interface errors.

See also: postcondition rule.

E.12: Use noexcept when exiting a function because of a throw is impossible or unacceptable

Reason

To make error handling systematic, robust, and efficient.

Example
double compute(double d) noexcept
{
    return log(sqrt(d <= 0 ? 1 : d));
}

Here, we know that compute will not throw because it is composed out of operations that don’t throw. By declaring compute to be noexcept, we give the compiler and human readers information that can make it easier for them to understand and manipulate compute.

Note

Many standard library functions are noexcept including all the standard library functions “inherited” from the C standard library.

Example
vector<double> munge(const vector<double>& v) noexcept
{
    vector<double> v2(v.size());
    // ... do something ...
}

The noexcept here states that I am not willing or able to handle the situation where I cannot construct the local vector. That is, I consider memory exhaustion a serious design error (on par with hardware failures) so that I’m willing to crash the program if it happens.

See also: discussion.

E.13: Never throw while being the direct owner of an object

Reason

That would be a leak.

Example
void leak(int x)   // don't: may leak
{
    auto p = new int{7};
    if (x < 0) throw Get_me_out_of_here{};  // may leak *p
    // ...
    delete p;   // we may never get here
}

One way of avoiding such problems is to use resource handles consistently:

void no_leak(int x)
{
    auto p = make_unique<int>(7);
    if (x < 0) throw Get_me_out_of_here{};  // will delete *p if necessary
    // ...
    // no need for delete p
}

Another solution (often better) would be to use a local variable to eliminate explicit use of pointers:

void no_leak_simplified(int x)
{
    vector<int> v(7);
    // ...
}

See also: ???resource rule ???

E.14: Use purpose-designed user-defined types as exceptions (not built-in types)

Reason

A user-defined type is unlikely to clash with other people’s exceptions.

Example
void my_code()
{
    // ...
    throw Moonphase_error{};
    // ...
}

void your_code()
{
    try {
        // ...
        my_code();
        // ...
    }
    catch(Bufferpool_exhausted) {
        // ...
    }
}
Example, don’t
void my_code()     // Don't
{
    // ...
    throw 7;       // 7 means "moon in the 4th quarter"
    // ...
}

void your_code()   // Don't
{
    try {
        // ...
        my_code();
        // ...
    }
    catch(int i) {  // i == 7 means "input buffer too small"
        // ...
    }
}
Note

The standard-library classes derived from exception should be used only as base classes or for exceptions that require only “generic” handling. Like built-in types, their use could clash with other people’s use of them.

Example, don’t
void my_code()   // Don't
{
    // ...
    throw runtime_error{"moon in the 4th quarter"};
    // ...
}

void your_code()   // Don't
{
    try {
        // ...
        my_code();
        // ...
    }
    catch(runtime_error) {   // runtime_error means "input buffer too small"
        // ...
    }
}

See also: Discussion

Enforcement

Catch throw and catch of a built-in type. Maybe warn about throw and catch using an standard-library exception type. Obviously, exceptions derived from the std::exception hierarchy is fine.

E.15: Catch exceptions from a hierarchy by reference

Reason

To prevent slicing.

Example
void f()
try {
    // ...
}
catch (exception e) {   // don't: may slice
    // ...
}

Instead, use:

catch (exception& e) { /* ... */ }
Enforcement

Flag by-value exceptions if their types are part of a hierarchy (could require whole-program analysis to be perfect).

E.16: Destructors, deallocation, and swap must never fail

Reason

We don’t know how to write reliable programs if a destructor, a swap, or a memory deallocation fails; that is, if it exits by an exception or simply doesn’t perform its required action.

Example, don’t
class Connection {
    // ...
public:
    ~Connection()   // Don't: very bad destructor
    {
        if (cannot_disconnect()) throw I_give_up{information};
        // ...
    }
};
Note

Many have tried to write reliable code violating this rule for examples, such as a network connection that “refuses to close”. To the best of our knowledge nobody has found a general way of doing this. Occasionally, for very specific examples, you can get away with setting some state for future cleanup. For example, we might put a socket that does not want to close on a “bad socket” list, to be examined by a regular sweep of the system state. Every example we have seen of this is error-prone, specialized, and often buggy.

Note

The standard library assumes that destructors, deallocation functions (e.g., operator delete), and swap do not throw. If they do, basic standard library invariants are broken.

Note

Deallocation functions, including operator delete, must be noexcept. swap functions must be noexcept. Most destructors are implicitly noexcept by default. Also, make move operations noexcept.

Enforcement

Catch destructors, deallocation operations, and swaps that throw. Catch such operations that are not noexcept.

See also: discussion

E.17: Don’t try to catch every exception in every function

Reason

Catching an exception in a function that cannot take a meaningful recovery action leads to complexity and waste. Let an exception propagate until it reaches a function that can handle it. Let cleanup actions on the unwinding path be handled by RAII.

Example, don’t
void f()   // bad
{
    try {
        // ...
    }
    catch (...) {
        // no action
        throw;   // propagate exception
    }
}
Enforcement

E.18: Minimize the use of explicit try/catch

Reason

try/catch is verbose and non-trivial uses error-prone. try/catch can be a sign of unsystematic and/or low-level resource management or error handling.

Example, Bad
void f(zstring s)
{
    Gadget* p;
    try {
        p = new Gadget(s);
        // ...
        delete p;
    }
    catch (Gadget_construction_failure) {
        delete p;
        throw;
    }
}

This code is messy. There could be a leak from the naked pointer in the try block. Not all exceptions are handled. deleting an object that failed to construct is almost certainly a mistake. Better:

void f2(zstring s)
{
    Gadget g {s};
}
Alternatives
Enforcement

??? hard, needs a heuristic

E.19: Use a final_action object to express cleanup if no suitable resource handle is available

Reason

finally is less verbose and harder to get wrong than try/catch.

Example
void f(int n)
{
    void* p = malloc(1, n);
    auto _ = finally([p] { free(p); });
    // ...
}
Note

finally is not as messy as try/catch, but it is still ad-hoc. Prefer proper resource management objects.

Note

Use of finally is a systematic and reasonably clean alternative to the old goto exit; technique for dealing with cleanup where resource management is not systematic.

Enforcement

Heuristic: Detect goto exit;

E.25: If you can’t throw exceptions, simulate RAII for resource management

Reason

Even without exceptions, RAII is usually the best and most systematic way of dealing with resources.

Note

Error handling using exceptions is the only complete and systematic way of handling non-local errors in C++. In particular, non-intrusively signaling failure to construct an object requires an exception. Signaling errors in a way that cannot be ignored requires exceptions. If you can’t use exceptions, simulate their use as best you can.

A lot of fear of exceptions is misguided. When used for exceptional circumstances in code that is not littered with pointers and complicated control structures, exception handling is almost always affordable (in time and space) and almost always leads to better code. This, of course, assumes a good implementation of the exception handling mechanisms, which is not available on all systems. There are also cases where the problems above do not apply, but exceptions cannot be used for other reasons. Some hard real-time systems are an example: An operation has to be completed within a fixed time with an error or a correct answer. In the absence of appropriate time estimation tools, this is hard to guarantee for exceptions. Such systems (e.g. flight control software) typically also ban the use of dynamic (heap) memory.

So, the primary guideline for error handling is “use exceptions and RAII.” This section deals with the cases where you either do not have an efficient implementation of exceptions, or have such a rat’s nest of old-style code (e.g., lots of pointers, ill-defined ownership, and lots of unsystematic error handling based on tests of error codes) that it is infeasible to introduce simple and systematic exception handling.

Before condemning exceptions or complaining too much about their cost, consider examples of the use of error codes. Consider the cost and complexity of the use of error codes. If performance is your worry, measure.

Example

Assume you wanted to write

void func(zstring arg)
{
    Gadget g {arg};
    // ...
}

If the gadget isn’t correctly constructed, func exits with an exception. If we cannot throw an exception, we can simulate this RAII style of resource handling by adding a valid() member function to Gadget:

error_indicator func(zstring arg)
{
    Gadget g {arg};
    if (!g.valid()) return gadget_construction_error;
    // ...
    return 0;   // zero indicates "good"
}

The problem is of course that the caller now has to remember to test the return value.

See also: Discussion.

Enforcement

Possible (only) for specific versions of this idea: e.g., test for systematic test of valid() after resource handle construction

E.26: If you can’t throw exceptions, consider failing fast

Reason

If you can’t do a good job at recovering, at least you can get out before too much consequential damage is done.

See also Simulating RAII.

Note

If you cannot be systematic about error handling, consider “crashing” as a response to any error that cannot be handled locally. That is, if you cannot recover from an error in the context of the function that detected it, call abort(), quick_exit(), or a similar function that will trigger some sort of system restart.

In systems where you have lots of processes and/or lots of computers, you need to expect and handle fatal crashes anyway, say from hardware failures. In such cases, “crashing” is simply leaving error handling to the next level of the system.

Example
void f(int n)
{
    // ...
    p = static_cast<X*>(malloc(n, X));
    if (p == nullptr) abort();     // abort if memory is exhausted
    // ...
}

Most programs cannot handle memory exhaustion gracefully anyway. This is roughly equivalent to

void f(int n)
{
    // ...
    p = new X[n];    // throw if memory is exhausted (by default, terminate)
    // ...
}

Typically, it is a good idea to log the reason for the “crash” before exiting.

Enforcement

Awkward

E.27: If you can’t throw exceptions, use error codes systematically

Reason

Systematic use of any error-handling strategy minimizes the chance of forgetting to handle an error.

See also Simulating RAII.

Note

There are several issues to be addressed:

In general, returning an error indicator implies returning two values: The result and an error indicator. The error indicator can be part of the object, e.g. an object can have a valid() indicator or a pair of values can be returned.

Example
Gadget make_gadget(int n)
{
    // ...
}

void user()
{
    Gadget g = make_gadget(17);
    if (!g.valid()) {
            // error handling
    }
    // ...
}

This approach fits with simulated RAII resource management. The valid() function could return an error_indicator (e.g. a member of an error_indicator enumeration).

Example

What if we cannot or do not want to modify the Gadget type? In that case, we must return a pair of values. For example:

std::pair<Gadget, error_indicator> make_gadget(int n)
{
    // ...
}

void user()
{
    auto r = make_gadget(17);
    if (!r.second) {
            // error handling
    }
    Gadget& g = r.first;
    // ...
}

As shown, std::pair is a possible return type. Some people prefer a specific type. For example:

Gval make_gadget(int n)
{
    // ...
}

void user()
{
    auto r = make_gadget(17);
    if (!r.err) {
            // error handling
    }
    Gadget& g = r.val;
    // ...
}

One reason to prefer a specific return type is to have names for its members, rather than the somewhat cryptic first and second and to avoid confusion with other uses of std::pair.

Example

In general, you must clean up before an error exit. This can be messy:

std::pair<int, error_indicator> user()
{
    Gadget g1 = make_gadget(17);
    if (!g1.valid()) {
            return {0, g1_error};
    }

    Gadget g2 = make_gadget(17);
    if (!g2.valid()) {
            cleanup(g1);
            return {0, g2_error};
    }

    // ...

    if (all_foobar(g1, g2)) {
        cleanup(g1);
        cleanup(g2);
        return {0, foobar_error};
    // ...

    cleanup(g1);
    cleanup(g2);
    return {res, 0};
}

Simulating RAII can be non-trivial, especially in functions with multiple resources and multiple possible errors. A not uncommon technique is to gather cleanup at the end of the function to avoid repetition:

std::pair<int, error_indicator> user()
{
    error_indicator err = 0;

    Gadget g1 = make_gadget(17);
    if (!g1.valid()) {
            err = g1_error;
            goto exit;
    }

    Gadget g2 = make_gadget(17);
    if (!g2.valid()) {
            err = g2_error;
            goto exit;
    }

    if (all_foobar(g1, g2)) {
        err = foobar_error;
        goto exit;
    }
    // ...

exit:
  if (g1.valid()) cleanup(g1);
  if (g2.valid()) cleanup(g2);
  return {res, err};
}

The larger the function, the more tempting this technique becomes. finally can ease the pain a bit. Also, the larger the program becomes the harder it is to apply an error-indicator-based error handling strategy systematically.

We prefer exception-based error handling and recommend keeping functions short.

See also: Discussion.

See also: Returning multiple values.

Enforcement

Awkward.

E.28: Avoid error handling based on global state (e.g. errno)

Reason

Global state is hard to manage and it is easy to forget to check it. When did you last test the return value of printf()?

See also Simulating RAII.

Example, bad
???
Note

C-style error handling is based on the global variable errno, so it is essentially impossible to avoid this style completely.

Enforcement

Awkward.

Con: Constants and Immutability

You can’t have a race condition on a constant. It is easier to reason about a program when many of the objects cannot change their values. Interfaces that promises “no change” of objects passed as arguments greatly increase readability.

Constant rule summary:

Con.1: By default, make objects immutable

Reason

Immutable objects are easier to reason about, so make objects non-const only when there is a need to change their value. Prevents accidental or hard-to-notice change of value.

Example
for (const string& s : c) cout << s << '\n';    // just reading: const

for (string& s : c) cout << s << '\n';    // BAD: just reading

for (string& s : c) cin >> s;  // needs to write: non-const
Exception

Function arguments are rarely mutated, but also rarely declared const. To avoid confusion and lots of false positives, don’t enforce this rule for function arguments.

void f(const char* const p); // pedantic
void g(const int i);        // pedantic

Note that function parameter is a local variable so changes to it are local.

Enforcement

Con.2: By default, make member functions const

Reason

A member function should be marked const unless it changes the object’s observable state. This gives a more precise statement of design intent, better readability, more errors caught by the compiler, and sometimes more optimization opportunities.

Example; bad
class Point {
    int x, y;
public:
    int getx() { return x; }    // BAD, should be const as it doesn't modify the object's state
    // ...
};

void f(const Point& pt) {
    int x = pt.getx();          // ERROR, doesn't compile because getx was not marked const
}
Note

It is not inherently bad to pass a pointer or reference to non-const, but that should be done only when the called function is supposed to modify the object. A reader of code must assume that a funtion that takes a “plain” T* or T& will modify the object referred to. If it doesn’t now, it might do so later without forcing recompilation.

Note

There are code/libraries that are offer functions that declare aT* even though those function do not modify that T. This is a problem for people modernizing code. You can

Note that this wrapper solution is a patch that should be used only when the declaration of f() cannot be be modified, e.g. because it is in a library that you cannot modify.

Enforcement

Con.3: By default, pass pointers and references to consts

Reason

To avoid a called function unexpectedly changing the value. It’s far easier to reason about programs when called functions don’t modify state.

Example
void f(char* p);        // does f modify *p? (assume it does)
void g(const char* p);  // g does not modify *p
Note

It is not inherently bad to pass a pointer or reference to non-const, but that should be done only when the called function is supposed to modify the object.

Note

Do not cast away const.

Enforcement

Con.4: Use const to define objects with values that do not change after construction

Reason

Prevent surprises from unexpectedly changed object values.

Example
void f()
{
    int x = 7;
    const int y = 9;

    for (;;) {
        // ...
    }
    // ...
}

As x is not const, we must assume that it is modified somewhere in the loop.

Enforcement

Con.5: Use constexpr for values that can be computed at compile time

Reason

Better performance, better compile-time checking, guaranteed compile-time evaluation, no possibility of race conditions.

Example
double x = f(2);            // possible run-time evaluation
const double y = f(2);      // possible run-time evaluation
constexpr double z = f(2);  // error unless f(2) can be evaluated at compile time
Note

See F.4.

Enforcement

T: Templates and generic programming

Generic programming is programming using types and algorithms parameterized by types, values, and algorithms. In C++, generic programming is supported by the template language mechanisms.

Arguments to generic functions are characterized by sets of requirements on the argument types and values involved. In C++, these requirements are expressed by compile-time predicates called concepts.

Templates can also be used for meta-programming; that is, programs that compose code at compile time.

A central notion in generic programming is “concepts”; that is, requirements on template arguments presented as compile-time predicates. “Concepts” are defined in an ISO Technical specification: concepts. A draft of a set of standard-library concepts can be found in another ISO TS: ranges Currently (July 2016), concepts are supported only in GCC 6.1. Consequently, we comment out uses of concepts in examples; that is, we use them as formalized comments only. If you use GCC 6.1, you can uncomment them.

Template use rule summary:

Concept use rule summary:

Concept definition rule summary:

Template interface rule summary:

Template definition rule summary:

Template and hierarchy rule summary:

Variadic template rule summary:

Metaprogramming rule summary:

Other template rules summary:

T.gp: Generic programming

Generic programming is programming using types and algorithms parameterized by types, values, and algorithms.

T.1: Use templates to raise the level of abstraction of code

Reason

Generality. Re-use. Efficiency. Encourages consistent definition of user types.

Example, bad

Conceptually, the following requirements are wrong because what we want of T is more than just the very low-level concepts of “can be incremented” or “can be added”:

template<typename T>
    // requires Incrementable<T>
T sum1(vector<T>& v, T s)
{
    for (auto x : v) s += x;
    return s;
}

template<typename T>
    // requires Simple_number<T>
T sum2(vector<T>& v, T s)
{
    for (auto x : v) s = s + x;
    return s;
}

Assuming that Incrementable does not support + and Simple_number does not support +=, we have overconstrained implementers of sum1 and sum2. And, in this case, missed an opportunity for a generalization.

Example
template<typename T>
    // requires Arithmetic<T>
T sum(vector<T>& v, T s)
{
    for (auto x : v) s += x;
    return s;
}

Assuming that Arithmetic requires both + and +=, we have constrained the user of sum to provide a complete arithmetic type. That is not a minimal requirement, but it gives the implementer of algorithms much needed freedom and ensures that any Arithmetic type can be used for a wide variety of algorithms.

For additional generality and reusability, we could also use a more general Container or Range concept instead of committing to only one container, vector.

Note

If we define a template to require exactly the operations required for a single implementation of a single algorithm (e.g., requiring just += rather than also = and +) and only those, we have overconstrained maintainers. We aim to minimize requirements on template arguments, but the absolutely minimal requirements of an implementation is rarely a meaningful concept.

Note

Templates can be used to express essentially everything (they are Turing complete), but the aim of generic programming (as expressed using templates) is to efficiently generalize operations/algorithms over a set of types with similar semantic properties.

Note

The requires in the comments are uses of concepts. “Concepts” are defined in an ISO Technical specification: concepts. Currently (July 2016), concepts are supported only in GCC 6.1. Consequently, we comment out uses of concepts in examples; that is, we use them as formalized comments only. If you use GCC 6.1, you can uncomment them.

Enforcement

T.2: Use templates to express algorithms that apply to many argument types

Reason

Generality. Minimizing the amount of source code. Interoperability. Re-use.

Example

That’s the foundation of the STL. A single find algorithm easily works with any kind of input range:

template<typename Iter, typename Val>
    // requires Input_iterator<Iter>
    //       && Equality_comparable<Value_type<Iter>, Val>
Iter find(Iter b, Iter e, Val v)
{
    // ...
}
Note

Don’t use a template unless you have a realistic need for more than one template argument type. Don’t overabstract.

Enforcement

??? tough, probably needs a human

T.3: Use templates to express containers and ranges

Reason

Containers need an element type, and expressing that as a template argument is general, reusable, and type safe. It also avoids brittle or inefficient workarounds. Convention: That’s the way the STL does it.

Example
template<typename T>
    // requires Regular<T>
class Vector {
    // ...
    T* elem;   // points to sz Ts
    int sz;
};

Vector<double> v(10);
v[7] = 9.9;
Example, bad
class Container {
    // ...
    void* elem;   // points to size elements of some type
    int sz;
};

Container c(10, sizeof(double));
((double*) c.elem)[] = 9.9;

This doesn’t directly express the intent of the programmer and hides the structure of the program from the type system and optimizer.

Hiding the void* behind macros simply obscures the problems and introduces new opportunities for confusion.

Exceptions: If you need an ABI-stable interface, you might have to provide a base implementation and express the (type-safe) template in terms of that. See Stable base.

Enforcement

T.4: Use templates to express syntax tree manipulation

Reason

???

Example
???

Exceptions: ???

T.5: Combine generic and OO techniques to amplify their strengths, not their costs

Reason

Generic and OO techniques are complementary.

Example

Static helps dynamic: Use static polymorphism to implement dynamically polymorphic interfaces.

class Command {
    // pure virtual functions
};

// implementations
template</*...*/>
class ConcreteCommand : public Command {
    // implement virtuals
};
Example

Dynamic helps static: Offer a generic, comfortable, statically bound interface, but internally dispatch dynamically, so you offer a uniform object layout. Examples include type erasure as with std::shared_ptr’s deleter (but don’t overuse type erasure).

Note

In a class template, nonvirtual functions are only instantiated if they’re used – but virtual functions are instantiated every time. This can bloat code size, and may overconstrain a generic type by instantiating functionality that is never needed. Avoid this, even though the standard-library facets made this mistake.

See also
Enforcement

See the reference to more specific rules.

T.concepts: Concept rules

Concepts is a facility for specifying requirements for template arguments. It is an ISO technical specification, but currently supported only by GCC. Concepts are, however, crucial in the thinking about generic programming and the basis of much work on future C++ libraries (standard and other).

This section assumes concept support

Concept use rule summary:

Concept definition rule summary:

T.con-use: Concept use

T.10: Specify concepts for all template arguments

Reason

Correctness and readability. The assumed meaning (syntax and semantics) of a template argument is fundamental to the interface of a template. A concept dramatically improves documentation and error handling for the template. Specifying concepts for template arguments is a powerful design tool.

Example
template<typename Iter, typename Val>
//    requires Input_iterator<Iter>
//             && Equality_comparable<Value_type<Iter>, Val>
Iter find(Iter b, Iter e, Val v)
{
    // ...
}

or equivalently and more succinctly:

template<Input_iterator Iter, typename Val>
//    requires Equality_comparable<Value_type<Iter>, Val>
Iter find(Iter b, Iter e, Val v)
{
    // ...
}
Note

“Concepts” are defined in an ISO Technical specification: concepts. A draft of a set of standard-library concepts can be found in another ISO TS: ranges Currently (July 2016), concepts are supported only in GCC 6.1. Consequently, we comment out uses of concepts in examples; that is, we use them as formalized comments only. If you use GCC 6.1, you can uncomment them:

template<typename Iter, typename Val>
    requires Input_iterator<Iter>
           && Equality_comparable<Value_type<Iter>, Val>
Iter find(Iter b, Iter e, Val v)
{
    // ...
}
Note

Plain typename (or auto) is the least constraining concept. It should be used only rarely when nothing more than “it’s a type” can be assumed. This is typically only needed when (as part of template metaprogramming code) we manipulate pure expression trees, postponing type checking.

References: TC++PL4, Palo Alto TR, Sutton

Enforcement

Flag template type arguments without concepts

T.11: Whenever possible use standard concepts

Reason

“Standard” concepts (as provided by the GSL and the Ranges TS, and hopefully soon the ISO standard itself) saves us the work of thinking up our own concepts, are better thought out than we can manage to do in a hurry, and improves interoperability.

Note

Unless you are creating a new generic library, most of the concepts you need will already be defined by the standard library.

Example (using TS concepts)
template<typename T>
    // don't define this: Sortable is in the GSL
concept Ordered_container = Sequence<T> && Random_access<Iterator<T>> && Ordered<Value_type<T>>;

void sort(Ordered_container& s);

This Ordered_container is quite plausible, but it is very similar to the Sortable concept in the GSL (and the Range TS). Is it better? Is it right? Does it accurately reflect the standard’s requirements for sort? It is better and simpler just to use Sortable:

void sort(Sortable& s);   // better
Note

The set of “standard” concepts is evolving as we approach an ISO standard including concepts.

Note

Designing a useful concept is challenging.

Enforcement

Hard.

T.12: Prefer concept names over auto for local variables

Reason

auto is the weakest concept. Concept names convey more meaning than just auto.

Example (using TS concepts)
vector<string> v;
auto& x = v.front();     // bad
String& s = v.begin();   // good (String is a GSL concept)
Enforcement

T.13: Prefer the shorthand notation for simple, single-type argument concepts

Reason

Readability. Direct expression of an idea.

Example (using TS concepts)

To say “T is Sortable”:

template<typename T>       // Correct but verbose: "The parameter is
//    requires Sortable<T>   // of type T which is the name of a type
void sort(T&);             // that is Sortable"

template<Sortable T>       // Better (assuming support for concepts): "The parameter is of type T
void sort(T&);             // which is Sortable"

void sort(Sortable&);      // Best (assuming support for concepts): "The parameter is Sortable"

The shorter versions better match the way we speak. Note that many templates don’t need to use the template keyword.

Note

“Concepts” are defined in an ISO Technical specification: concepts. A draft of a set of standard-library concepts can be found in another ISO TS: ranges Currently (July 2016), concepts are supported only in GCC 6.1. Consequently, we comment out uses of concepts in examples; that is, we use them as formalized comments only. If you use a compiler that supports concepts (e.g., GCC 6.1), you can remove the //.

Enforcement

T.concepts.def: Concept definition rules

Defining good concepts is non-trivial. Concepts are meant to represent fundamental concepts in an application domain (hence the name “concepts”). Similarly throwing together a set of syntactic constraints to be used for a the arguments for a single class or algorithm is not what concepts were designed for and will not give the full benefits of the mechanism.

Obviously, defining concepts will be most useful for code that can use an implementation (e.g., GCC 6.1), but defining concepts is in itself a useful design technique and help catch conceptual errors and clean up the concepts (sic!) of an implementation.

T.20: Avoid “concepts” without meaningful semantics

Reason

Concepts are meant to express semantic notions, such as “a number”, “a range” of elements, and “totally ordered.” Simple constraints, such as “has a + operator” and “has a > operator” cannot be meaningfully specified in isolation and should be used only as building blocks for meaningful concepts, rather than in user code.

Example, bad (using TS concepts)
template<typename T>
concept Addable = has_plus<T>;    // bad; insufficient

template<Addable N> auto algo(const N& a, const N& b) // use two numbers
{
    // ...
    return a + b;
}

int x = 7;
int y = 9;
auto z = plus(x, y);   // z = 16

string xx = "7";
string yy = "9";
auto zz = plus(xx, yy);   // zz = "79"

Maybe the concatenation was expected. More likely, it was an accident. Defining minus equivalently would give dramatically different sets of accepted types. This Addable violates the mathematical rule that addition is supposed to be commutative: a+b == b+a.

Note

The ability to specify a meaningful semantics is a defining characteristic of a true concept, as opposed to a syntactic constraint.

Example (using TS concepts)
template<typename T>
// The operators +, -, *, and / for a number are assumed to follow the usual mathematical rules
concept Number = has_plus<T>
                 && has_minus<T>
                 && has_multiply<T>
                 && has_divide<T>;

template<Number N> auto algo(const N& a, const N& b) // use two numbers
{
    // ...
    return a + b;
}

int x = 7;
int y = 9;
auto z = plus(x, y);   // z = 18

string xx = "7";
string yy = "9";
auto zz = plus(xx, yy);   // error: string is not a Number
Note

Concepts with multiple operations have far lower chance of accidentally matching a type than a single-operation concept.

Enforcement

T.21: Require a complete set of operations for a concept

Reason

Ease of comprehension. Improved interoperability. Helps implementers and maintainers.

Note

This is a specific variant of the general rule that a concept must make semantic sense.

Example, bad (using TS concepts)
template<typename T> concept Subtractable = requires(T a, T, b) { a-b; };

This makes no semantic sense. You need at least + to make - meaningful and useful.

Examples of complete sets are

Note

This rule applies whether we use direct language support for concepts or not. It is a general design rule that even applies to non-templates:

class Minimal {
    // ...
};

bool operator==(const Minimal&, const Minimal&);
bool operator<(const Minimal&, const Minimal&);

Minimal operator+(const Minimal&, const Minimal&);
// no other operators

void f(const Minimal& x, const Minimal& y)
{
    if (!(x == y) { /* ... */ }     // OK
    if (x != y) { /* ... */ }       // surprise! error

    while (!(x < y)) { /* ... */ }  // OK
    while (x >= y) { /* ... */ }    // surprise! error

    x = x + y;        // OK
    x += y;             // surprise! error
}

This is minimal, but surprising and constraining for users. It could even be less efficient.

The rule supports the view that a concept should reflect a (mathematically) coherent set of operations.

Example
class Convenient {
    // ...
};

bool operator==(const Convenient&, const Convenient&);
bool operator<(const Convenient&, const Convenient&);
// ... and the other comparison operators ...

Minimal operator+(const Convenient&, const Convenient&);
// .. and the other arithmetic operators ...

void f(const Convenient& x, const Convenient& y)
{
    if (!(x == y) { /* ... */ }     // OK
    if (x != y) { /* ... */ }       // OK

    while (!(x < y)) { /* ... */ }  // OK
    while (x >= y) { /* ... */ }    // OK

    x = x + y;     // OK
    x += y;      // OK
}

It can be a nuisance to define all operators, but not hard. Ideally, that rule should be language supported by giving you comparison operators by default.

Enforcement

T.22: Specify axioms for concepts

Reason

A meaningful/useful concept has a semantic meaning. Expressing these semantics in an informal, semi-formal, or formal way makes the concept comprehensible to readers and the effort to express it can catch conceptual errors. Specifying semantics is a powerful design tool.

Example (using TS concepts)
template<typename T>
    // The operators +, -, *, and / for a number are assumed to follow the usual mathematical rules
    // axiom(T a, T b) { a + b == b + a; a - a == 0; a * (b + c) == a * b + a * c; /*...*/ }
    concept Number = requires(T a, T b) {
        {a + b} -> T;   // the result of a + b is convertible to T
        {a - b} -> T;
        {a * b} -> T;
        {a / b} -> T;
    }
Note

This is an axiom in the mathematical sense: something that may be assumed without proof. In general, axioms are not provable, and when they are the proof is often beyond the capability of a compiler. An axiom may not be general, but the template writer may assume that it holds for all inputs actually used (similar to a precondition).

Note

In this context axioms are Boolean expressions. See the Palo Alto TR for examples. Currently, C++ does not support axioms (even the ISO Concepts TS), so we have to make do with comments for a longish while. Once language support is available, the // in front of the axiom can be removed

Note

The GSL concepts have well defined semantics; see the Palo Alto TR and the Ranges TS.

Exception (using TS concepts)

Early versions of a new “concept” still under development will often just define simple sets of constraints without a well-specified semantics. Finding good semantics can take effort and time. An incomplete set of constraints can still be very useful:

// balancer for a generic binary tree
template<typename Node> concept bool Balancer = requires(Node* p) {
    add_fixup(p);
    touch(p);
    detach(p);
}

So a Balancer must supply at least thee operations on a tree Node, but we are not yet ready to specify detailed semantics because a new kind of balanced tree might require more operations and the precise general semantics for all nodes is hard to pin down in the early stages of design.

A “concept” that is incomplete or without a well-specified semantics can still be useful. For example, it allows for some checking during initial experimentation. However, it should not be assumed to be stable. Each new use case may require such an incomplete concepts to be improved.

Enforcement

T.23: Differentiate a refined concept from its more general case by adding new use patterns.

Reason

Otherwise they cannot be distinguished automatically by the compiler.

Example (using TS concepts)
template<typename I>
concept bool Input_iter = requires(I iter) { ++iter; };

template<typename I>
concept bool Fwd_iter = Input_iter<I> && requires(I iter) { iter++; }

The compiler can determine refinement based on the sets of required operations (here, suffix ++). This decreases the burden on implementers of these types since they do not need any special declarations to “hook into the concept”. If two concepts have exactly the same requirements, they are logically equivalent (there is no refinement).

Enforcement

T.24: Use tag classes or traits to differentiate concepts that differ only in semantics.

Reason

Two concepts requiring the same syntax but having different semantics leads to ambiguity unless the programmer differentiates them.

Example (using TS concepts)
template<typename I>    // iterator providing random access
concept bool RA_iter = ...;

template<typename I>    // iterator providing random access to contiguous data
concept bool Contiguous_iter =
    RA_iter<I> && is_contiguous<I>::value;  // using is_contiguous trait

The programmer (in a library) must define is_contiguous (a trait) appropriately.

Wrapping a tag class into a concept leads to a simpler expression of this idea:

template<typename I> concept Contiguous = is_contiguous<I>::value;

template<typename I>
concept bool Contiguous_iter = RA_iter<I> && Contiguous<I>;

The programmer (in a library) must define is_contiguous (a trait) appropriately.

Note

Traits can be trait classes or type traits. These can be user-defined or standard-library ones. Prefer the standard-library ones.

Enforcement

T.25: Avoid complementary constraints

Reason

Clarity. Maintainability. Functions with complementary requirements expressed using negation are brittle.

Example (using TS concepts)

Initially, people will try to define functions with complementary requirements:

template<typename T>
    requires !C<T>    // bad
void f();

template<typename T>
    requires C<T>
void f();

This is better:

template<typename T>   // general template
    void f();

template<typename T>   // specialization by concept
    requires C<T>
void f();

The compiler will choose the unconstrained template only when C<T> is unsatisfied. If you do not want to (or cannot) define an unconstrained version of f(), then delete it.

template<typename T>
void f() = delete;

The compiler will select the overload and emit an appropriate error.

Note

Complementary constraints are unfortunately common in enable_if code:

template<typename T>
enable_if<!C<T>, void>   // bad
f();

template<typename T>
enable_if<C<T>, void>
f();
Note

Complementary requirements on one requirements is sometimes (wrongly) considered manageable. However, for two or more requirements the number of definitions needs can go up exponentially (2,4,9,16,…):

C1<T> && C2<T>
!C1<T> && C2<T>
C1<T> && !C2<T>
!C1<T> && !C2<T>

Now the opportunities for errors multiply.

Enforcement

T.26: Prefer to define concepts in terms of use-patterns rather than simple syntax

Reason

The definition is more readable and corresponds directly to what a user has to write. Conversions are taken into account. You don’t have to remember the names of all the type traits.

Example (using TS concepts)

You might be tempted to define a concept Equality like this:

template<typename T> concept Equality = has_equal<T> && has_not_equal<T>;

Obviously, it would be better and easier just to use the standard EqualityComparable, but - just as an example - if you had to define such a concept, prefer:

template<typename T> concept Equality = requires(T a, T b) {
    bool == { a == b }
    bool == { a != b }
    // axiom { !(a == b) == (a != b) }
    // axiom { a = b; => a == b }  // => means "implies"
}

as opposed to defining two meaningless concepts has_equal and has_not_equal just as helpers in the definition of Equality. By “meaningless” we mean that we cannot specify the semantics of has_equal in isolation.

Enforcement

???

Template interfaces

Over the years, programming with templates have suffered from a weak distinction between the interface of a template and its implementation. Before concepts, that distinction had no direct language support. However, the interface to a template is a critical concept - a contract between a user and an implementer - and should be carefully designed.

T.40: Use function objects to pass operations to algorithms

Reason

Function objects can carry more information through an interface than a “plain” pointer to function. In general, passing function objects gives better performance than passing pointers to functions.

Example (using TS concepts)
bool greater(double x, double y) { return x > y; }
sort(v, greater);                                    // pointer to function: potentially slow
sort(v, [](double x, double y) { return x > y; });   // function object
sort(v, std::greater<>);                             // function object

bool greater_than_7(double x) { return x > 7; }
auto x = find_if(v, greater_than_7);                 // pointer to function: inflexible
auto y = find_if(v, [](double x) { return x > 7; }); // function object: carries the needed data
auto z = find_if(v, Greater_than<double>(7));        // function object: carries the needed data

You can, of course, generalize those functions using auto or (when and where available) concepts. For example:

auto y1 = find_if(v, [](Ordered x) { return x > 7; }); // require an ordered type
auto z1 = find_if(v, [](auto x) { return x > 7; });    // hope that the type has a >
Note

Lambdas generate function objects.

Note

The performance argument depends on compiler and optimizer technology.

Enforcement

T.41: Require only essential properties in a template’s concepts

Reason

Keep interfaces simple and stable.

Example (using TS concepts)

Consider, a sort instrumented with (oversimplified) simple debug support:

void sort(Sortable& s)  // sort sequence s
{
    if (debug) cerr << "enter sort( " << s <<  ")\n";
    // ...
    if (debug) cerr << "exit sort( " << s <<  ")\n";
}

Should this be rewritten to:

template<Sortable S>
    requires Streamable<S>
void sort(S& s)  // sort sequence s
{
    if (debug) cerr << "enter sort( " << s <<  ")\n";
    // ...
    if (debug) cerr << "exit sort( " << s <<  ")\n";
}

After all, there is nothing in Sortable that requires iostream support. On the other hand, there is nothing in the fundamental idea of sorting that says anything about debugging.

Note

If we require every operation used to be listed among the requirements, the interface becomes unstable: Every time we change the debug facilities, the usage data gathering, testing support, error reporting, etc. The definition of the template would need change and every use of the template would have to be recompiled. This is cumbersome, and in some environments infeasible.

Conversely, if we use an operation in the implementation that is not guaranteed by concept checking, we may get a late compile-time error.

By not using concept checking for properties of a template argument that is not considered essential, we delay checking until instantiation time. We consider this a worthwhile tradeoff.

Note that using non-local, non-dependent names (such as debug and cerr) also introduces context dependencies that may lead to “mysterious” errors.

Note

It can be hard to decide which properties of a type is essential and which are not.

Enforcement

???

T.42: Use template aliases to simplify notation and hide implementation details

Reason

Improved readability. Implementation hiding. Note that template aliases replace many uses of traits to compute a type. They can also be used to wrap a trait.

Example
template<typename T, size_t N>
class Matrix {
    // ...
    using Iterator = typename std::vector<T>::iterator;
    // ...
};

This saves the user of Matrix from having to know that its elements are stored in a vector and also saves the user from repeatedly typing typename std::vector<T>::.

Example
template<typename T>
void user(T& c)
{
    // ...
    typename container_traits<T>::value_type x; // bad, verbose
    // ...
}

template<typename T>
using Value_type = typename container_traits<T>::value_type;

This saves the user of Value_type from having to know the technique used to implement value_types.

template<typename T>
void user2(T& c)
{
    // ...
    Value_type<T> x;
    // ...
}
Note

A simple, common use could be expressed: “Wrap traits!”

Enforcement

T.43: Prefer using over typedef for defining aliases

Reason

Improved readability: With using, the new name comes first rather than being embedded somewhere in a declaration. Generality: using can be used for template aliases, whereas typedefs can’t easily be templates. Uniformity: using is syntactically similar to auto.

Example
typedef int (*PFI)(int);   // OK, but convoluted

using PFI2 = int (*)(int);   // OK, preferred

template<typename T>
typedef int (*PFT)(T);      // error

template<typename T>
using PFT2 = int (*)(T);   // OK
Enforcement

T.44: Use function templates to deduce class template argument types (where feasible)

Reason

Writing the template argument types explicitly can be tedious and unnecessarily verbose.

Example
tuple<int, string, double> t1 = {1, "Hamlet", 3.14};   // explicit type
auto t2 = make_tuple(1, "Ophelia"s, 3.14);         // better; deduced type

Note the use of the s suffix to ensure that the string is a std::string, rather than a C-style string.

Note

Since you can trivially write a make_T function, so could the compiler. Thus, make_T functions may become redundant in the future.

Exception

Sometimes there isn’t a good way of getting the template arguments deduced and sometimes, you want to specify the arguments explicitly:

vector<double> v = { 1, 2, 3, 7.9, 15.99 };
list<Record*> lst;
Note

Note that C++17 will make this rule redundant by allowing the template arguments to be deduced directly from constructor arguments: Template parameter deduction for constructors (Rev. 3). For example:

tuple t1 = {1, "Hamlet"s, 3.14}; // deduced: tuple<int, string, double>
Enforcement

Flag uses where an explicitly specialized type exactly matches the types of the arguments used.

T.46: Require template arguments to be at least Regular or SemiRegular

Reason

Readability. Preventing surprises and errors. Most uses support that anyway.

Example
class X {
        // ...
public:
    explicit X(int);
    X(const X&);            // copy
    X operator=(const X&);
    X(X&&);                 // move
    X& operator=(X&&);
    ~X();
    // ... no more constructors ...
};

X x {1};    // fine
X y = x;      // fine
std::vector<X> v(10); // error: no default constructor
Note

Semiregular requires default constructible.

Enforcement

T.47: Avoid highly visible unconstrained templates with common names

Reason

An unconstrained template argument is a perfect match for anything so such a template can be preferred over more specific types that require minor conversions. This is particularly annoying/dangerous when ADL is used. Common names make this problem more likely.

Example
namespace Bad {
    struct S { int m; };
    template<typename T1, typename T2>
    bool operator==(T1, T2) { cout << "Bad\n"; return true; }
}

namespace T0 {
    bool operator==(int, Bad::S) { cout << "T0\n"; return true; }  // compare to int

    void test()
    {
        Bad::S bad{ 1 };
        vector<int> v(10);
        bool b = 1 == bad;
        bool b2 = v.size() == bad;
    }
}

This prints T0 and Bad.

Now the == in Bad was designed to cause trouble, but would you have spotted the problem in real code? The problem is that v.size() returns an unsigned integer so that a conversion is needed to call the local ==; the == in Bad requires no conversions. Realistic types, such as the standard library iterators can be made to exhibit similar anti-social tendencies.

Note

If an unconstrained template is defined in the same namespace as a type, that unconstrained template can be found by ADL (as happened in the example). That is, it is highly visible.

Note

This rule should not be necessary, but the committee cannot agree to exclude unconstrained templated from ADL.

Unfortunately this will get many false positives; the standard library violates this widely, by putting many unconstrained templates and types into the single namespace std.

Enforcement

Flag templates defined in a namespace where concrete types are also defined (maybe not feasible until we have concepts).

T.48: If your compiler does not support concepts, fake them with enable_if

Reason

Because that’s the best we can do without direct concept support. enable_if can be used to conditionally define functions and to select among a set of functions.

Example
enable_if<???>
Note

Beware of complementary constraints. Faking concept overloading using enable_if sometimes forces us to use that error-prone design technique.

Enforcement

???

T.49: Where possible, avoid type-erasure

Reason

Type erasure incurs an extra level of indirection by hiding type information behind a separate compilation boundary.

Example
???

Exceptions: Type erasure is sometimes appropriate, such as for std::function.

Enforcement

???

Note

T.def: Template definitions

A template definition (class or function) can contain arbitrary code, so only a comprehensive review of C++ programming techniques would cover this topic. However, this section focuses on what is specific to template implementation. In particular, it focuses on a template definition’s dependence on its context.

T.60: Minimize a template’s context dependencies

Reason

Eases understanding. Minimizes errors from unexpected dependencies. Eases tool creation.

Example
template<typename C>
void sort(C& c)
{
    std::sort(begin(c), end(c)); // necessary and useful dependency
}

template<typename Iter>
Iter algo(Iter first, Iter last) {
    for (; first != last; ++first) {
        auto x = sqrt(*first); // potentially surprising dependency: which sqrt()?
        helper(first, x);      // potentially surprising dependency:
                               // helper is chosen based on first and x
        TT var = 7;            // potentially surprising dependency: which TT?
    }
}
Note

Templates typically appear in header files so their context dependencies are more vulnerable to #include order dependencies than functions in .cpp files.

Note

Having a template operate only on its arguments would be one way of reducing the number of dependencies to a minimum, but that would generally be unmanageable. For example, an algorithm usually uses other algorithms and invoke operations that does not exclusively operate on arguments. And don’t get us started on macros! See also T.69

Enforcement

??? Tricky

T.61: Do not over-parameterize members (SCARY)

Reason

A member that does not depend on a template parameter cannot be used except for a specific template argument. This limits use and typically increases code size.

Example, bad
template<typename T, typename A = std::allocator{}>
    // requires Regular<T> && Allocator<A>
class List {
public:
    struct Link {   // does not depend on A
        T elem;
        T* pre;
        T* suc;
    };

    using iterator = Link*;

    iterator first() const { return head; }

    // ...
private:
    Link* head;
};

List<int> lst1;
List<int, My_allocator> lst2;

???

This looks innocent enough, but ???

template<typename T>
struct Link {
    T elem;
    T* pre;
    T* suc;
};

template<typename T, typename A = std::allocator{}>
    // requires Regular<T> && Allocator<A>
class List2 {
public:
    using iterator = Link<T>*;

    iterator first() const { return head; }

    // ...
private:
    Link* head;
};

List<int> lst1;
List<int, My_allocator> lst2;

???
Enforcement

T.62: Place non-dependent class template members in a non-templated base class

Reason

Allow the base class members to be used without specifying template arguments and without template instantiation.

Example
template<typename T>
class Foo {
public:
    enum { v1, v2 };
    // ...
};

???

struct Foo_base {
    enum { v1, v2 };
    // ...
};

template<typename T>
class Foo : public Foo_base {
public:
    // ...
};
Note

A more general version of this rule would be “If a template class member depends on only N template parameters out of M, place it in a base class with only N parameters.” For N == 1, we have a choice of a base class of a class in the surrounding scope as in T.61.

??? What about constants? class statics?

Enforcement

T.64: Use specialization to provide alternative implementations of class templates

Reason

A template defines a general interface. Specialization offers a powerful mechanism for providing alternative implementations of that interface.

Example
??? string specialization (==)

??? representation specialization ?
Note

???

Enforcement

???

T.65: Use tag dispatch to provide alternative implementations of a function

Reason
Example

This is a simplified version of std::copy (ignoring the possibility of non-contiguous sequences)

struct pod_tag {};
struct non_pod_tag {};

template<class T> struct copy_trait { using tag = non_pod_tag; };   // T is not "plain old data"

template<> struct copy_trait<int> { using tag = pod_tag; };         // int is "plain old data"

template<class Iter>
Out copy_helper(Iter first, Iter last, Iter out, pod_tag)
{
    // use memmove
}

template<class Iter>
Out copy_helper(Iter first, Iter last, Iter out, non_pod_tag)
{
    // use loop calling copy constructors
}

template<class Itert>
Out copy(Iter first, Iter last, Iter out)
{
    return copy_helper(first, last, out, typename copy_trait<Iter>::tag{})
}

void use(vector<int>& vi, vector<int>& vi2, vector<string>& vs, vector<string>& vs2)
{
    copy(vi.begin(), vi.end(), vi2.begin()); // uses memmove
    copy(vs.begin(), vs.end(), vs2.begin()); // uses a loop calling copy constructors
}

This is a general and powerful technique for compile-time algorithm selection.

Note

When concepts become widely available such alternatives can be distinguished directly:

template<class Iter>
    requires Pod<Value_type<iter>>
Out copy_helper(In, first, In last, Out out)
{
    // use memmove
}

template<class Iter>
Out copy_helper(In, first, In last, Out out)
{
    // use loop calling copy constructors
}
Enforcement

???

T.67: Use specialization to provide alternative implementations for irregular types

Reason

???

Example
???
Enforcement

???

T.68: Use {} rather than () within templates to avoid ambiguities

Reason

() is vulnerable to grammar ambiguities.

Example
template<typename T, typename U>
void f(T t, U u)
{
    T v1(x);    // is v1 a function of a variable?
    T v2 {x};   // variable
    auto x = T(u);  // construction or cast?
}

f(1, "asdf"); // bad: cast from const char* to int
Enforcement

T.69: Inside a template, don’t make an unqualified nonmember function call unless you intend it to be a customization point

Reason
Example

There are three major ways to let calling code customize a template.

template<class T>
    // Call a member function
void test1(T t)
{
    t.f();    // require T to provide f()
}

template<class T>
void test2(T t)
    // Call a nonmember function without qualification
{
    f(t);  // require f(/*T*/) be available in caller's scope or in T's namespace
}

template<class T>
void test3(T t)
    // Invoke a "trait"
{
    test_traits<T>::f(t); // require customizing test_traits<>
                          // to get non-default functions/types
}

A trait is usually a type alias to compute a type, a constexpr function to compute a value, or a traditional traits template to be specialized on the user’s type.

Note

If you intend to call your own helper function helper(t) with a value t that depends on a template type parameter, put it in a ::detail namespace and qualify the call as detail::helper(t);. An unqualified call becomes a customization point where any function helper in the namespace of t’s type can be invoked; this can cause problems like unintentionally invoking unconstrained function templates.

Enforcement

T.temp-hier: Template and hierarchy rules:

Templates are the backbone of C++’s support for generic programming and class hierarchies the backbone of its support for object-oriented programming. The two language mechanisms can be used effectively in combination, but a few design pitfalls must be avoided.

T.80: Do not naively templatize a class hierarchy

Reason

Templating a class hierarchy that has many functions, especially many virtual functions, can lead to code bloat.

Example, bad
template<typename T>
struct Container {         // an interface
    virtual T* get(int i);
    virtual T* first();
    virtual T* next();
    virtual void sort();
};

template<typename T>
class Vector : public Container<T> {
public:
    // ...
};

vector<int> vi;
vector<string> vs;

It is probably a dumb idea to define a sort as a member function of a container, but it is not unheard of and it makes a good example of what not to do.

Given this, the compiler cannot know if vector<int>::sort() is called, so it must generate code for it. Similar for vector<string>::sort(). Unless those two functions are called that’s code bloat. Imagine what this would do to a class hierarchy with dozens of member functions and dozens of derived classes with many instantiations.

Note

In many cases you can provide a stable interface by not parameterizing a base; see “stable base” and OO and GP

Enforcement

T.81: Do not mix hierarchies and arrays

Reason

An array of derived classes can implicitly “decay” to a pointer to a base class with potential disastrous results.

Example

Assume that Apple and Pear are two kinds of Fruits.

void maul(Fruit* p)
{
    *p = Pear{};     // put a Pear into *p
    p[1] = Pear{};   // put a Pear into p[2]
}

Apple aa [] = { an_apple, another_apple };   // aa contains Apples (obviously!)

maul(aa);
Apple& a0 = &aa[0];   // a Pear?
Apple& a1 = &aa[1];   // a Pear?

Probably, aa[0] will be a Pear (without the use of a cast!). If sizeof(Apple) != sizeof(Pear) the access to aa[1] will not be aligned to the proper start of an object in the array. We have a type violation and possibly (probably) a memory corruption. Never write such code.

Note that maul() violates the a T* points to an individual object Rule.

Alternative: Use a proper (templatized) container:

void maul2(Fruit* p)
{
    *p = Pear{};   // put a Pear into *p
}

vector<Apple> va = { an_apple, another_apple };   // va contains Apples (obviously!)

maul2(va);       // error: cannot convert a vector<Apple> to a Fruit*
maul2(&va[0]);   // you asked for it

Apple& a0 = &va[0];   // a Pear?

Note that the assignment in maul2() violated the no-slicing Rule.

Enforcement

T.82: Linearize a hierarchy when virtual functions are undesirable

Reason

???

Example
???
Enforcement

???

T.83: Do not declare a member function template virtual

Reason

C++ does not support that. If it did, vtbls could not be generated until link time. And in general, implementations must deal with dynamic linking.

Example, don’t
class Shape {
    // ...
    template<class T>
    virtual bool intersect(T* p);   // error: template cannot be virtual
};
Note

We need a rule because people keep asking about this

Alternative

Double dispatch, visitors, calculate which function to call

Enforcement

The compiler handles that.

T.84: Use a non-template core implementation to provide an ABI-stable interface

Reason

Improve stability of code. Avoid code bloat.

Example

It could be a base class:

struct Link_base {   // stable
    Link* suc;
    Link* pre;
};

template<typename T>   // templated wrapper to add type safety
struct Link : Link_base {
    T val;
};

struct List_base {
    Link_base* first;   // first element (if any)
    int sz;             // number of elements
    void add_front(Link_base* p);
    // ...
};

template<typename T>
class List : List_base {
public:
    void put_front(const T& e) { add_front(new Link<T>{e}); }   // implicit cast to Link_base
    T& front() { static_cast<Link<T>*>(first).val; }   // explicit cast back to Link<T>
    // ...
};

List<int> li;
List<string> ls;

Now there is only one copy of the operations linking and unlinking elements of a List. The Link and List classes do nothing but type manipulation.

Instead of using a separate “base” type, another common technique is to specialize for void or void* and have the general template for T be just the safely-encapsulated casts to and from the core void implementation.

Alternative: Use a PIMPL implementation.

Enforcement

???

T.var: Variadic template rules

???

T.100: Use variadic templates when you need a function that takes a variable number of arguments of a variety of types

Reason

Variadic templates is the most general mechanism for that, and is both efficient and type-safe. Don’t use C varargs.

Example
??? printf
Enforcement

T.101: ??? How to pass arguments to a variadic template ???

Reason

???

Example
??? beware of move-only and reference arguments
Enforcement

???

T.102: How to process arguments to a variadic template

Reason

???

Example
??? forwarding, type checking, references
Enforcement

???

T.103: Don’t use variadic templates for homogeneous argument lists

Reason

There are more precise ways of specifying a homogeneous sequence, such as an initializer_list.

Example
???
Enforcement

???

T.meta: Template metaprogramming (TMP)

Templates provide a general mechanism for compile-time programming.

Metaprogramming is programming where at least one input or one result is a type. Templates offer Turing-complete (modulo memory capacity) duck typing at compile time. The syntax and techniques needed are pretty horrendous.

T.120: Use template metaprogramming only when you really need to

Reason

Template metaprogramming is hard to get right, slows down compilation, and is often very hard to maintain. However, there are real-world examples where template metaprogramming provides better performance that any alternative short of expert-level assembly code. Also, there are real-world examples where template metaprogramming expresses the fundamental ideas better than run-time code. For example, if you really need AST manipulation at compile time (e.g., for optional matrix operation folding) there may be no other way in C++.

Example, bad
???
Example, bad
enable_if

Instead, use concepts. But see How to emulate concepts if you don’t have language support.

Example
??? good

Alternative: If the result is a value, rather than a type, use a constexpr function.

Note

If you feel the need to hide your template metaprogramming in macros, you have probably gone too far.

T.121: Use template metaprogramming primarily to emulate concepts

Reason

Until concepts become generally available, we need to emulate them using TMP. Use cases that require concepts (e.g. overloading based on concepts) are among the most common (and simple) uses of TMP.

Example
template<typename Iter>
    /*requires*/ enable_if<random_access_iterator<Iter>, void>
advance(Iter p, int n) { p += n; }

template<typename Iter>
    /*requires*/ enable_if<forward_iterator<Iter>, void>
advance(Iter p, int n) { assert(n >= 0); while (n--) ++p;}
Note

Such code is much simpler using concepts:

void advance(RandomAccessIterator p, int n) { p += n; }

void advance(ForwardIterator p, int n) { assert(n >= 0); while (n--) ++p;}
Enforcement

???

T.122: Use templates (usually template aliases) to compute types at compile time

Reason

Template metaprogramming is the only directly supported and half-way principled way of generating types at compile time.

Note

“Traits” techniques are mostly replaced by template aliases to compute types and constexpr functions to compute values.

Example
??? big object / small object optimization
Enforcement

???

T.123: Use constexpr functions to compute values at compile time

Reason

A function is the most obvious and conventional way of expressing the computation of a value. Often a constexpr function implies less compile-time overhead than alternatives.

Note

“Traits” techniques are mostly replaced by template aliases to compute types and constexpr functions to compute values.

Example
template<typename T>
    // requires Number<T>
constexpr T pow(T v, int n)   // power/exponential
{
    T res = 1;
    while (n--) res *= v;
    return res;
}

constexpr auto f7 = pow(pi, 7);
Enforcement

T.124: Prefer to use standard-library TMP facilities

Reason

Facilities defined in the standard, such as conditional, enable_if, and tuple, are portable and can be assumed to be known.

Example
???
Enforcement

???

T.125: If you need to go beyond the standard-library TMP facilities, use an existing library

Reason

Getting advanced TMP facilities is not easy and using a library makes you part of a (hopefully supportive) community. Write your own “advanced TMP support” only if you really have to.

Example
???
Enforcement

???

Other template rules

T.140: Name all operations with potential for reuse

Reason

Documentation, readability, opportunity for reuse.

Example
struct Rec {
    string name;
    string addr;
    int id;         // unique identifier
};

bool same(const Rec& a, const Rec& b)
{
    return a.id == b.id;
}

vector<Rec*> find_id(const string& name);    // find all records for "name"

auto x = find_if(vr.begin(), vr.end(),
    [&](Rec& r) {
        if (r.name.size() != n.size()) return false; // name to compare to is in n
        for (int i = 0; i < r.name.size(); ++i)
            if (tolower(r.name[i]) != tolower(n[i])) return false;
        return true;
    }
);

There is a useful function lurking here (case insensitive string comparison), as there often is when lambda arguments get large.

bool compare_insensitive(const string& a, const string& b)
{
    if (a.size() != b.size()) return false;
    for (int i = 0; i < a.size(); ++i) if (tolower(a[i]) != tolower(b[i])) return false;
    return true;
}

auto x = find_if(vr.begin(), vr.end(),
    [&](Rec& r) { compare_insensitive(r.name, n); }
);

Or maybe (if you prefer to avoid the implicit name binding to n):

auto cmp_to_n = [&n](const string& a) { return compare_insensitive(a, n); };

auto x = find_if(vr.begin(), vr.end(),
    [](const Rec& r) { return cmp_to_n(r.name); }
);
Note

whether functions, lambdas, or operators.

Exception
Enforcement

T.141: Use an unnamed lambda if you need a simple function object in one place only

Reason

That makes the code concise and gives better locality than alternatives.

Example
auto earlyUsersEnd = std::remove_if(users.begin(), users.end(),
                                    [](const User &a) { return a.id > 100; });
Exception

Naming a lambda can be useful for clarity even if it is used only once.

Enforcement

T.142?: Use template variables to simplify notation

Reason

Improved readability.

Example
???
Enforcement

???

T.143: Don’t write unintentionally nongeneric code

Reason

Generality. Reusability. Don’t gratuitously commit to details; use the most general facilities available.

Example

Use != instead of < to compare iterators; != works for more objects because it doesn’t rely on ordering.

for (auto i = first; i < last; ++i) {   // less generic
    // ...
}

for (auto i = first; i != last; ++i) {   // good; more generic
    // ...
}

Of course, range-for is better still where it does what you want.

Example

Use the least-derived class that has the functionality you need.

class Base {
public:
    Bar f();
    Bar g();
};

class Derived1 : public Base {
public:
    Bar h();
};

class Derived2 : public Base {
public:
    Bar j();
};

// bad, unless there is a specific reason for limiting to Derived1 objects only
void my_func(Derived1& param)
{
    use(param.f());
    use(param.g());
}

// good, uses only Base interface so only commit to that
void my_func(Base& param)
{
    use(param.f());
    use(param.g());
}
Enforcement

T.144: Don’t specialize function templates

Reason

You can’t partially specialize a function template per language rules. You can fully specialize a function template but you almost certainly want to overload instead – because function template specializations don’t participate in overloading, they don’t act as you probably wanted. Rarely, you should actually specialize by delegating to a class template that you can specialize properly.

Example
???

Exceptions: If you do have a valid reason to specialize a function template, just write a single function template that delegates to a class template, then specialize the class template (including the ability to write partial specializations).

Enforcement

T.150: Check that a class matches a concept using static_assert

Reason

If you intend for a class to match a concept, verifying that early saves users pain.

Example
class X {
    X() = delete;
    X(const X&) = default;
    X(X&&) = default;
    X& operator=(const X&) = default;
    // ...
};

Somewhere, possibly in an implementation file, let the compiler check the desired properties of X:

static_assert(Default_constructible<X>);    // error: X has no default constructor
static_assert(Copyable<X>);                 // error: we forgot to define X's move constructor
Enforcement

Not feasible.

CPL: C-style programming

C and C++ are closely related languages. They both originate in “Classic C” from 1978 and have evolved in ISO committees since then. Many attempts have been made to keep them compatible, but neither is a subset of the other.

C rule summary:

CPL.1: Prefer C++ to C

Reason

C++ provides better type checking and more notational support. It provides better support for high-level programming and often generates faster code.

Example
char ch = 7;
void* pv = &ch;
int* pi = pv;   // not C++
*pi = 999;      // overwrite sizeof(int) bytes near &ch

The rules for implicit casting to and from void* in C are subtle and unenforced. In particular, this example violates a rule against converting to a type with stricter alignment.

Enforcement

Use a C++ compiler.

CPL.2: If you must use C, use the common subset of C and C++, and compile the C code as C++

Reason

That subset can be compiled with both C and C++ compilers, and when compiled as C++ is better type checked than “pure C.”

Example
int* p1 = malloc(10 * sizeof(int));                      // not C++
int* p2 = static_cast<int*>(malloc(10 * sizeof(int)));   // not C, C-style C++
int* p3 = new int[10];                                   // not C
int* p4 = (int*) malloc(10 * sizeof(int));               // both C and C++
Enforcement

CPL.3: If you must use C for interfaces, use C++ in the calling code using such interfaces

Reason

C++ is more expressive than C and offers better support for many types of programming.

Example

For example, to use a 3rd party C library or C systems interface, define the low-level interface in the common subset of C and C++ for better type checking. Whenever possible encapsulate the low-level interface in an interface that follows the C++ guidelines (for better abstraction, memory safety, and resource safety) and use that C++ interface in C++ code.

Example

You can call C from C++:

// in C:
double sqrt(double);

// in C++:
extern "C" double sqrt(double);

sqrt(2);
Example

You can call C++ from C:

// in C:
X call_f(struct Y*, int);

// in C++:
extern "C" X call_f(Y* p, int i)
{
    return p->f(i);   // possibly a virtual function call
}
Enforcement

None needed

SF: Source files

Distinguish between declarations (used as interfaces) and definitions (used as implementations). Use header files to represent interfaces and to emphasize logical structure.

Source file rule summary:

SF.1: Use a .cpp suffix for code files and .h for interface files if your project doesn’t already follow another convention

Reason

It’s a longstanding convention. But consistency is more important, so if your project uses something else, follow that.

Note

This convention reflects a common use pattern: Headers are more often shared with C to compile as both C++ and C, which typically uses .h, and it’s easier to name all headers .h instead of having different extensions for just those headers that are intended to be shared with C. On the other hand, implementation files are rarely shared with C and so should typically be distinguished from .c files, so it’s normally best to name all C++ implementation files something else (such as .cpp).

The specific names .h and .cpp are not required (just recommended as a default) and other names are in widespread use. Examples are .hh, .C, and .cxx. Use such names equivalently. In this document, we refer to .h and .cpp as a shorthand for header and implementation files, even though the actual extension may be different.

Your IDE (if you use one) may have strong opinions about suffices.

Example
// foo.h:
extern int a;   // a declaration
extern void foo();

// foo.cpp:
int a;   // a definition
void foo() { ++a; }

foo.h provides the interface to foo.cpp. Global variables are best avoided.

Example, bad
// foo.h:
int a;   // a definition
void foo() { ++a; }

#include<foo.h> twice in a program and you get a linker error for two one-definition-rule violations.

Enforcement

SF.2: A .h file may not contain object definitions or non-inline function definitions

Reason

Including entities subject to the one-definition rule leads to linkage errors.

Example
// file.h:
namespace Foo {
    int x = 7;
    int xx() { return x+x; }
}

// file1.cpp:
#include<file.h>
// ... more ...

 // file2.cpp:
#include<file.h>
// ... more ...

Linking file1.cpp and file2.cpp will give two linker errors.

Alternative formulation: A .h file must contain only:

Enforcement

Check the positive list above.

SF.3: Use .h files for all declarations used in multiple source files

Reason

Maintainability. Readability.

Example, bad
// bar.cpp:
void bar() { cout << "bar\n"; }

// foo.cpp:
extern void bar();
void foo() { bar(); }

A maintainer of bar cannot find all declarations of bar if its type needs changing. The user of bar cannot know if the interface used is complete and correct. At best, error messages come (late) from the linker.

Enforcement

SF.4: Include .h files before other declarations in a file

Reason

Minimize context dependencies and increase readability.

Example
#include<vector>
#include<algorithm>
#include<string>

// ... my code here ...
Example, bad
#include<vector>

// ... my code here ...

#include<algorithm>
#include<string>
Note

This applies to both .h and .cpp files.

Note

There is an argument for insulating code from declarations and macros in header files by #including headers after the code we want to protect (as in the example labeled “bad”). However

Enforcement

Easy.

SF.5: A .cpp file must include the .h file(s) that defines its interface

Reason

This enables the compiler to do an early consistency check.

Example, bad
// foo.h:
void foo(int);
int bar(long);
int foobar(int);

// foo.cpp:
void foo(int) { /* ... */ }
int bar(double) { /* ... */ }
double foobar(int);

The errors will not be caught until link time for a program calling bar or foobar.

Example
// foo.h:
void foo(int);
int bar(long);
int foobar(int);

// foo.cpp:
#include<foo.h>

void foo(int) { /* ... */ }
int bar(double) { /* ... */ }
double foobar(int);   // error: wrong return type

The return-type error for foobar is now caught immediately when foo.cpp is compiled. The argument-type error for bar cannot be caught until link time because of the possibility of overloading, but systematic use of .h files increases the likelihood that it is caught earlier by the programmer.

Enforcement

???

SF.6: Use using namespace directives for transition, for foundation libraries (such as std), or within a local scope

Reason

???

Example
???
Enforcement

???

SF.7: Don’t write using namespace in a header file

Reason

Doing so takes away an #includer’s ability to effectively disambiguate and to use alternatives.

Example
// bad.h
#include <iostream>
using namespace std; // bad

// user.cpp
#include "bad.h"

bool copy( /*... some parameters ...*/);    // some function that happens to be named copy

int main() {
    copy( /*...*/ );    // now overloads local ::copy and std::copy, could be ambiguous
}
Enforcement

Flag using namespace at global scope in a header file.

SF.8: Use #include guards for all .h files

Reason

To avoid files being #included several times.

Example
// file foobar.h:
#ifndef FOOBAR_H
#define FOOBAR_H
// ... declarations ...
#endif // FOOBAR_H
Enforcement

Flag .h files without #include guards.

SF.9: Avoid cyclic dependencies among source files

Reason

Cycles complicates comprehension and slows down compilation. Complicates conversion to use language-supported modules (when they become available).

Note

Eliminate cycles; don’t just break them with #include guards.

Example, bad
// file1.h:
#include "file2.h"

// file2.h:
#include "file3.h"

// file3.h:
#include "file1.h"
Enforcement

Flag all cycles.

SF.20: Use namespaces to express logical structure

Reason

???

Example
???
Enforcement

???

SF.21: Don’t use an unnamed (anonymous) namespace in a header

Reason

It is almost always a bug to mention an unnamed namespace in a header file.

Example
???
Enforcement

SF.22: Use an unnamed (anonymous) namespace for all internal/nonexported entities

Reason

Nothing external can depend on an entity in a nested unnamed namespace. Consider putting every definition in an implementation source file in an unnamed namespace unless that is defining an “external/exported” entity.

Example

An API class and its members can’t live in an unnamed namespace; but any “helper” class or function that is defined in an implementation source file should be at an unnamed namespace scope.

???
Enforcement

SL: The Standard Library

Using only the bare language, every task is tedious (in any language). Using a suitable library any task can be reasonably simple.

The standard library has steadily grown over the years. Its description in the standard is now larger than that of the language features. So, it is likely that this library section of the guidelines will eventually grow in size to equal or exceed all the rest.

« ??? We need another level of rule numbering ??? »

C++ Standard library component summary:

Standard-library rule summary:

SL.1: Use libraries wherever possible

Reason

Save time. Don’t re-invent the wheel. Don’t replicate the work of others. Benefit from other people’s work when they make improvements. Help other people when you make improvements.

SL.2: Prefer the standard library to other libraries

Reason

More people know the standard library. It is more likely to be stable, well-maintained, and widely available than your own code or most other libraries.

SL.con: Containers

???

Container rule summary:

SL.con.1: Prefer using STL array or vector instead of a C array

Reason

C arrays are less safe, and have no advantages over array and vector. For a fixed-length array, use std::array, which does not degenerate to a pointer when passed to a function and does know its size. Also, like a built-in array, a stack-allocated std::array keeps its elements on the stack. For a variable-length array, use std::vector, which additionally can change its size and handles memory allocation.

Example
int v[SIZE];                        // BAD

std::array<int, SIZE> w;             // ok
Example
int* v = new int[initial_size];     // BAD, owning raw pointer
delete[] v;                         // BAD, manual delete

std::vector<int> w(initial_size);   // ok
Enforcement

SL.con.2: Prefer using STL vector by default unless you have a reason to use a different container

Reason

vector and array are the only standard containers that offer the fastest general-purpose access (random access, including being vectorization-friendly), the fastest default access pattern (begin-to-end or end-to-begin is prefetcher-friendly), and the lowest space overhead (contiguous layout has zero per-element overhead, which is cache-friendly). Usually you need to add and remove elements from the container, so use vector by default; if you don’t need to modify the container’s size, use array.

Even when other containers seem more suited, such a map for O(log N) lookup performance or a list for efficient insertion in the middle, a vector will usually still perform better for containers up to a few KB in size.

Note

string should not be used as a container of individual characters. A string is a textual string; if you want a container of characters, use vector</*char_type*/> or array</*char_type*/> instead.

Exceptions

If you have a good reason to use another container, use that instead. For example:

Enforcement

SL.str: String

???

SL.io: Iostream

???

Iostream rule summary:

SL.io.1: Use character-level input only when you have to

???

SL.io.2: When reading, always consider ill-formed input

???

SL.io.50: Avoid endl

Reason

The endl manipulator is mostly equivalent to '\n' and "\n"; as most commonly used it simply slows down output by doing redundant flush()s. This slowdown can be significant compared to printf-style output.

Example
cout << "Hello, World!" << endl;    // two output operations and a flush
cout << "Hello, World!\n";          // one output operation and no flush
Note

For cin/cout (and equivalent) interaction, there is no reason to flush; that’s done automatically. For writing to a file, there is rarely a need to flush.

Note

Apart from the (occasionally important) issue of performance, the choice between '\n' and endl is almost completely aesthetic.

SL.regex: Regex

???

SL.chrono: Time

???

SL.C: The C standard library

???

C standard library rule summary:

A: Architectural Ideas

This section contains ideas about higher-level architectural ideas and libraries.

Architectural rule summary:

A.1 Separate stable from less stable part of code

???

A.2 Express potentially reusable parts as a library

Reason
Note

A library is a collection of declarations and definitions maintained, documented, and shipped together. A library could be a set of headers (a “header only library”) or a set of headers plus a set of object files. A library can be statically or dynamically linked into a program, or it may be #included

A.4 There should be no cycles among libraries

Reason
Note

A library can contain cyclic references in the definition of its components. For example:

???

However, a library should not depend on another that depends on it.

NR: Non-Rules and myths

This section contains rules and guidelines that are popular somewhere, but that we deliberately don’t recommend. We know full well that there have been times and places where these rules made sense, and we have used them ourselves at times. However, in the context of the styles of programming we recommend and support with the guidelines, these “non-rules” would do harm.

Even today, there can be contexts where the rules make sense. For example, lack of suitable tool support can make exceptions unsuitable in hard-real-time systems, but please don’t blindly trust “common wisdom” (e.g., unsupported statements about “efficiency”); such “wisdom” may be based on decades-old information or experienced from languages with very different properties than C++ (e.g., C or Java).

The positive arguments for alternatives to these non-rules are listed in the rules offered as “Alternatives”.

Non-rule summary:

NR.1: Don’t: All declarations should be at the top of a function

Reason (not to follow this rule)

This rule is a legacy of old programming languages that didn’t allow initialization of variables and constants after a statement. This leads to longer programs and more errors caused by uninitialized and wrongly initialized variables.

Example, bad
???

The larger the distance between the uninitialized variable and its use, the larger the chance of a bug. Fortunately, compilers catch many “used before set” errors.

Alternative

NR.2: Don’t: Have only a single return-statement in a function

Reason (not to follow this rule)

The single-return rule can lead to unnecessarily convoluted code and the introduction of extra state variables. In particular, the single-return rule makes it harder to concentrate error checking at the top of a function.

Example
template<class T>
//  requires Number<T>
string sign(T x)
{
    if (x < 0)
        return "negative";
    else if (x > 0)
        return "positive";
    return "zero";
}

to use a single return only we would have to do something like

template<class T>
//  requires Number<T>
string sign(T x)        // bad
{
    string res;
    if (x < 0)
        res = "negative";
    else if (x > 0)
        res = "positive";
    else
        res = "zero";
    return res;
}

This is both longer and likely to be less efficient. The larger and more complicated the function is, the more painful the workarounds get. Of course many simple functions will naturally have just one return because of their simpler inherent logic.

Example
int index(const char* p)
{
    if (p == nullptr) return -1;  // error indicator: alternatively "throw nullptr_error{}"
    // ... do a lookup to find the index for p
    return i;
}

If we applied the rule, we’d get something like

int index2(const char* p)
{
    int i;
    if (p == nullptr)
        i = -1;  // error indicator
    else {
        // ... do a lookup to find the index for p
    }
    return i;
}

Note that we (deliberately) violated the rule against uninitialized variables because this style commonly leads to that. Also, this style is a temptation to use the goto exit non-rule.

Alternative

NR.3: Don’t: Don’t use exceptions

Reason (not to follow this rule)

There seem to be three main reasons given for this non-rule:

There is no way we can settle this issue to the satisfaction of everybody. After all, the discussions about exceptions have been going on for 40+ years. Some languages cannot be used without exceptions, but others do not support them. This leads to strong traditions for the use and non-use of exceptions, and to heated debates.

However, we can briefly outline why we consider exceptions the best alternative for general-purpose programming and in the context of these guidelines. Simple arguments for and against are often inconclusive. There are specialized applications where exceptions indeed can be inappropriate (e.g., hard-real time systems without support for reliable estimates of the cost of handling an exception).

Consider the major objections to exceptions in turn

Many, possibly most, problems with exceptions stem from historical needs to interact with messy old code.

The fundamental arguments for the use of exceptions are

Remember

Example
???
Alternative

NR.4: Don’t: Place each class declaration in its own source file

Reason (not to follow this rule)

The resulting number of files are hard to manage and can slow down compilation. Individual classes are rarely a good logical unit of maintenance and distribution.

Example
???
Alternative

NR.5: Don’t: Don’t do substantive work in a constructor; instead use two-phase initialization

Reason (not to follow this rule)

Following this rule leads to weaker invariants, more complicated code (having to deal with semi-constructed objects), and errors (when we didn’t deal correctly with semi-constructed objects consistently).

Example
???
Alternative

NR.6: Don’t: Place all cleanup actions at the end of a function and goto exit

Reason (not to follow this rule)

goto is error-prone. This technique is a pre-exception technique for RAII-like resource and error handling.

Example, bad
void do_something(int n)
{
    if (n < 100) goto exit;
    // ...
    int* p = (int*) malloc(n);
    // ...
    if (some_ error) goto_exit;
    // ...
exit:
    free(p);
}

and spot the bug.

Alternative

NR.7: Don’t: Make all data members protected

Reason (not to follow this rule)

protected data is a source of errors. protected data can be manipulated from an unbounded amount of code in various places. protected data is the class hierarchy equivalent to global data.

Example
???
Alternative

RF: References

Many coding standards, rules, and guidelines have been written for C++, and especially for specialized uses of C++. Many

A bad coding standard is worse than no coding standard. However an appropriate set of guidelines are much better than no standards: “Form is liberating.”

Why can’t we just have a language that allows all we want and disallows all we don’t want (“a perfect language”)? Fundamentally, because affordable languages (and their tool chains) also serve people with needs that differ from yours and serve more needs than you have today. Also, your needs change over time and a general-purpose language is needed to allow you to adapt. A language that is ideal for today would be overly restrictive tomorrow.

Coding guidelines adapt the use of a language to specific needs. Thus, there cannot be a single coding style for everybody. We expect different organizations to provide additions, typically with more restrictions and firmer style rules.

Reference sections:

RF.rules: Coding rules

RF.books: Books with coding guidelines

RF.C++: C++ Programming (C++11/C++14)

RF.web: Websites

RS.video: Videos about “modern C++”

RF.man: Manuals

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the many people who contributed rules, suggestions, supporting information, references, etc.:

and see the contributor list on the github.

Pro: Profiles

A “profile” is a set of deterministic and portably enforceable subset rules (i.e., restrictions) that are designed to achieve a specific guarantee. “Deterministic” means they require only local analysis and could be implemented in a compiler (though they don’t need to be). “Portably enforceable” means they are like language rules, so programmers can count on enforcement tools giving the same answer for the same code.

Code written to be warning-free using such a language profile is considered to conform to the profile. Conforming code is considered to be safe by construction with regard to the safety properties targeted by that profile. Conforming code will not be the root cause of errors for that property, although such errors may be introduced into a program by other code, libraries or the external environment. A profile may also introduce additional library types to ease conformance and encourage correct code.

Profiles summary:

In the future, we expect to define many more profiles and add more checks to existing profiles. Candidates include:

To suppress enforcement of a profile check, place a suppress annotation on a language contract. For example:

[[suppress(bounds)]] char* raw_find(char* p, int n, char x)    // find x in p[0]..p[n-1]
{
    // ...
}

Now raw_find() can scramble memory to its heart’s content. Obviously, suppression should be very rare.

Pro.safety: Type safety profile

This profile makes it easier to construct code that uses types correctly and avoids inadvertent type punning. It does so by focusing on removing the primary sources of type violations, including unsafe uses of casts and unions.

For the purposes of this section, type-safety is defined to be the property that a variable is not used in a way that doesn’t obey the rules for the type of its definition. Memory accessed as a type T should not be valid memory that actually contains an object of an unrelated type U. Note that the safety is intended to be complete when combined also with Bounds safety and Lifetime safety.

An implementation of this profile shall recognize the following patterns in source code as non-conforming and issue a diagnostic.

Type safety profile summary:

Type.1: Don’t use reinterpret_cast.

Reason

Use of these casts can violate type safety and cause the program to access a variable that is actually of type X to be accessed as if it were of an unrelated type Z.

Example, bad
std::string s = "hello world";
double* p = reinterpret_cast<double*>(&s); // BAD
Enforcement

Issue a diagnostic for any use of reinterpret_cast. To fix: Consider using a variant instead.

Type.2: Don’t use static_cast downcasts. Use dynamic_cast instead.

Reason

Use of these casts can violate type safety and cause the program to access a variable that is actually of type X to be accessed as if it were of an unrelated type Z.

Example, bad
class Base { public: virtual ~Base() = 0; };

class Derived1 : public Base { };

class Derived2 : public Base {
    std::string s;
public:
    std::string get_s() { return s; }
};

Derived1 d1;
Base* p1 = &d1; // ok, implicit conversion to pointer to Base is fine

// BAD, tries to treat d1 as a Derived2, which it is not
Derived2* p2 = static_cast<Derived2*>(p1);
// tries to access d1's nonexistent string member, instead sees arbitrary bytes near d1
cout << p2->get_s();
Example, bad
struct Foo { int a, b; };
struct Foobar : Foo { int bar; };

void use(int i, Foo& x)
{
    if (0 < i) {
        Foobar& x1 = dynamic_cast<Foobar&>(x);  // error: Foo is not polymorphic
        Foobar& x2 = static_cast<Foobar&>(x);   // bad
        // ...
    }
    // ...
}

// ...

use(99, *new Foo{1, 2});  // not a Foobar

If a class hierarchy isn’t polymorphic, avoid casting. It is entirely unsafe. Look for a better design. See also C.146.

Enforcement

Issue a diagnostic for any use of static_cast to downcast, meaning to cast from a pointer or reference to X to a pointer or reference to a type that is not X or an accessible base of X. To fix: If this is a downcast or cross-cast then use a dynamic_cast instead, otherwise consider using a variant instead.

Type.3: Don’t use const_cast to cast away const (i.e., at all).

Reason

Casting away const is a lie. If the variable is actually declared const, it’s a lie punishable by undefined behavior.

Example, bad
void f(const int& i)
{
    const_cast<int&>(i) = 42;   // BAD
}

static int i = 0;
static const int j = 0;

f(i); // silent side effect
f(j); // undefined behavior
Example

Sometimes you may be tempted to resort to const_cast to avoid code duplication, such as when two accessor functions that differ only in const-ness have similar implementations. For example:

class Bar;

class Foo {
public:
    // BAD, duplicates logic
    Bar& get_bar() {
        /* complex logic around getting a non-const reference to my_bar */
    }

    const Bar& get_bar() const {
        /* same complex logic around getting a const reference to my_bar */
    }
private:
    Bar my_bar;
};

Instead, prefer to share implementations. Normally, you can just have the non-const function call the const function. However, when there is complex logic this can lead to the following pattern that still resorts to a const_cast:

class Foo {
public:
    // not great, non-const calls const version but resorts to const_cast
    Bar& get_bar() {
        return const_cast<Bar&>(static_cast<const Foo&>(*this).get_bar());
    }
    const Bar& get_bar() const {
        /* the complex logic around getting a const reference to my_bar */
    }
private:
    Bar my_bar;
};

Although this pattern is safe when applied correctly, because the caller must have had a non-const object to begin with, it’s not ideal because the safety is hard to enforce automatically as a checker rule.

Instead, prefer to put the common code in a common helper function – and make it a template so that it deduces const. This doesn’t use any const_cast at all:

class Foo {
public:                         // good
          Bar& get_bar()       { return get_bar_impl(*this); }
    const Bar& get_bar() const { return get_bar_impl(*this); }
private:
    Bar my_bar;

    template<class T>           // good, deduces whether T is const or non-const
    static auto get_bar_impl(T& t) -> decltype(t.get_bar())
        { /* the complex logic around getting a possibly-const reference to my_bar */ }
};
Exception

You may need to cast away const when calling const-incorrect functions. Prefer to wrap such functions in inline const-correct wrappers to encapsulate the cast in one place.

Enforcement

Issue a diagnostic for any use of const_cast. To fix: Either don’t use the variable in a non-const way, or don’t make it const.

Type.4: Don’t use C-style (T)expression casts that would perform a static_cast downcast, const_cast, or reinterpret_cast.

Reason

Use of these casts can violate type safety and cause the program to access a variable that is actually of type X to be accessed as if it were of an unrelated type Z. Note that a C-style (T)expression cast means to perform the first of the following that is possible: a const_cast, a static_cast, a static_cast followed by a const_cast, a reinterpret_cast, or a reinterpret_cast followed by a const_cast. This rule bans (T)expression only when used to perform an unsafe cast.

Example, bad
std::string s = "hello world";
double* p0 = (double*)(&s); // BAD

class Base { public: virtual ~Base() = 0; };

class Derived1 : public Base { };

class Derived2 : public Base {
    std::string s;
public:
    std::string get_s() { return s; }
};

Derived1 d1;
Base* p1 = &d1; // ok, implicit conversion to pointer to Base is fine

// BAD, tries to treat d1 as a Derived2, which it is not
Derived2* p2 = (Derived2*)(p1);
// tries to access d1's nonexistent string member, instead sees arbitrary bytes near d1
cout << p2->get_s();

void f(const int& i) {
    (int&)(i) = 42;   // BAD
}

static int i = 0;
static const int j = 0;

f(i); // silent side effect
f(j); // undefined behavior
Enforcement

Issue a diagnostic for any use of a C-style (T)expression cast that would invoke a static_cast downcast, const_cast, or reinterpret_cast. To fix: Use a dynamic_cast, const-correct declaration, or variant, respectively.

Type.5: Don’t use a variable before it has been initialized.

ES.20: Always initialize an object is required.

Type.6: Always initialize a member variable.

Reason

Before a variable has been initialized, it does not contain a deterministic valid value of its type. It could contain any arbitrary bit pattern, which could be different on each call.

Example
struct X { int i; };

X x;
use(x); // BAD, x has not been initialized

X x2{}; // GOOD
use(x2);
Enforcement

Type.7: Avoid accessing members of raw unions. Prefer variant instead.

Reason

Reading from a union member assumes that member was the last one written, and writing to a union member assumes another member with a nontrivial destructor had its destructor called. This is fragile because it cannot generally be enforced to be safe in the language and so relies on programmer discipline to get it right.

Example
union U { int i; double d; };

U u;
u.i = 42;
use(u.d); // BAD, undefined

variant<int, double> u;
u = 42; // u now contains int
use(u.get<int>()); // ok
use(u.get<double>()); // throws ??? update this when standardization finalizes the variant design

Note that just copying a union is not type-unsafe, so safe code can pass a union from one piece of unsafe code to another.

Enforcement

Type.8: Avoid reading from varargs or passing vararg arguments. Prefer variadic template parameters instead.

Reason

Reading from a vararg assumes that the correct type was actually passed. Passing to varargs assumes the correct type will be read. This is fragile because it cannot generally be enforced to be safe in the language and so relies on programmer discipline to get it right.

Example
int sum(...) {
    // ...
    while (/*...*/)
        result += va_arg(list, int); // BAD, assumes it will be passed ints
    // ...
}

sum(3, 2); // ok
sum(3.14159, 2.71828); // BAD, undefined

template<class ...Args>
auto sum(Args... args) { // GOOD, and much more flexible
    return (... + args); // note: C++17 "fold expression"
}

sum(3, 2); // ok: 5
sum(3.14159, 2.71828); // ok: ~5.85987

Note: Declaring a ... parameter is sometimes useful for techniques that don’t involve actual argument passing, notably to declare “take-anything” functions so as to disable “everything else” in an overload set or express a catchall case in a template metaprogram.

Enforcement

Pro.bounds: Bounds safety profile

This profile makes it easier to construct code that operates within the bounds of allocated blocks of memory. It does so by focusing on removing the primary sources of bounds violations: pointer arithmetic and array indexing. One of the core features of this profile is to restrict pointers to only refer to single objects, not arrays.

For the purposes of this document, bounds-safety is defined to be the property that a program does not use a variable to access memory outside of the range that was allocated and assigned to that variable. (Note that the safety is intended to be complete when combined also with Type safety and Lifetime safety, which cover other unsafe operations that allow bounds violations, such as type-unsafe casts that ‘widen’ pointers.)

The following are under consideration but not yet in the rules below, and may be better in other profiles:

An implementation of this profile shall recognize the following patterns in source code as non-conforming and issue a diagnostic.

Bounds.1: Don’t use pointer arithmetic. Use span instead.

Reason

Pointers should only refer to single objects, and pointer arithmetic is fragile and easy to get wrong. span is a bounds-checked, safe type for accessing arrays of data.

Example, bad
void f(int* p, int count)
{
    if (count < 2) return;

    int* q = p + 1; // BAD

    ptrdiff_t d;
    int n;
    d = (p - &n); // OK
    d = (q - p); // OK

    int n = *p++; // BAD

    if (count < 6) return;

    p[4] = 1; // BAD

    p[count - 1] = 2; // BAD

    use(&p[0], 3); // BAD
}
Example, good
void f(span<int> a) // BETTER: use span in the function declaration
{
    if (a.length() < 2) return;

    int n = *a++; // OK

    span<int> q = a + 1; // OK

    if (a.length() < 6) return;

    a[4] = 1; // OK

    a[count - 1] = 2; // OK

    use(a.data(), 3); // OK
}
Enforcement

Issue a diagnostic for any arithmetic operation on an expression of pointer type that results in a value of pointer type.

Bounds.2: Only index into arrays using constant expressions.

Reason

Dynamic accesses into arrays are difficult for both tools and humans to validate as safe. span is a bounds-checked, safe type for accessing arrays of data. at() is another alternative that ensures single accesses are bounds-checked. If iterators are needed to access an array, use the iterators from a span constructed over the array.

Example, bad
void f(array<int, 10> a, int pos)
{
    a[pos / 2] = 1; // BAD
    a[pos - 1] = 2; // BAD
    a[-1] = 3;    // BAD -- no replacement, just don't do this
    a[10] = 4;    // BAD -- no replacement, just don't do this
}
Example, good
// ALTERNATIVE A: Use a span

// A1: Change parameter type to use span
void f1(span<int, 10> a, int pos)
{
    a[pos / 2] = 1; // OK
    a[pos - 1] = 2; // OK
}

// A2: Add local span and use that
void f2(array<int, 10> arr, int pos)
{
    span<int> a = {arr, pos}
    a[pos / 2] = 1; // OK
    a[pos - 1] = 2; // OK
}

// ALTERNATIVE B: Use at() for access
void f3(array<int, 10> a, int pos)
{
    at(a, pos / 2) = 1; // OK
    at(a, pos - 1) = 2; // OK
}
Example, bad
void f()
{
    int arr[COUNT];
    for (int i = 0; i < COUNT; ++i)
        arr[i] = i; // BAD, cannot use non-constant indexer
}
Example, good
// ALTERNATIVE A: Use a span
void f1()
{
    int arr[COUNT];
    span<int> av = arr;
    for (int i = 0; i < COUNT; ++i)
        av[i] = i;
}

// ALTERNATIVE B: Use at() for access
void f2()
{
    int arr[COUNT];
    for (int i = 0; i < COUNT; ++i)
        at(arr, i) = i;
}
Enforcement

Issue a diagnostic for any indexing expression on an expression or variable of array type (either static array or std::array) where the indexer is not a compile-time constant expression.

Issue a diagnostic for any indexing expression on an expression or variable of array type (either static array or std::array) where the indexer is not a value between 0 or and the upper bound of the array.

Rewrite support: Tooling can offer rewrites of array accesses that involve dynamic index expressions to use at() instead:

static int a[10];

void f(int i, int j)
{
    a[i + j] = 12;      // BAD, could be rewritten as ...
    at(a, i + j) = 12;  // OK -- bounds-checked
}

Bounds.3: No array-to-pointer decay.

Reason

Pointers should not be used as arrays. span is a bounds-checked, safe alternative to using pointers to access arrays.

Example, bad
void g(int* p, size_t length);

void f()
{
    int a[5];
    g(a, 5);        // BAD
    g(&a[0], 1);    // OK
}
Example, good
void g(int* p, size_t length);
void g1(span<int> av); // BETTER: get g() changed.

void f()
{
    int a[5];
    span<int> av = a;

    g(av.data(), av.length());   // OK, if you have no choice
    g1(a);                       // OK -- no decay here, instead use implicit span ctor
}
Enforcement

Issue a diagnostic for any expression that would rely on implicit conversion of an array type to a pointer type.

Bounds.4: Don’t use standard library functions and types that are not bounds-checked.

Reason

These functions all have bounds-safe overloads that take span. Standard types such as vector can be modified to perform bounds-checks under the bounds profile (in a compatible way, such as by adding contracts), or used with at().

Example, bad
void f()
{
    array<int, 10> a, b;
    memset(a.data(), 0, 10);         // BAD, and contains a length error (length = 10 * sizeof(int))
    memcmp(a.data(), b.data(), 10);  // BAD, and contains a length error (length = 10 * sizeof(int))
}

Also, std::array<>::fill() or std::fill() or even an empty initializer are better candidate than memset().

Example, good
void f()
{
    array<int, 10> a, b, c{};       // c is initialized to zero
    a.fill(0);
    fill(b.begin(), b.end(), 0);    // std::fill()
    fill(b, 0);                     // std::fill() + Ranges TS

    if ( a == b ) {
      // ...
    }
}
Example

If code is using an unmodified standard library, then there are still workarounds that enable use of std::array and std::vector in a bounds-safe manner. Code can call the .at() member function on each class, which will result in an std::out_of_range exception being thrown. Alternatively, code can call the at() free function, which will result in fail-fast (or a customized action) on a bounds violation.

void f(std::vector<int>& v, std::array<int, 12> a, int i)
{
    v[0] = a[0];        // BAD
    v.at(0) = a[0];     // OK (alternative 1)
    at(v, 0) = a[0];    // OK (alternative 2)

    v.at(0) = a[i];     // BAD
    v.at(0) = a.at(i);  // OK (alternative 1)
    v.at(0) = at(a, i); // OK (alternative 2)
}
Enforcement

TODO Notes:

Pro.lifetime: Lifetime safety profile

???

GSL: Guideline support library

The GSL is a small library of facilities designed to support this set of guidelines. Without these facilities, the guidelines would have to be far more restrictive on language details.

The Core Guidelines support library is defined in namespace gsl and the names may be aliases for standard library or other well-known library names. Using the (compile-time) indirection through the gsl namespace allows for experimentation and for local variants of the support facilities.

The GSL is header only, and can be found at GSL: Guideline support library. The support library facilities are designed to be extremely lightweight (zero-overhead) so that they impose no overhead compared to using conventional alternatives. Where desirable, they can be “instrumented” with additional functionality (e.g., checks) for tasks such as debugging.

These Guidelines assume a variant type, but this is not currently in GSL. Eventually, use the one voted into C++17.

Summary of GSL components:

We plan for a “ISO C++ standard style” semi-formal specification of the GSL.

We rely on the ISO C++ standard library and hope for parts of the GSL to be absorbed into the standard library.

GSL.view: Views

These types allow the user to distinguish between owning and non-owning pointers and between pointers to a single object and pointers to the first element of a sequence.

These “views” are never owners.

References are never owners.

The names are mostly ISO standard-library style (lower case and underscore):

The “raw-pointer” notation (e.g. int*) is assumed to have its most common meaning; that is, a pointer points to an object, but does not own it. Owners should be converted to resource handles (e.g., unique_ptr or vector<T>) or marked owner<T*>.

owner is used to mark owning pointers in code that cannot be upgraded to use proper resource handles. Reasons for that include:

An owner<T> differs from a resource handle for a T by still requiring an explicit delete.

An owner<T> is assumed to refer to an object on the free store (heap).

If something is not supposed to be nullptr, say so:

A span<T> refers to zero or more mutable Ts unless T is a const type.

“Pointer arithmetic” is best done within spans. A char* that points to more than one char but is not a C-style string (e.g., a pointer into an input buffer) should be represented by a span.

Logically, those last two aliases are not needed, but we are not always logical, and they make the distinction between a pointer to one char and a pointer to a C-style string explicit. A sequence of characters that is not assumed to be zero-terminated should be a char*, rather than a zstring. French accent optional.

Use not_null<zstring> for C-style strings that cannot be nullptr. ??? Do we need a name for not_null<zstring>? or is its ugliness a feature?

GSL.owner: Ownership pointers

GSL.assert: Assertions

These assertions is currently macros (yuck!) and must appear in function definitions (only) pending standard commission decisions on contracts and assertion syntax. See the contract proposal; using the attribute syntax, for example, Expects(p!=nullptr) will become [[expects: p!=nullptr]].

GSL.util: Utilities

GSL.concept: Concepts

These concepts (type predicates) are borrowed from Andrew Sutton’s Origin library, the Range proposal, and the ISO WG21 Palo Alto TR. They are likely to be very similar to what will become part of the ISO C++ standard. The notation is that of the ISO WG21 Concepts TS. Most of the concepts below are defined in the Ranges TS.

Smart pointer concepts

Described in Lifetimes paper.

NL: Naming and layout rules

Consistent naming and layout are helpful. If for no other reason because it minimizes “my style is better than your style” arguments. However, there are many, many, different styles around and people are passionate about them (pro and con). Also, most real-world projects includes code from many sources, so standardizing on a single style for all code is often impossible. We present a set of rules that you might use if you have no better ideas, but the real aim is consistency, rather than any particular rule set. IDEs and tools can help (as well as hinder).

Naming and layout rules:

Most of these rules are aesthetic and programmers hold strong opinions. IDEs also tend to have defaults and a range of alternatives. These rules are suggested defaults to follow unless you have reasons not to.

We have had comments to the effect that naming and layout are so personal and/or arbitrary that we should not try to “legislate” them. We are not “legislating” (see the previous paragraph). However, we have had many requests for a set of naming and layout conventions to use when there are no external constraints.

More specific and detailed rules are easier to enforce.

These rules bear a strong resemblance to the recommendations in the PPP Style Guide written in support of Stroustrup’s Programming: Principles and Practice using C++.

NL.1: Don’t say in comments what can be clearly stated in code

Reason

Compilers do not read comments. Comments are less precise than code. Comments are not updated as consistently as code.

Example, bad
auto x = m * v1 + vv;   // multiply m with v1 and add the result to vv
Enforcement

Build an AI program that interprets colloquial English text and see if what is said could be better expressed in C++.

NL.2: State intent in comments

Reason

Code says what is done, not what is supposed to be done. Often intent can be stated more clearly and concisely than the implementation.

Example
void stable_sort(Sortable& c)
    // sort c in the order determined by <, keep equal elements (as defined by ==) in
    // their original relative order
{
    // ... quite a few lines of non-trivial code ...
}
Note

If the comment and the code disagrees, both are likely to be wrong.

NL.3: Keep comments crisp

Reason

Verbosity slows down understanding and makes the code harder to read by spreading it around in the source file.

Note

Use intelligible English. I may be fluent in Danish, but most programmers are not; the maintainers of my code may not be. Avoid SMS lingo and watch your grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Aim for professionalism, not “cool.”

Enforcement

not possible.

NL.4: Maintain a consistent indentation style

Reason

Readability. Avoidance of “silly mistakes.”

Example, bad
int i;
for (i = 0; i < max; ++i); // bug waiting to happen
if (i == j)
    return i;
Note

Always indenting the statement after if (...), for (...), and while (...) is usually a good idea:

if (i < 0) error("negative argument");

if (i < 0)
    error("negative argument");
Enforcement

Use a tool.

NL.5 Don’t encode type information in names

Rationale

If names reflect types rather than functionality, it becomes hard to change the types used to provide that functionality. Also, if the type of a variable is changed, code using it will have to be modified. Minimize unintentional conversions.

Example, bad
void print_int(int i);
void print_string(const char*);

print_int(1);   // OK
print_int(x);   // conversion to int if x is a double
Note

Names with types encoded are either verbose or cryptic.

printS  // print a std::string
prints  // print a C-style string
printi  // print an int

PS. Hungarian notation is evil (at least in a strongly statically-typed language).

Note

Some styles distinguishes members from local variable, and/or from global variable.

struct S {
    int m_;
    S(int m) :m_{abs(m)} { }
};

This is not evil.

Note

Like C++, some styles distinguishes types from non-types. For example, by capitalizing type names, but not the names of functions and variables.

typename<typename T>
class Hash_tbl {   // maps string to T
    // ...
};

Hash_tbl<int> index;

This is not evil.

NL.7: Make the length of a name roughly proportional to the length of its scope

Rationale: The larger the scope the greater the chance of confusion and of an unintended name clash.

Example
double sqrt(double x);   // return the square root of x; x must be non-negative

int length(const char* p);  // return the number of characters in a zero-terminated C-style string

int length_of_string(const char zero_terminated_array_of_char[])    // bad: verbose

int g;      // bad: global variable with a cryptic name

int open;   // bad: global variable with a short, popular name

The use of p for pointer and x for a floating-point variable is conventional and non-confusing in a restricted scope.

Enforcement

???

NL.8: Use a consistent naming style

Rationale: Consistence in naming and naming style increases readability.

Note

There are many styles and when you use multiple libraries, you can’t follow all their different conventions. Choose a “house style”, but leave “imported” libraries with their original style.

Example

ISO Standard, use lower case only and digits, separate words with underscores:

Avoid double underscores __.

Example

Stroustrup: ISO Standard, but with upper case used for your own types and concepts:

Example

CamelCase: capitalize each word in a multi-word identifier:

Some conventions capitalize the first letter, some don’t.

Note

Try to be consistent in your use of acronyms and lengths of identifiers:

int mtbf {12};
int mean_time_between_failures {12}; // make up your mind
Enforcement

Would be possible except for the use of libraries with varying conventions.

NL.9: Use ALL_CAPS for macro names only

Reason

To avoid confusing macros with names that obey scope and type rules.

Example
void f()
{
    const int SIZE{1000};  // Bad, use 'size' instead
    int v[SIZE];
}
Note

This rule applies to non-macro symbolic constants:

enum bad { BAD, WORSE, HORRIBLE }; // BAD
Enforcement

NL.10: Avoid CamelCase

Reason

The use of underscores to separate parts of a name is the original C and C++ style and used in the C++ standard library. If you prefer CamelCase, you have to choose among different flavors of camelCase.

Note

This rule is a default to use only if you have a choice. Often, you don’t have a choice and must follow an established style for consistency. The need for consistency beats personal taste.

Example

Stroustrup: ISO Standard, but with upper case used for your own types and concepts:

Enforcement

Impossible.

NL.15: Use spaces sparingly

Reason

Too much space makes the text larger and distracts.

Example, bad
#include < map >

int main(int argc, char * argv [ ])
{
    // ...
}
Example
#include<map>

int main(int argc, char* argv[])
{
    // ...
}
Note

Some IDEs have their own opinions and add distracting space.

Note

We value well-placed whitespace as a significant help for readability. Just don’t overdo it.

NL.16: Use a conventional class member declaration order

Reason

A conventional order of members improves readability.

When declaring a class use the following order

Use the public before protected before private order.

Private types and functions can be placed with private data.

Avoid multiple blocks of declarations of one access (e.g., public) dispersed among blocks of declarations with different access (e.g. private).

Example
class X {
public:
    // interface
protected:
    // unchecked function for use by derived class implementations
private:
    // implementation details
};
Note

The use of macros to declare groups of members often violates any ordering rules. However, macros obscures what is being expressed anyway.

Enforcement

Flag departures from the suggested order. There will be a lot of old code that doesn’t follow this rule.

NL.17: Use K&R-derived layout

Reason

This is the original C and C++ layout. It preserves vertical space well. It distinguishes different language constructs (such as functions and classes) well.

Note

In the context of C++, this style is often called “Stroustrup”.

Example
struct Cable {
    int x;
    // ...
};

double foo(int x)
{
    if (0 < x) {
        // ...
    }

    switch (x) {
        case 0:
            // ...
            break;
        case amazing:
            // ...
            break;
        default:
            // ...
            break;
    }

    if (0 < x)
        ++x;

    if (x < 0)
        something();
    else
        something_else();

    return some_value;
}

Note the space between if and (

Note

Use separate lines for each statement, the branches of an if, and the body of a for.

Note

The { for a class and a struct in not on a separate line, but the { for a function is.

Note

Capitalize the names of your user-defined types to distinguish them from standards-library types.

Note

Do not capitalize function names.

Enforcement

If you want enforcement, use an IDE to reformat.

NL.18: Use C++-style declarator layout

Reason

The C-style layout emphasizes use in expressions and grammar, whereas the C++-style emphasizes types. The use in expressions argument doesn’t hold for references.

Example
T& operator[](size_t);   // OK
T &operator[](size_t);   // just strange
T & operator[](size_t);   // undecided
Enforcement

Impossible in the face of history.

NL.19: Avoid names that are easily misread

Reason

Readability. Not everyone has screens and printers that make it easy to distinguish all characters. We easily confuse similarly spelled and slightly misspelled words.

Example
int oO01lL = 6; // bad

int splunk = 7;
int splonk = 8; // bad: splunk and splonk are easily confused
Enforcement

???

NL.20: Don’t place two statements on the same line

Reason

Readability. It is really easy to overlook a statement when there is more on a line.

Example
int x = 7; char* p = 29;    // don't
int x = 7; f(x);  ++x;      // don't
Enforcement

Easy.

NL.21: Declare one name (only) per declaration

Reason

Readability. Minimizing confusion with the declarator syntax.

Note

For details, see ES.10.

NL.25: Don’t use void as an argument type

Reason

It’s verbose and only needed where C compatibility matters.

Example
void f(void);   // bad

void g();       // better
Note

Even Dennis Ritchie deemed void f(void) an abomination. You can make an argument for that abomination in C when function prototypes were rare so that banning:

int f();
f(1, 2, "weird but valid C89");   // hope that f() is defined int f(a, b, c) char* c; { /* ... */ }

would have caused major problems, but not in the 21st century and in C++.

NL.26: Use conventional const notation

Reason

Conventional notation is more familiar to more programmers. Consistency in large code bases.

Example
const int x = 7;    // OK
int const y = 9;    // bad

const int *const p = nullptr;   // OK, constant pointer to constant int
int const *const p = nullptr;   // bad, constant pointer to constant int
Note

We are well aware that you could claim the “bad” examples more logical than the ones marked “OK”, but they also confuse more people, especially novices relying on teaching material using the far more common, conventional OK style.

As ever, remember that the aim of these naming and layout rules is consistency and that aesthetics vary immensely.

Enforcement

Flag const used as a suffix for a type.

FAQ: Answers to frequently asked questions

This section covers answers to frequently asked questions about these guidelines.

FAQ.1: What do these guidelines aim to achieve?

See the top of this page. This is an open source project to maintain modern authoritative guidelines for writing C++ code using the current C++ Standard (as of this writing, C++14). The guidelines are designed to be modern, machine-enforceable wherever possible, and open to contributions and forking so that organizations can easily incorporate them into their own corporate coding guidelines.

FAQ.2: When and where was this work first announced?

It was announced by Bjarne Stroustrup in his CppCon 2015 opening keynote, “Writing Good C++14”. See also the accompanying isocpp.org blog post, and for the rationale of the type and memory safety guidelines see Herb Sutter’s follow-up CppCon 2015 talk, “Writing Good C++14 … By Default”.

FAQ.3: Who are the authors and maintainers of these guidelines?

The initial primary authors and maintainers are Bjarne Stroustrup and Herb Sutter, and the guidelines so far were developed with contributions from experts at CERN, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, and several other organizations. At the time of their release, the guidelines are in a “0.6” state, and contributions are welcome. As Stroustrup said in his announcement: “We need help!”

FAQ.4: How can I contribute?

See CONTRIBUTING.md. We appreciate volunteer help!

FAQ.5: How can I become an editor/maintainer?

By contributing a lot first and having the consistent quality of your contributions recognized. See CONTRIBUTING.md. We appreciate volunteer help!

FAQ.6: Have these guidelines been approved by the ISO C++ standards committee? Do they represent the consensus of the committee?

No. These guidelines are outside the standard. They are intended to serve the standard, and be maintained as current guidelines about how to use the current Standard C++ effectively. We aim to keep them in sync with the standard as that is evolved by the committee.

FAQ.7: If these guidelines are not approved by the committee, why are they under github.com/isocpp?

Because isocpp is the Standard C++ Foundation; the committee’s repositories are under github.com/cplusplus. Some neutral organization has to own the copyright and license to make it clear this is not being dominated by any one person or vendor. The natural entity is the Foundation, which exists to promote the use and up-to-date understanding of modern Standard C++ and the work of the committee. This follows the same pattern that isocpp.org did for the C++ FAQ, which was initially the work of Bjarne Stroustrup, Marshall Cline, and Herb Sutter and contributed to the open project in the same way.

FAQ.8: Will there be a C++98 version of these Guidelines? a C++11 version?

No. These guidelines are about how to best use Standard C++14 (and, if you have an implementation available, the Concepts Lite Technical Specification) and write code assuming you have a modern conforming compiler.

FAQ.9: Do these guidelines propose new language features?

No. These guidelines are about how to best use Standard C++14 + the Concepts Lite Technical Specification, and they limit themselves to recommending only those features.

FAQ.10: What version of Markdown do these guidelines use?

These coding standards are written using CommonMark, and <a> HTML anchors.

We are considering the following extensions from GitHub Flavored Markdown (GFM):

Avoid other HTML tags and other extensions.

Note: We are not yet consistent with this style.

FAQ.50: What is the GSL (guideline support library)?

The GSL is the small set of types and aliases specified in these guidelines. As of this writing, their specification herein is too sparse; we plan to add a WG21-style interface specification to ensure that different implementations agree, and to propose as a contribution for possible standardization, subject as usual to whatever the committee decides to accept/improve/alter/reject.

FAQ.51: Is github.com/Microsoft/GSL the GSL?

No. That is just a first implementation contributed by Microsoft. Other implementations by other vendors are encouraged, as are forks of and contributions to that implementation. As of this writing one week into the public project, at least one GPLv3 open source implementation already exists. We plan to produce a WG21-style interface specification to ensure that different implementations agree.

FAQ.52: Why not supply an actual GSL implementation in/with these guidelines?

We are reluctant to bless one particular implementation because we do not want to make people think there is only one, and inadvertently stifle parallel implementations. And if these guidelines included an actual implementation, then whoever contributed it could be mistakenly seen as too influential. We prefer to follow the long-standing approach of the committee, namely to specify interfaces, not implementations. But at the same time we want at least one implementation available; we hope for many.

FAQ.53: Why weren’t the GSL types proposed through Boost?

Because we want to use them immediately, and because they are temporary in that we want to retire them as soon as types that fill the same needs exist in the standard library.

FAQ.54: Has the GSL (guideline support library) been approved by the ISO C++ standards committee?

No. The GSL exists only to supply a few types and aliases that are not currently in the standard library. If the committee decides on standardized versions (of these or other types that fill the same need) then they can be removed from the GSL.

FAQ.55: If you’re using the standard types where available, why is the GSL string_span different from the string_view in the Library Fundamentals 1 Technical Specification and C++17 Working Paper? Why not just use the committee-approved string_view?

The consensus on the taxonomy of views for the C++ standard library was that “view” means “read-only”, and “span” means “read/write”. The read-only string_view was the first such component to complete the standardization process, while span and string_span are currently being considered for standardization.

FAQ.56: Is owner the same as the proposed observer_ptr?

No. owner owns, is an alias, and can be applied to any indirection type. The main intent of observer_ptr is to signify a non-owning pointer.

FAQ.57: Is stack_array the same as the standard array?

No. stack_array is guaranteed to be allocated on the stack. Although a std::array contains its storage directly inside itself, the array object can be put anywhere, including the heap.

FAQ.58: Is dyn_array the same as vector or the proposed dynarray?

No. dyn_array is not resizable, and is a safe way to refer to a heap-allocated fixed-size array. Unlike vector, it is intended to replace array-new[]. Unlike the dynarray that has been proposed in the committee, this does not anticipate compiler/language magic to somehow allocate it on the stack when it is a member of an object that is allocated on the stack; it simply refers to a “dynamic” or heap-based array.

FAQ.59: Is Expects the same as assert?

No. It is a placeholder for language support for contract preconditions.

FAQ.60: Is Ensures the same as assert?

No. It is a placeholder for language support for contract postconditions.

Appendix A: Libraries

This section lists recommended libraries, and explicitly recommends a few.

??? Suitable for the general guide? I think not ???

Appendix B: Modernizing code

Ideally, we follow all rules in all code. Realistically, we have to deal with a lot of old code:

If we have a million lines of new code, the idea of “just changing it all at once” is typically unrealistic. Thus, we need a way of gradually modernizing a code base.

Upgrading older code to modern style can be a daunting task. Often, the old code is both a mess (hard to understand) and working correctly (for the current range of uses). Typically, the original programmer is not around and the test cases incomplete. The fact that the code is a mess dramatically increases the effort needed to make any change and the risk of introducing errors. Often, messy old code runs unnecessarily slowly because it requires outdated compilers and cannot take advantage of modern hardware. In many cases, automated “modernizer”-style tool support would be required for major upgrade efforts.

The purpose of modernizing code is to simplify adding new functionality, to ease maintenance, and to increase performance (throughput or latency), and to better utilize modern hardware. Making code “look pretty” or “follow modern style” are not by themselves reasons for change. There are risks implied by every change and costs (including the cost of lost opportunities) implied by having an outdated code base. The cost reductions must outweigh the risks.

But how?

There is no one approach to modernizing code. How best to do it depends on the code, the pressure for updates, the backgrounds of the developers, and the available tool. Here are some (very general) ideas:

Whichever way you choose, please note that the most advantages come with the highest conformance to the guidelines. The guidelines are not a random set of unrelated rules where you can randomly pick and choose with an expectation of success.

We would dearly love to hear about experience and about tools used. Modernization can be much faster, simpler, and safer when supported with analysis tools and even code transformation tools.

Appendix C: Discussion

This section contains follow-up material on rules and sets of rules. In particular, here we present further rationale, longer examples, and discussions of alternatives.

Discussion: Define and initialize member variables in the order of member declaration

Member variables are always initialized in the order they are declared in the class definition, so write them in that order in the constructor initialization list. Writing them in a different order just makes the code confusing because it won’t run in the order you see, and that can make it hard to see order-dependent bugs.

class Employee {
    string email, first, last;
public:
    Employee(const char* firstName, const char* lastName);
    // ...
};

Employee::Employee(const char* firstName, const char* lastName)
  : first(firstName),
    last(lastName),
    // BAD: first and last not yet constructed
    email(first + "." + last + "@acme.com")
{}

In this example, email will be constructed before first and last because it is declared first. That means its constructor will attempt to use first and last too soon – not just before they are set to the desired values, but before they are constructed at all.

If the class definition and the constructor body are in separate files, the long-distance influence that the order of member variable declarations has over the constructor’s correctness will be even harder to spot.

References:

[Cline99] §22.03-11, [Dewhurst03] §52-53, [Koenig97] §4, [Lakos96] §10.3.5, [Meyers97] §13, [Murray93] §2.1.3, [Sutter00] §47

Use of =, {}, and () as initializers

???

Discussion: Use a factory function if you need “virtual behavior” during initialization

If your design wants virtual dispatch into a derived class from a base class constructor or destructor for functions like f and g, you need other techniques, such as a post-constructor – a separate member function the caller must invoke to complete initialization, which can safely call f and g because in member functions virtual calls behave normally. Some techniques for this are shown in the References. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of options:

Here is an example of the last option:

class B {
public:
    B() { /* ... */ f(); /* ... */ }   // BAD: see Item 49.1

    virtual void f() = 0;

    // ...
};

class B {
protected:
    B() { /* ... */ }
    virtual void PostInitialize()    // called right after construction
        { /* ... */ f(); /* ... */ }   // GOOD: virtual dispatch is safe
public:
    virtual void f() = 0;

    template<class T>
    static shared_ptr<T> Create()    // interface for creating objects
    {
        auto p = make_shared<T>();
        p->PostInitialize();
        return p;
    }
};


class D : public B {                 // some derived class
public:
    void f() override { /* ...  */ };

protected:
    D() {}

    template<class T>
    friend shared_ptr<T> B::Create();
};

shared_ptr<D> p = D::Create<D>();    // creating a D object

This design requires the following discipline:

If the requirements above are met, the design guarantees that PostInitialize has been called for any fully constructed B-derived object. PostInitialize doesn’t need to be virtual; it can, however, invoke virtual functions freely.

In summary, no post-construction technique is perfect. The worst techniques dodge the whole issue by simply asking the caller to invoke the post-constructor manually. Even the best require a different syntax for constructing objects (easy to check at compile time) and/or cooperation from derived class authors (impossible to check at compile time).

References: [Alexandrescu01] §3, [Boost], [Dewhurst03] §75, [Meyers97] §46, [Stroustrup00] §15.4.3, [Taligent94]

Discussion: Make base class destructors public and virtual, or protected and nonvirtual

Should destruction behave virtually? That is, should destruction through a pointer to a base class be allowed? If yes, then base’s destructor must be public in order to be callable, and virtual otherwise calling it results in undefined behavior. Otherwise, it should be protected so that only derived classes can invoke it in their own destructors, and nonvirtual since it doesn’t need to behave virtually virtual.

Example

The common case for a base class is that it’s intended to have publicly derived classes, and so calling code is just about sure to use something like a shared_ptr<base>:

class Base {
public:
    ~Base();                   // BAD, not virtual
    virtual ~Base();           // GOOD
    // ...
};

class Derived : public Base { /* ... */ };

{
    unique_ptr<Base> pb = make_unique<Derived>();
    // ...
} // ~pb invokes correct destructor only when ~Base is virtual

In rarer cases, such as policy classes, the class is used as a base class for convenience, not for polymorphic behavior. It is recommended to make those destructors protected and nonvirtual:

class My_policy {
public:
    virtual ~My_policy();      // BAD, public and virtual
protected:
    ~My_policy();              // GOOD
    // ...
};

template<class Policy>
class customizable : Policy { /* ... */ }; // note: private inheritance
Note

This simple guideline illustrates a subtle issue and reflects modern uses of inheritance and object-oriented design principles.

For a base class Base, calling code might try to destroy derived objects through pointers to Base, such as when using a unique_ptr<Base>. If Base’s destructor is public and nonvirtual (the default), it can be accidentally called on a pointer that actually points to a derived object, in which case the behavior of the attempted deletion is undefined. This state of affairs has led older coding standards to impose a blanket requirement that all base class destructors must be virtual. This is overkill (even if it is the common case); instead, the rule should be to make base class destructors virtual if and only if they are public.

To write a base class is to define an abstraction (see Items 35 through 37). Recall that for each member function participating in that abstraction, you need to decide:

As described in Item 39, for a normal member function, the choice is between allowing it to be called via a pointer to Base nonvirtually (but possibly with virtual behavior if it invokes virtual functions, such as in the NVI or Template Method patterns), virtually, or not at all. The NVI pattern is a technique to avoid public virtual functions.

Destruction can be viewed as just another operation, albeit with special semantics that make nonvirtual calls dangerous or wrong. For a base class destructor, therefore, the choice is between allowing it to be called via a pointer to Base virtually or not at all; “nonvirtually” is not an option. Hence, a base class destructor is virtual if it can be called (i.e., is public), and nonvirtual otherwise.

Note that the NVI pattern cannot be applied to the destructor because constructors and destructors cannot make deep virtual calls. (See Items 39 and 55.)

Corollary: When writing a base class, always write a destructor explicitly, because the implicitly generated one is public and nonvirtual. You can always =default the implementation if the default body is fine and you’re just writing the function to give it the proper visibility and virtuality.

Exception

Some component architectures (e.g., COM and CORBA) don’t use a standard deletion mechanism, and foster different protocols for object disposal. Follow the local patterns and idioms, and adapt this guideline as appropriate.

Consider also this rare case:

Then, even though the destructor has to be public, there can be great pressure to not make it virtual because as the first virtual function it would incur all the run-time type overhead when the added functionality should never be needed.

In this rare case, you could make the destructor public and nonvirtual but clearly document that further-derived objects must not be used polymorphically as B’s. This is what was done with std::unary_function.

In general, however, avoid concrete base classes (see Item 35). For example, unary_function is a bundle-of-typedefs that was never intended to be instantiated standalone. It really makes no sense to give it a public destructor; a better design would be to follow this Item’s advice and give it a protected nonvirtual destructor.

References: [C++CS] Item 50, [Cargill92] pp. 77-79, 207, [Cline99] §21.06, 21.12-13, [Henricson97] pp. 110-114, [Koenig97] Chapters 4, 11, [Meyers97] §14, [Stroustrup00] §12.4.2, [Sutter02] §27, [Sutter04] §18

Discussion: Usage of noexcept

???

Discussion: Destructors, deallocation, and swap must never fail

Never allow an error to be reported from a destructor, a resource deallocation function (e.g., operator delete), or a swap function using throw. It is nearly impossible to write useful code if these operations can fail, and even if something does go wrong it nearly never makes any sense to retry. Specifically, types whose destructors may throw an exception are flatly forbidden from use with the C++ standard library. Most destructors are now implicitly noexcept by default.

Example
class Nefarious {
public:
    Nefarious()  { /* code that could throw */ }   // ok
    ~Nefarious() { /* code that could throw */ }   // BAD, should not throw
    // ...
};
  1. Nefarious objects are hard to use safely even as local variables:

     void test(string& s)
     {
         Nefarious n;          // trouble brewing
         string copy = s;      // copy the string
     } // destroy copy and then n
    

    Here, copying s could throw, and if that throws and if n’s destructor then also throws, the program will exit via std::terminate because two exceptions can’t be propagated simultaneously.

  2. Classes with Nefarious members or bases are also hard to use safely, because their destructors must invoke Nefarious’ destructor, and are similarly poisoned by its poor behavior:

     class Innocent_bystander {
         Nefarious member;     // oops, poisons the enclosing class's destructor
         // ...
     };
    
     void test(string& s)
     {
         Innocent_bystander i; // more trouble brewing
         string copy2 = s;      // copy the string
     } // destroy copy and then i
    

    Here, if constructing copy2 throws, we have the same problem because i’s destructor now also can throw, and if so we’ll invoke std::terminate.

  3. You can’t reliably create global or static Nefarious objects either:

     static Nefarious n;       // oops, any destructor exception can't be caught
    
  4. You can’t reliably create arrays of Nefarious:

     void test()
     {
         std::array<Nefarious, 10> arr; // this line can std::terminate(!)
     }
    

    The behavior of arrays is undefined in the presence of destructors that throw because there is no reasonable rollback behavior that could ever be devised. Just think: What code can the compiler generate for constructing an arr where, if the fourth object’s constructor throws, the code has to give up and in its cleanup mode tries to call the destructors of the already-constructed objects … and one or more of those destructors throws? There is no satisfactory answer.

  5. You can’t use Nefarious objects in standard containers:

     std::vector<Nefarious> vec(10);   // this line can std::terminate()
    

    The standard library forbids all destructors used with it from throwing. You can’t store Nefarious objects in standard containers or use them with any other part of the standard library.

Note

These are key functions that must not fail because they are necessary for the two key operations in transactional programming: to back out work if problems are encountered during processing, and to commit work if no problems occur. If there’s no way to safely back out using no-fail operations, then no-fail rollback is impossible to implement. If there’s no way to safely commit state changes using a no-fail operation (notably, but not limited to, swap), then no-fail commit is impossible to implement.

Consider the following advice and requirements found in the C++ Standard:

If a destructor called during stack unwinding exits with an exception, terminate is called (15.5.1). So destructors should generally catch exceptions and not let them propagate out of the destructor. –[C++03] §15.2(3)

No destructor operation defined in the C++ Standard Library (including the destructor of any type that is used to instantiate a standard library template) will throw an exception. –[C++03] §17.4.4.8(3)

Deallocation functions, including specifically overloaded operator delete and operator delete[], fall into the same category, because they too are used during cleanup in general, and during exception handling in particular, to back out of partial work that needs to be undone. Besides destructors and deallocation functions, common error-safety techniques rely also on swap operations never failing – in this case, not because they are used to implement a guaranteed rollback, but because they are used to implement a guaranteed commit. For example, here is an idiomatic implementation of operator= for a type T that performs copy construction followed by a call to a no-fail swap:

T& T::operator=(const T& other) {
    auto temp = other;
    swap(temp);
}

(See also Item 56. ???)

Fortunately, when releasing a resource, the scope for failure is definitely smaller. If using exceptions as the error reporting mechanism, make sure such functions handle all exceptions and other errors that their internal processing might generate. (For exceptions, simply wrap everything sensitive that your destructor does in a try/catch(...) block.) This is particularly important because a destructor might be called in a crisis situation, such as failure to allocate a system resource (e.g., memory, files, locks, ports, windows, or other system objects).

When using exceptions as your error handling mechanism, always document this behavior by declaring these functions noexcept. (See Item 75.)

References: [C++CS] Item 51; [C++03] §15.2(3), §17.4.4.8(3), [Meyers96] §11, [Stroustrup00] §14.4.7, §E.2-4, [Sutter00] §8, §16, [Sutter02] §18-19

Define Copy, move, and destroy consistently

Reason

???

Note

If you define a copy constructor, you must also define a copy assignment operator.

Note

If you define a move constructor, you must also define a move assignment operator.

Example
class X {
    // ...
public:
    X(const X&) { /* stuff */ }

    // BAD: failed to also define a copy assignment operator

    X(x&&) { /* stuff */ }

    // BAD: failed to also define a move assignment operator
};

X x1;
X x2 = x1; // ok
x2 = x1;   // pitfall: either fails to compile, or does something suspicious

If you define a destructor, you should not use the compiler-generated copy or move operation; you probably need to define or suppress copy and/or move.

class X {
    HANDLE hnd;
    // ...
public:
    ~X() { /* custom stuff, such as closing hnd */ }
    // suspicious: no mention of copying or moving -- what happens to hnd?
};

X x1;
X x2 = x1; // pitfall: either fails to compile, or does something suspicious
x2 = x1;   // pitfall: either fails to compile, or does something suspicious

If you define copying, and any base or member has a type that defines a move operation, you should also define a move operation.

class X {
    string s; // defines more efficient move operations
    // ... other data members ...
public:
    X(const X&) { /* stuff */ }
    X& operator=(const X&) { /* stuff */ }

    // BAD: failed to also define a move construction and move assignment
    // (why wasn't the custom "stuff" repeated here?)
};

X test()
{
    X local;
    // ...
    return local;  // pitfall: will be inefficient and/or do the wrong thing
}

If you define any of the copy constructor, copy assignment operator, or destructor, you probably should define the others.

Note

If you need to define any of these five functions, it means you need it to do more than its default behavior – and the five are asymmetrically interrelated. Here’s how:

In many cases, holding properly encapsulated resources using RAII “owning” objects can eliminate the need to write these operations yourself. (See Item 13.)

Prefer compiler-generated (including =default) special members; only these can be classified as “trivial”, and at least one major standard library vendor heavily optimizes for classes having trivial special members. This is likely to become common practice.

Exceptions: When any of the special functions are declared only to make them nonpublic or virtual, but without special semantics, it doesn’t imply that the others are needed. In rare cases, classes that have members of strange types (such as reference members) are an exception because they have peculiar copy semantics. In a class holding a reference, you likely need to write the copy constructor and the assignment operator, but the default destructor already does the right thing. (Note that using a reference member is almost always wrong.)

References: [C++CS] Item 52; [Cline99] §30.01-14, [Koenig97] §4, [Stroustrup00] §5.5, §10.4, [SuttHysl04b]

Resource management rule summary:

Provide strong resource safety; that is, never leak anything that you think of as a resource

Reason

Prevent leaks. Leaks can lead to performance degradation, mysterious error, system crashes, and security violations.

Alternative formulation: Have every resource represented as an object of some class managing its lifetime.

Example
template<class T>
class Vector {
// ...
private:
    T* elem;   // sz elements on the free store, owned by the class object
    int sz;
};

This class is a resource handle. It manages the lifetime of the Ts. To do so, Vector must define or delete the set of special operations (constructors, a destructor, etc.).

Example
??? "odd" non-memory resource ???
Enforcement

The basic technique for preventing leaks is to have every resource owned by a resource handle with a suitable destructor. A checker can find “naked news”. Given a list of C-style allocation functions (e.g., fopen()), a checker can also find uses that are not managed by a resource handle. In general, “naked pointers” can be viewed with suspicion, flagged, and/or analyzed. A complete list of resources cannot be generated without human input (the definition of “a resource” is necessarily too general), but a tool can be “parameterized” with a resource list.

Never throw while holding a resource not owned by a handle

Reason

That would be a leak.

Example
void f(int i)
{
    FILE* f = fopen("a file", "r");
    ifstream is { "another file" };
    // ...
    if (i == 0) return;
    // ...
    fclose(f);
}

If i == 0 the file handle for a file is leaked. On the other hand, the ifstream for another file will correctly close its file (upon destruction). If you must use an explicit pointer, rather than a resource handle with specific semantics, use a unique_ptr or a shared_ptr with a custom deleter:

void f(int i)
{
    unique_ptr<FILE, int(*)(FILE*)> f(fopen("a file", "r"), fclose);
    // ...
    if (i == 0) return;
    // ...
}

Better:

void f(int i)
{
    ifstream input {"a file"};
    // ...
    if (i == 0) return;
    // ...
}
Enforcement

A checker must consider all “naked pointers” suspicious. A checker probably must rely on a human-provided list of resources. For starters, we know about the standard-library containers, string, and smart pointers. The use of span and string_span should help a lot (they are not resource handles).

A “raw” pointer or reference is never a resource handle

Reason

To be able to distinguish owners from views.

Note

This is independent of how you “spell” pointer: T*, T&, Ptr<T> and Range<T> are not owners.

Never let a pointer outlive the object it points to

Reason

To avoid extremely hard-to-find errors. Dereferencing such a pointer is undefined behavior and could lead to violations of the type system.

Example
string* bad()   // really bad
{
    vector<string> v = { "This", "will", "cause", "trouble", "!" };
    // leaking a pointer into a destroyed member of a destroyed object (v)
    return &v[0];
}

void use()
{
    string* p = bad();
    vector<int> xx = {7, 8, 9};
    // undefined behavior: x may not be the string "This"
    string x = *p;
    // undefined behavior: we don't know what (if anything) is allocated a location p
    *p = "Evil!";
}

The strings of v are destroyed upon exit from bad() and so is v itself. The returned pointer points to unallocated memory on the free store. This memory (pointed into by p) may have been reallocated by the time *p is executed. There may be no string to read and a write through p could easily corrupt objects of unrelated types.

Enforcement

Most compilers already warn about simple cases and has the information to do more. Consider any pointer returned from a function suspect. Use containers, resource handles, and views (e.g., span known not to be resource handles) to lower the number of cases to be examined. For starters, consider every class with a destructor as resource handle.

Use templates to express containers (and other resource handles)

Reason

To provide statically type-safe manipulation of elements.

Example
template<typename T> class Vector {
    // ...
    T* elem;   // point to sz elements of type T
    int sz;
};

Return containers by value (relying on move or copy elision for efficiency)

Reason

To simplify code and eliminate a need for explicit memory management. To bring an object into a surrounding scope, thereby extending its lifetime. See also F.20, the general item about “out” output values.

Example
vector<int> get_large_vector()
{
    return ...;
}

auto v = get_large_vector(); //  return by value is ok, most modern compilers will do copy elision
Exception

See the Exceptions in F.20.

Enforcement

Check for pointers and references returned from functions and see if they are assigned to resource handles (e.g., to a unique_ptr).

If a class is a resource handle, it needs a constructor, a destructor, and copy and/or move operations

Reason

To provide complete control of the lifetime of the resource. To provide a coherent set of operations on the resource.

Example
??? Messing with pointers
Note

If all members are resource handles, rely on the default special operations where possible.

template<typename T> struct Named {
    string name;
    T value;
};

Now Named has a default constructor, a destructor, and efficient copy and move operations, provided T has.

Enforcement

In general, a tool cannot know if a class is a resource handle. However, if a class has some of the default operations, it should have all, and if a class has a member that is a resource handle, it should be considered as resource handle.

If a class is a container, give it an initializer-list constructor

Reason

It is common to need an initial set of elements.

Example
template<typename T> class Vector {
public:
    Vector(std::initializer_list<T>);
    // ...
};

Vector<string> vs { "Nygaard", "Ritchie" };
Enforcement

When is a class a container? ???

Glossary

A relatively informal definition of terms used in the guidelines (based of the glossary in Programming: Principles and Practice using C++)

To-do: Unclassified proto-rules

This is our to-do list. Eventually, the entries will become rules or parts of rules. Alternatively, we will decide that no change is needed and delete the entry. * No long-distance friendship * Should physical design (what’s in a file) and large-scale design (libraries, groups of libraries) be addressed? * Namespaces * Don’t place using directives in headers * Avoid using directives in the global scope (except for std, and other “fundamental” namespaces (e.g. experimental)) * How granular should namespaces be? All classes/functions designed to work together and released together (as defined in Sutter/Alexandrescu) or something narrower or wider? * Should there be inline namespaces (à la std::literals::*_literals)? * Avoid implicit conversions * Const member functions should be thread safe … aka, but I don’t really change the variable, just assign it a value the first time it’s called … argh * Always initialize variables, use initialization lists for member variables. * Anyone writing a public interface which takes or returns void* should have their toes set on fire. That one has been a personal favorite of mine for a number of years. :) * Use const-ness wherever possible: member functions, variables and (yippee) const_iterators * Use auto * (size) vs. {initializers} vs. {Extent{size}} * Don’t overabstract * Never pass a pointer down the call stack * falling through a function bottom * Should there be guidelines to choose between polymorphisms? YES. classic (virtual functions, reference semantics) vs. Sean Parent style (value semantics, type-erased, kind of like std::function) vs. CRTP/static? YES Perhaps even vs. tag dispatch? * Speaking of virtual functions, should non-virtual interface be promoted? YES. (public non-virtual foo() calling private/protected do_foo())? Not a new thing, seeing as locales/streams use it, but it seems to be under-emphasized. * should virtual calls be banned from ctors/dtors in your guidelines? YES. A lot of people ban them, even though I think it’s a big strength of C++ that they are ??? -preserving (D disappointed me so much when it went the Java way). WHAT WOULD BE A GOOD EXAMPLE? * Speaking of lambdas, what would weigh in on the decision between lambdas and (local?) classes in algorithm calls and other callback scenarios? * And speaking of std::bind, Stephen T. Lavavej criticizes it so much I’m starting to wonder if it is indeed going to fade away in future. Should lambdas be recommended instead? * What to do with leaks out of temporaries? : p = (s1 + s2).c_str(); * pointer/iterator invalidation leading to dangling pointers:

    void bad()
    {
        int* p = new int[700];
        int* q = &p[7];
        delete p;

        vector<int> v(700);
        int* q2 = &v[7];
        v.resize(900);

        // ... use q and q2 ...
    }

Bibliography