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501. Proposal: strengthen guarantees of lib.comparisons

Section: 99 [depr.base] Status: NAD Submitter: Me <> Opened: 2005-06-07 Last modified: 2016-01-28

Priority: Not Prioritized

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"For templates greater, less, greater_equal, and less_equal, the specializations for any pointer type yield a total order, even if the built-in operators <, >, <=, >= do not."

The standard should do much better than guarantee that these provide a total order, it should guarantee that it can be used to test if memory overlaps, i.e. write a portable memmove. You can imagine a platform where the built-in operators use a uint32_t comparison (this tests for overlap on this platform) but the less<T*> functor is allowed to be defined to use a int32_t comparison. On this platform, if you use std::less with the intent of making a portable memmove, comparison on an array that straddles the 0x7FFFFFFF/0x8000000 boundary can give incorrect results.

Proposed resolution:

Add a footnote to 20.5.3/8 saying:

Given a p1 and p2 such that p1 points to N objects of type T and p2 points to M objects of type T. If [p1,p1+N) does not overlap [p2,p2+M), less returns the same value when comparing all pointers in [p1,p1+N) to all pointers in [p2,p2+M). Otherwise, there is a value Q and a value R such that less returns the same value when comparing all pointers in [p1,p1+Q) to all pointers in [p2,p2+R) and an opposite value when comparing all pointers in [p1+Q,p1+N) to all pointers in [p2+R,p2+M). For the sake of completeness, the null pointer value (4.10) for T is considered to be an array of 1 object that doesn't overlap with any non-null pointer to T. less_equal, greater, greater_equal, equal_to, and not_equal_to give the expected results based on the total ordering semantics of less. For T of void, treat it as having similar semantics as T of char i.e. less<cv T*>(a, b) gives the same results as less<cv void*>(a, b) which gives the same results as less<cv char*>((cv char*)(cv void*)a, (cv char*)(cv void*)b).

I'm also thinking there should be a footnote to 20.5.3/1 saying that if A and B are similar types (4.4/4), comp<A>(a,b) returns the same value as comp<B>(a,b) (where comp is less, less_equal, etc.). But this might be problematic if there is some really funky operator overloading going on that does different things based on cv (that should be undefined behavior if somebody does that though). This at least should be guaranteed for all POD types (especially pointers) that use the built-in comparison operators.


less is already required to provide a strict weak ordering which is good enough to detect overlapping memory situations.