This page is a snapshot from the LWG issues list, see the Library Active Issues List for more information and the meaning of CD1 status.

226. User supplied specializations or overloads of namespace std function templates

Section: [reserved.names] Status: CD1 Submitter: Dave Abrahams Opened: 2000-04-01 Last modified: 2016-01-28

Priority: Not Prioritized

View all other issues in [reserved.names].

View all issues with CD1 status.


The issues are: 

1. How can a 3rd party library implementor (lib1) write a version of a standard algorithm which is specialized to work with his own class template? 

2. How can another library implementor (lib2) write a generic algorithm which will take advantage of the specialized algorithm in lib1?

This appears to be the only viable answer under current language rules:

namespace lib1
    // arbitrary-precision numbers using T as a basic unit
    template <class T>
    class big_num { //...
    // defining this in namespace std is illegal (it would be an
    // overload), so we hope users will rely on Koenig lookup
    template <class T>
    void swap(big_int<T>&, big_int<T>&);
#include <algorithm>
namespace lib2
    template <class T>
    void generic_sort(T* start, T* end)
        // using-declaration required so we can work on built-in types
        using std::swap;
        // use Koenig lookup to find specialized algorithm if available
        swap(*x, *y);

This answer has some drawbacks. First of all, it makes writing lib2 difficult and somewhat slippery. The implementor needs to remember to write the using-declaration, or generic_sort will fail to compile when T is a built-in type. The second drawback is that the use of this style in lib2 effectively "reserves" names in any namespace which defines types which may eventually be used with lib2. This may seem innocuous at first when applied to names like swap, but consider more ambiguous names like unique_copy() instead. It is easy to imagine the user wanting to define these names differently in his own namespace. A definition with semantics incompatible with the standard library could cause serious problems (see issue 225).

Why, you may ask, can't we just partially specialize std::swap()? It's because the language doesn't allow for partial specialization of function templates. If you write:

namespace std
    template <class T>
    void swap(lib1::big_int<T>&, lib1::big_int<T>&);

You have just overloaded std::swap, which is illegal under the current language rules. On the other hand, the following full specialization is legal:

namespace std
    template <>
    void swap(lib1::other_type&, lib1::other_type&);

This issue reflects concerns raised by the "Namespace issue with specialized swap" thread on comp.lang.c++.moderated. A similar set of concerns was earlier raised on the mailing list and the ACCU-general mailing list. Also see library reflector message c++std-lib-7354.

J. C. van Winkel points out (in c++std-lib-9565) another unexpected fact: it's impossible to output a container of std::pair's using copy and an ostream_iterator, as long as both pair-members are built-in or std:: types. That's because a user-defined operator<< for (for example) std::pair<const std::string, int> will not be found: lookup for operator<< will be performed only in namespace std. Opinions differed on whether or not this was a defect, and, if so, whether the defect is that something is wrong with user-defined functionality and std, or whether it's that the standard library does not provide an operator<< for std::pair<>.

Proposed resolution:

Adopt the wording proposed in Howard Hinnant's paper N1523=03-0106, "Proposed Resolution To LWG issues 225, 226, 229".

[Tokyo: Summary, "There is no conforming way to extend std::swap for user defined templates."  The LWG agrees that there is a problem. Would like more information before proceeding. This may be a core issue. Core issue 229 has been opened to discuss the core aspects of this problem. It was also noted that submissions regarding this issue have been received from several sources, but too late to be integrated into the issues list. ]

[Post-Tokyo: A paper with several proposed resolutions, J16/00-0029==WG21/N1252, "Shades of namespace std functions " by Alan Griffiths, is in the Post-Tokyo mailing. It should be considered a part of this issue.]

[Toronto: Dave Abrahams and Peter Dimov have proposed a resolution that involves core changes: it would add partial specialization of function template. The Core Working Group is reluctant to add partial specialization of function templates. It is viewed as a large change, CWG believes that proposal presented leaves some syntactic issues unanswered; if the CWG does add partial specialization of function templates, it wishes to develop its own proposal. The LWG continues to believe that there is a serious problem: there is no good way for users to force the library to use user specializations of generic standard library functions, and in certain cases (e.g. transcendental functions called by valarray and complex) this is important. Koenig lookup isn't adequate, since names within the library must be qualified with std (see issue 225), specialization doesn't work (we don't have partial specialization of function templates), and users aren't permitted to add overloads within namespace std. ]

[Copenhagen: Discussed at length, with no consensus. Relevant papers in the pre-Copenhagen mailing: N1289, N1295, N1296. Discussion focused on four options. (1) Relax restrictions on overloads within namespace std. (2) Mandate that the standard library use unqualified calls for swap and possibly other functions. (3) Introduce helper class templates for swap and possibly other functions. (4) Introduce partial specialization of function templates. Every option had both support and opposition. Straw poll (first number is support, second is strongly opposed): (1) 6, 4; (2) 6, 7; (3) 3, 8; (4) 4, 4.]

[Redmond: Discussed, again no consensus. Herb presented an argument that a user who is defining a type T with an associated swap should not be expected to put that swap in namespace std, either by overloading or by partial specialization. The argument is that swap is part of T's interface, and thus should to in the same namespace as T and only in that namespace. If we accept this argument, the consequence is that standard library functions should use unqualified call of swap. (And which other functions? Any?) A small group (Nathan, Howard, Jeremy, Dave, Matt, Walter, Marc) will try to put together a proposal before the next meeting.]

[Curaçao: An LWG-subgroup spent an afternoon working on issues 225, 226, and 229. Their conclusion was that the issues should be separated into an LWG portion (Howard's paper, N1387=02-0045), and a EWG portion (Dave will write a proposal). The LWG and EWG had (separate) discussions of this plan the next day. The proposed resolution is the one proposed by Howard.]

[Santa Cruz: the LWG agreed with the general direction of Howard's paper, N1387. (Roughly: Koenig lookup is disabled unless we say otherwise; this issue is about when we do say otherwise.) However, there were concerns about wording. Howard will provide new wording. Bill and Jeremy will review it.]

[Kona: Howard proposed the new wording. The LWG accepted his proposed resolution.]


Informally: introduce a Swappable concept, and specify that the value types of the iterators passed to certain standard algorithms (such as iter_swap, swap_ranges, reverse, rotate, and sort) conform to that concept. The Swappable concept will make it clear that these algorithms use unqualified lookup for the calls to swap. Also, in [valarray.transcend] paragraph 1, state that the valarray transcendentals use unqualified lookup.