92. Incomplete Algorithm Requirements

Section: 28 [algorithms] Status: CD1 Submitter: Nico Josuttis Opened: 1998-09-29 Last modified: 2016-02-10

Priority: Not Prioritized

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Discussion:

The standard does not state, how often a function object is copied, called, or the order of calls inside an algorithm. This may lead to surprising/buggy behavior. Consider the following example:

class Nth {    // function object that returns true for the nth element 
  private: 
    int nth;     // element to return true for 
    int count;   // element counter 
  public: 
    Nth (int n) : nth(n), count(0) { 
    } 
    bool operator() (int) { 
        return ++count == nth; 
    } 
}; 
.... 
// remove third element 
    list<int>::iterator pos; 
    pos = remove_if(coll.begin(),coll.end(),  // range 
                    Nth(3)),                  // remove criterion 
    coll.erase(pos,coll.end()); 

This call, in fact removes the 3rd AND the 6th element. This happens because the usual implementation of the algorithm copies the function object internally:

template <class ForwIter, class Predicate> 
ForwIter std::remove_if(ForwIter beg, ForwIter end, Predicate op) 
{ 
    beg = find_if(beg, end, op); 
    if (beg == end) { 
        return beg; 
    } 
    else { 
        ForwIter next = beg; 
        return remove_copy_if(++next, end, beg, op); 
    } 
} 

The algorithm uses find_if() to find the first element that should be removed. However, it then uses a copy of the passed function object to process the resulting elements (if any). Here, Nth is used again and removes also the sixth element. This behavior compromises the advantage of function objects being able to have a state. Without any cost it could be avoided (just implement it directly instead of calling find_if()).

Proposed resolution:

Add a new paragraph following 28 [algorithms] paragraph 8:

[Note: Unless otherwise specified, algorithms that take function objects as arguments are permitted to copy those function objects freely. Programmers for whom object identity is important should consider using a wrapper class that points to a noncopied implementation object, or some equivalent solution.]

[Dublin: Pete Becker felt that this may not be a defect, but rather something that programmers need to be educated about. There was discussion of adding wording to the effect that the number and order of calls to function objects, including predicates, not affect the behavior of the function object.]

[Pre-Kona: Nico comments: It seems the problem is that we don't have a clear statement of "predicate" in the standard. People including me seemed to think "a function returning a Boolean value and being able to be called by an STL algorithm or be used as sorting criterion or ... is a predicate". But a predicate has more requirements: It should never change its behavior due to a call or being copied. IMHO we have to state this in the standard. If you like, see section 8.1.4 of my library book for a detailed discussion.]

[Kona: Nico will provide wording to the effect that "unless otherwise specified, the number of copies of and calls to function objects by algorithms is unspecified".  Consider placing in 28 [algorithms] after paragraph 9.]

[Santa Cruz: The standard doesn't currently guarantee that functions object won't be copied, and what isn't forbidden is allowed. It is believed (especially since implementations that were written in concert with the standard do make copies of function objects) that this was intentional. Thus, no normative change is needed. What we should put in is a non-normative note suggesting to programmers that if they want to guarantee the lack of copying they should use something like the ref wrapper.]

[Oxford: Matt provided wording.]