compile-time iteration with C++20 lambdas

16 april 2018

In one of my previous articles, “compile-time repeat & noexcept-correctness”, I have covered the design and implementation of a simple repeat<n>(f) function that, when invoked, expands to n calls to f during compilation. E.g.

repeat<4>([]{ std::cout << "hello\n"; });

…is roughly equivalent to…

[]{ std::cout << "hello\n"; }();
[]{ std::cout << "hello\n"; }();
[]{ std::cout << "hello\n"; }();
[]{ std::cout << "hello\n"; }();

If you squint, this is a very limited form of compile-time iteration. When writing generic code, I’ve often needed similar constructs in order to express the following actions:

  • iterate over a compile-time list of types Ts...;

  • iterate over a compile-time list of values Xs...;

  • iterate over a compile-time integral range [B, E);

  • enumerate a compile-time list of types Ts... (i.e. iteration alongside an index).

In this article I’m going to show you how to implement the above constructs, relying on a new nifty addition to C++20 lambdas: P0428: “Familiar template syntax for generic lambdas”, by Louis Dionne.

This feature is currently available in g++ 8.x.

familiar template syntax

Here’s an example of a C++20 generic lambda, taking a single template parameter T and accepting an std::vector<T>:

auto print_vector = []<typename T>(const std::vector<T>& v)
    for(const auto& x : v) { std::cout << x; }

print_vector(std::vector{0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5});

This roughly desugars to the following anonymous closure type:

struct /* print_vector */
    template <typename T>
    auto operator()(const std::vector<T>& v) const
        for(const auto& x : v) { std::cout << x; }

Compared to a C++14 generic lambda, this feature allows users to easily:

  • constrain generic lambdas to any instantiation of a particular class;

  • “match” a template parameter (or parameter pack) without having to introduce an additional function.

The second point is particularly useful when dealing with type lists and utilities such as std::index_sequence.

Another interesting thing that can be done on both C++14 and C++17 generic lambdas is directly calling operator() by explicitly passing a template parameter:

  • C++14:

    auto l = [](auto){ };
    l.template operator()<int>(0);
  • C++20:

    auto l = []<typename T>(){ };
    l.template operator()<int>();

The C++14 example above is quite useless: there’s no way of referring to the type provided to operator() in the body of the lambda without giving the argument a name and using decltype. Additionally, we’re forced to pass an argument even though we might not need it.

The C++20 example shows how T is easily accessible in the body of the lambda and that a nullary lambda can now be arbitrarily templatized. This is going to be very useful for the implementation of the aforementioned compile-time constructs.

iteration over a type list

The first construct we’re going to implement is a simple “loop” over a list of user-provided types. Here’s a usage example:

for_types<int, float, char>([]<typename T>()
    std::cout << typeid(T).name();

The code above prints "ifc". I like to read it as: “for the types int, float, and char, please execute the following action”. (The “please” is not mandatory.)

The implementation of for_types is as follows:

template <typename... Ts, typename F>
constexpr void for_types(F&& f)
    (f.template operator()<Ts>(), ...);

The body of for_types is a C++17 fold expression over the comma operator invoking F::operator()<T> for each T in Ts.... Some other interesting details:

  • the Ts... parameter pack cannot be deduced, and is explicitly provided by the user;

  • F is deduced;

  • the closure is taken as a forwarding reference, in order to accept non-const temporaries (e.g. mutable lambdas);

  • f is not perfectly-forwarded inside the body of the function as it could be invoked multiple times;

  • for_types is marked as constexpr even though it returns void - this allows it to be used inside constexpr functions. E.g.

    constexpr int bar()
        int r = 0;
        for_types<int, char>([&]<typename T>(){ r += sizeof(T); });
        return r;

for_types is useful in various scenarios - as an example, imagine unit testing a component or a function over a set of fixed types, or checking if an std::any instance contains one of a set of given types.

iteration over a compile-time list of values

Let’s begin with a usage example:

for_values<2, 8, 16>([]<auto X>()
    std::array<int, X> a;

This is another useful construct that allows “compile-time iteration” over a set of values, which can be used as part of constant expressions. The implementation is almost identical to for_types, but we’re using auto... instead of typename...:

template <auto... Xs, typename F>
constexpr void for_values(F&& f)
    (f.template operator()<Xs>(), ...);

auto as a non-type template parameter was introduced in C++17 thanks to P0127: “Declaring non-type template parameters with auto, by James Touton and Mike Spertus.

iteration over a range

As always, let’s start with a usage example:

for_range<(-5), 5>([]<auto X>()
    std::cout << X << ' ';


-5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4

The implementation is quite interesting, and depends on for_values:

template <auto B, auto E, typename F>
constexpr void for_range(F&& f)
    using t = std::common_type_t<decltype(B), decltype(E)>;

    [&f]<auto... Xs>(std::integer_sequence<t, Xs...>)
        for_values<(B + Xs)...>(f);
    (std::make_integer_sequence<t, E - B>{});
  • Firstly, for_range takes a [B, E) range via auto non-type template parameters. The common type between those is computed and aliased as t;

  • a std::integer_sequence of t values from 0 to E - B is created with:

    std::make_integer_sequence<t, E - B>{}
  • the sequence is used to invoke a C++20 generic lambda which takes auto... Xs as a non-type template parameter pack. The values of Xs... are deduced by “matching” them from the std::integer_sequence argument;

  • finally, the body of the lambda invokes for_values<(B + Xs)...>(f), which expands to an invocation of f for every value in the [B, E) range.

The implementation of for_range is a compelling example of how C++20 generic lambdas can make it really easy to create and use a std::integer_sequence<T, Xs...> on the spot, without having to invoke a separate implementation function just to “match” Xs....

enumeration of a list of types

This construct is useful when you want to iterate over a list of types at compile-time, while also keeping track of the current iteration index as a constant expression. I used this in my experimental library orizzonte to implement when_all and when_any abstractions for the composition of asynchronous future graphs.

Usage example:

enumerate_types<int, float, char>([]<typename T, auto I>()
    std::cout << I << ": " << typeid(T).name() << '\n';

This prints out:

0: i

1: f

2: c

The idea is as follows: we’ll accept a template parameter pack Ts... containing the types from the user, and then generate an index pack of equal length using std::index_sequence_for. Finally, both packs will be expanded at the same time with a fold expression.

template <typename... Ts, typename F>
constexpr void enumerate_types(F&& f)
    [&f]<auto... Is>(std::index_sequence<Is...>)
        (f.template operator()<Ts, Is>(), ...);

As with for_range, a C++20 generic lambda is being used to create and consume a std::index_sequence on the spot.


The new “familiar template syntax” for lambdas introduced in C++20 makes constructs such as for_types and for_range viable and way more readable compared to C++17 alternatives.

Being able to expand a sequence on the spot without having to create an extra detail function is also a great advantage brought from this new feature.

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