c++ explain - What does the explicit keyword mean?




implicit constructor (10)

What does the explicit keyword mean in C++?


Answers

The compiler is allowed to make one implicit conversion to resolve the parameters to a function. What this means is that the compiler can use constructors callable with a single parameter to convert from one type to another in order to get the right type for a parameter.

Here's an example class with a constructor that can be used for implicit conversions:

class Foo
{
public:
  // single parameter constructor, can be used as an implicit conversion
  Foo (int foo) : m_foo (foo) 
  {
  }

  int GetFoo () { return m_foo; }

private:
  int m_foo;
};

Here's a simple function that takes a Foo object:

void DoBar (Foo foo)
{
  int i = foo.GetFoo ();
}

and here's where the DoBar function is called.

int main ()
{
  DoBar (42);
}

The argument is not a Foo object, but an int. However, there exists a constructor for Foo that takes an int so this constructor can be used to convert the parameter to the correct type.

The compiler is allowed to do this once for each parameter.

Prefixing the explicit keyword to the constructor prevents the compiler from using that constructor for implicit conversions. Adding it to the above class will create a compiler error at the function call DoBar (42). It is now necessary to call for conversion explicitly with DoBar (Foo (42))

The reason you might want to do this is to avoid accidental construction that can hide bugs. Contrived example:

  • You have a MyString(int size) class with a constructor that constructs a string of the given size. You have a function print(const MyString&), and you call print(3) (when you actually intended to call print("3")). You expect it to print "3", but it prints an empty string of length 3 instead.

The explicit-keyword can be used to enforce a constructor to be called explicitly.

class C{
public:
    explicit C(void) = default;
};

int main(void){
    C c();
    return 0;
}

the explicit-keyword in front of the constructor C(void) tells the compiler that only explicit call to this constructor is allowed.

The explicit-keyword can also be used in user-defined type cast operators:

class C{
public:
    explicit inline operator bool(void) const{
        return true;
    }
};

int main(void){
    C c;
    bool b = static_cast<bool>(c);
    return 0;
}

Here, explicit-keyword enforces only explicit casts to be valid, so bool b = c; would be an invalid cast in this case. In situations like these explicit-keyword can help programmer to avoid implicit, unintended casts. This usage has been standardized in C++11.


This has already been discussed (what is explicit constructor). But I must say, that it lacks the detailed descriptions found here.

Besides, it is always a good coding practice to make your one argument constructors (including those with default values for arg2,arg3,...) as already stated. Like always with C++: if you don't - you'll wish you did...

Another good practice for classes is to make copy construction and assignment private (a.k.a. disable it) unless you really need to implement it. This avoids having eventual copies of pointers when using the methods that C++ will create for you by default. An other way to do this is derive from boost::noncopyable.


Cpp Reference is always helpful!!! Details about explicit specifier can be found here. You may need to look at implicit conversions and copy-initialization too.

Quick look

The explicit specifier specifies that a constructor or conversion function (since C++11) doesn't allow implicit conversions or copy-initialization.

Example as follows:

struct A
{
    A(int) { }      // converting constructor
    A(int, int) { } // converting constructor (C++11)
    operator bool() const { return true; }
};

struct B
{
    explicit B(int) { }
    explicit B(int, int) { }
    explicit operator bool() const { return true; }
};

int main()
{
    A a1 = 1;      // OK: copy-initialization selects A::A(int)
    A a2(2);       // OK: direct-initialization selects A::A(int)
    A a3 {4, 5};   // OK: direct-list-initialization selects A::A(int, int)
    A a4 = {4, 5}; // OK: copy-list-initialization selects A::A(int, int)
    A a5 = (A)1;   // OK: explicit cast performs static_cast
    if (a1) cout << "true" << endl; // OK: A::operator bool()
    bool na1 = a1; // OK: copy-initialization selects A::operator bool()
    bool na2 = static_cast<bool>(a1); // OK: static_cast performs direct-initialization

//  B b1 = 1;      // error: copy-initialization does not consider B::B(int)
    B b2(2);       // OK: direct-initialization selects B::B(int)
    B b3 {4, 5};   // OK: direct-list-initialization selects B::B(int, int)
//  B b4 = {4, 5}; // error: copy-list-initialization does not consider B::B(int,int)
    B b5 = (B)1;   // OK: explicit cast performs static_cast
    if (b5) cout << "true" << endl; // OK: B::operator bool()
//  bool nb1 = b2; // error: copy-initialization does not consider B::operator bool()
    bool nb2 = static_cast<bool>(b2); // OK: static_cast performs direct-initialization
}

Explicit conversion constructors (C++ only)

The explicit function specifier controls unwanted implicit type conversions. It can only be used in declarations of constructors within a class declaration. For example, except for the default constructor, the constructors in the following class are conversion constructors.

class A
{
public:
    A();
    A(int);
    A(const char*, int = 0);
};

The following declarations are legal:

A c = 1;
A d = "Venditti";

The first declaration is equivalent to A c = A( 1 );.

If you declare the constructor of the class as explicit, the previous declarations would be illegal.

For example, if you declare the class as:

class A
{
public:
    explicit A();
    explicit A(int);
    explicit A(const char*, int = 0);
};

You can only assign values that match the values of the class type.

For example, the following statements are legal:

  A a1;
  A a2 = A(1);
  A a3(1);
  A a4 = A("Venditti");
  A* p = new A(1);
  A a5 = (A)1;
  A a6 = static_cast<A>(1);

The explicit keyword makes a conversion constructor to non-conversion constructor. As a result, the code is less error prone.


In C++, a constructor with only one required parameter is considered an implicit conversion function. It converts the parameter type to the class type. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on the semantics of the constructor.

For example, if you have a string class with constructor String(const char* s), that's probably exactly what you want. You can pass a const char* to a function expecting a String, and the compiler will automatically construct a temporary String object for you.

On the other hand, if you have a buffer class whose constructor Buffer(int size) takes the size of the buffer in bytes, you probably don't want the compiler to quietly turn ints into Buffers. To prevent that, you declare the constructor with the explicit keyword:

class Buffer { explicit Buffer(int size); ... }

That way,

void useBuffer(Buffer& buf);
useBuffer(4);

becomes a compile-time error. If you want to pass a temporary Buffer object, you have to do so explicitly:

useBuffer(Buffer(4));

In summary, if your single-parameter constructor converts the parameter into an object of your class, you probably don't want to use the explicit keyword. But if you have a constructor that simply happens to take a single parameter, you should declare it as explicit to prevent the compiler from surprising you with unexpected conversions.


Suppose, you have a class String:

class String {
public:
    String(int n); // allocate n bytes to the String object
    String(const char *p); // initializes object with char *p
};

Now, if you try:

String mystring = 'x';

The character 'x' will be implicitly converted to int and then the String(int) constructor will be called. But, this is not what the user might have intended. So, to prevent such conditions, we shall define the constructor as explicit:

class String {
public:
    explicit String (int n); //allocate n bytes
    String(const char *p); // initialize sobject with string p
};

This answer is about object creation with/without an explicit constructor since it is not covered in the other answers.

Consider the following class without an explicit constructor:

class Foo
{
public:
    Foo(int x) : m_x(x)
    {
    }

private:
    int m_x;
};

Objects of class Foo can be created in 2 ways:

Foo bar1(10);

Foo bar2 = 20;

Depending upon the implementation, the second manner of instantiating class Foo may be confusing, or not what the programmer intended. Prefixing the explicit keyword to the constructor would generate a compiler error at Foo bar2 = 20;.

It is usually good practice to declare single-argument constructors as explicit, unless your implementation specifically prohibits it.

Note also that constructors with

  • default arguments for all parameters, or
  • default arguments for the second parameter onwards

can both be used as single-argument constructors. So you may want to make these also explicit.

An example when you would deliberately not want to make your single-argument constructor explicit is if you're creating a functor (look at the 'add_x' struct declared in this answer). In such a case, creating an object as add_x add30 = 30; would probably make sense.

Here is a good write-up on explicit constructors.


Beginner

Introductory, no previous programming experience

  • C++ Primer * (Stanley Lippman, Josée Lajoie, and Barbara E. Moo) (updated for C++11) Coming at 1k pages, this is a very thorough introduction into C++ that covers just about everything in the language in a very accessible format and in great detail. The fifth edition (released August 16, 2012) covers C++11. [Review]

  • Programming: Principles and Practice Using C++ (Bjarne Stroustrup, 2nd Edition - May 25, 2014) (updated for C++11/C++14) An introduction to programming using C++ by the creator of the language. A good read, that assumes no previous programming experience, but is not only for beginners.

* Not to be confused with C++ Primer Plus (Stephen Prata), with a significantly less favorable review.

Introductory, with previous programming experience

  • A Tour of C++ (Bjarne Stroustrup) (2nd edition for C++17) The “tour” is a quick (about 180 pages and 14 chapters) tutorial overview of all of standard C++ (language and standard library, and using C++11) at a moderately high level for people who already know C++ or at least are experienced programmers. This book is an extended version of the material that constitutes Chapters 2-5 of The C++ Programming Language, 4th edition.

  • Accelerated C++ (Andrew Koenig and Barbara Moo, 1st Edition - August 24, 2000) This basically covers the same ground as the C++ Primer, but does so on a fourth of its space. This is largely because it does not attempt to be an introduction to programming, but an introduction to C++ for people who've previously programmed in some other language. It has a steeper learning curve, but, for those who can cope with this, it is a very compact introduction to the language. (Historically, it broke new ground by being the first beginner's book to use a modern approach to teaching the language.) Despite this, the C++ it teaches is purely C++98. [Review]

Best practices

  • Effective C++ (Scott Meyers, 3rd Edition - May 22, 2005) This was written with the aim of being the best second book C++ programmers should read, and it succeeded. Earlier editions were aimed at programmers coming from C, the third edition changes this and targets programmers coming from languages like Java. It presents ~50 easy-to-remember rules of thumb along with their rationale in a very accessible (and enjoyable) style. For C++11 and C++14 the examples and a few issues are outdated and Effective Modern C++ should be preferred. [Review]

  • Effective Modern C++ (Scott Meyers) This is basically the new version of Effective C++, aimed at C++ programmers making the transition from C++03 to C++11 and C++14.

  • Effective STL (Scott Meyers) This aims to do the same to the part of the standard library coming from the STL what Effective C++ did to the language as a whole: It presents rules of thumb along with their rationale. [Review]

Intermediate

  • More Effective C++ (Scott Meyers) Even more rules of thumb than Effective C++. Not as important as the ones in the first book, but still good to know.

  • Exceptional C++ (Herb Sutter) Presented as a set of puzzles, this has one of the best and thorough discussions of the proper resource management and exception safety in C++ through Resource Acquisition is Initialization (RAII) in addition to in-depth coverage of a variety of other topics including the pimpl idiom, name lookup, good class design, and the C++ memory model. [Review]

  • More Exceptional C++ (Herb Sutter) Covers additional exception safety topics not covered in Exceptional C++, in addition to discussion of effective object-oriented programming in C++ and correct use of the STL. [Review]

  • Exceptional C++ Style (Herb Sutter) Discusses generic programming, optimization, and resource management; this book also has an excellent exposition of how to write modular code in C++ by using non-member functions and the single responsibility principle. [Review]

  • C++ Coding Standards (Herb Sutter and Andrei Alexandrescu) “Coding standards” here doesn't mean “how many spaces should I indent my code?” This book contains 101 best practices, idioms, and common pitfalls that can help you to write correct, understandable, and efficient C++ code. [Review]

  • C++ Templates: The Complete Guide (David Vandevoorde and Nicolai M. Josuttis) This is the book about templates as they existed before C++11. It covers everything from the very basics to some of the most advanced template metaprogramming and explains every detail of how templates work (both conceptually and at how they are implemented) and discusses many common pitfalls. Has excellent summaries of the One Definition Rule (ODR) and overload resolution in the appendices. A second edition covering C++11, C++14 and C++17 has been already published . [Review]


Advanced

  • Modern C++ Design (Andrei Alexandrescu) A groundbreaking book on advanced generic programming techniques. Introduces policy-based design, type lists, and fundamental generic programming idioms then explains how many useful design patterns (including small object allocators, functors, factories, visitors, and multi-methods) can be implemented efficiently, modularly, and cleanly using generic programming. [Review]

  • C++ Template Metaprogramming (David Abrahams and Aleksey Gurtovoy)

  • C++ Concurrency In Action (Anthony Williams) A book covering C++11 concurrency support including the thread library, the atomics library, the C++ memory model, locks and mutexes, as well as issues of designing and debugging multithreaded applications.

  • Advanced C++ Metaprogramming (Davide Di Gennaro) A pre-C++11 manual of TMP techniques, focused more on practice than theory. There are a ton of snippets in this book, some of which are made obsolete by type traits, but the techniques, are nonetheless useful to know. If you can put up with the quirky formatting/editing, it is easier to read than Alexandrescu, and arguably, more rewarding. For more experienced developers, there is a good chance that you may pick up something about a dark corner of C++ (a quirk) that usually only comes about through extensive experience.


Reference Style - All Levels

  • The C++ Programming Language (Bjarne Stroustrup) (updated for C++11) The classic introduction to C++ by its creator. Written to parallel the classic K&R, this indeed reads very much like it and covers just about everything from the core language to the standard library, to programming paradigms to the language's philosophy. [Review] Note: All releases of the C++ standard are tracked in this question: Where do I find the current C++ standard.

  • C++ Standard Library Tutorial and Reference (Nicolai Josuttis) (updated for C++11) The introduction and reference for the C++ Standard Library. The second edition (released on April 9, 2012) covers C++11. [Review]

  • The C++ IO Streams and Locales (Angelika Langer and Klaus Kreft) There's very little to say about this book except that, if you want to know anything about streams and locales, then this is the one place to find definitive answers. [Review]

C++11/14/17/… References:

  • The C++11/14/17 Standard (INCITS/ISO/IEC 14882:2011/2014/2017) This, of course, is the final arbiter of all that is or isn't C++. Be aware, however, that it is intended purely as a reference for experienced users willing to devote considerable time and effort to its understanding. The C++17 standard is released in electronic form for 198 Swiss Francs.

  • The C++17 standard is available, but seemingly not in an economical form – directly from the ISO it costs 198 Swiss Francs (about $200 US). For most people, the final draft before standardization is more than adequate (and free). Many will prefer an even newer draft, documenting new features that are likely to be included in C++20.

  • Overview of the New C++ (C++11/14) (PDF only) (Scott Meyers) (updated for C++1y/C++14) These are the presentation materials (slides and some lecture notes) of a three-day training course offered by Scott Meyers, who's a highly respected author on C++. Even though the list of items is short, the quality is high.

  • The C++ Core Guidelines (C++11/14/17/…) (edited by Bjarne Stroustrup and Herb Sutter) is an evolving online document consisting of a set of guidelines for using modern C++ well. The guidelines are focused on relatively higher-level issues, such as interfaces, resource management, memory management and concurrency affecting application architecture and library design. The project was announced at CppCon'15 by Bjarne Stroustrup and others and welcomes contributions from the community. Most guidelines are supplemented with a rationale and examples as well as discussions of possible tool support. Many rules are designed specifically to be automatically checkable by static analysis tools.

  • The C++ Super-FAQ (Marshall Cline, Bjarne Stroustrup and others) is an effort by the Standard C++ Foundation to unify the C++ FAQs previously maintained individually by Marshall Cline and Bjarne Stroustrup and also incorporating new contributions. The items mostly address issues at an intermediate level and are often written with a humorous tone. Not all items might be fully up to date with the latest edition of the C++ standard yet.

  • cppreference.com (C++03/11/14/17/…) (initiated by Nate Kohl) is a wiki that summarizes the basic core-language features and has extensive documentation of the C++ standard library. The documentation is very precise but is easier to read than the official standard document and provides better navigation due to its wiki nature. The project documents all versions of the C++ standard and the site allows filtering the display for a specific version. The project was presented by Nate Kohl at CppCon'14.


Classics / Older

Note: Some information contained within these books may not be up-to-date or no longer considered best practice.

  • The Design and Evolution of C++ (Bjarne Stroustrup) If you want to know why the language is the way it is, this book is where you find answers. This covers everything before the standardization of C++.

  • Ruminations on C++ - (Andrew Koenig and Barbara Moo) [Review]

  • Advanced C++ Programming Styles and Idioms (James Coplien) A predecessor of the pattern movement, it describes many C++-specific “idioms”. It's certainly a very good book and might still be worth a read if you can spare the time, but quite old and not up-to-date with current C++.

  • Large Scale C++ Software Design (John Lakos) Lakos explains techniques to manage very big C++ software projects. Certainly, a good read, if it only was up to date. It was written long before C++ 98 and misses on many features (e.g. namespaces) important for large-scale projects. If you need to work in a big C++ software project, you might want to read it, although you need to take more than a grain of salt with it. The first volume of a new edition is expected in 2018.

  • Inside the C++ Object Model (Stanley Lippman) If you want to know how virtual member functions are commonly implemented and how base objects are commonly laid out in memory in a multi-inheritance scenario, and how all this affects performance, this is where you will find thorough discussions of such topics.

  • The Annotated C++ Reference Manual (Bjarne Stroustrup, Margaret A. Ellis) This book is quite outdated in the fact that it explores the 1989 C++ 2.0 version - Templates, exceptions, namespaces and new casts were not yet introduced. Saying that however, this book goes through the entire C++ standard of the time explaining the rationale, the possible implementations, and features of the language. This is not a book to learn programming principles and patterns on C++, but to understand every aspect of the C++ language.

  • Thinking in C++ (Bruce Eckel, 2nd Edition, 2000). Two volumes; is a tutorial style free set of intro level books. Downloads: vol 1, vol 2. Unfortunately they’re marred by a number of trivial errors (e.g. maintaining that temporaries are automatically const), with no official errata list. A partial 3rd party errata list is available at (http://www.computersciencelab.com/Eckel.htm), but it’s apparently not maintained.

  • Scientific and Engineering C++: An Introduction to Advanced Techniques and Examples (John Barton and Lee Nackman) It is a comprehensive and very detailed book that tried to explain and make use of all the features available in C++, in the context of numerical methods. It introduced at the time several new techniques, such as the Curiously Recurring Template Pattern (CRTP, also called Barton-Nackman trick). It pioneered several techniques such as dimensional analysis and automatic differentiation. It came with a lot of compilable and useful code, ranging from an expression parser to a Lapack wrapper. The code is still available here: http://www.informit.com/store/scientific-and-engineering-c-plus-plus-an-introduction-9780201533934. Unfortunately, the books have become somewhat outdated in the style and C++ features, however, it was an incredible tour-de-force at the time (1994, pre-STL). The chapters on dynamics inheritance are a bit complicated to understand and not very useful. An updated version of this classic book that includes move semantics and the lessons learned from the STL would be very nice.





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