Expression Evaluation Order

Let's take a look at how C++ 14 and C++ 17 address Expression Evaluation

We'll cover the following

Expression Evaluation: C++ Older Version

Until C++17 the language hasn’t specified any evaluation order for function parameters. Period.

For example, that’s why in C++14 make_unique is not just syntactic sugar, but it guarantees memory safety.

Let’s have a look at the following example:

foo(unique_ptr<T>(new T), otherFunction()); // first case

And without explicit new:

foo(make_unique<T>(), otherFunction()); // second case

Considering the first case, in C++14, we only know that new T is guaranteed to happen before the unique_ptr construction, but that’s all. For example, new T might be called first, then otherFunction(), and then the constructor unique_ptr is invoked.

For such evaluation order, when otherFunction() throws, then new T generates a leak (as the unique pointer is not yet created).

When you use make_unique, as in the second case, the leak is not possible as you wrap memory allocation and creation of unique pointer in one call.

Expression Evaluation: C++17

C++17 addresses the issue shown in the first case. Now, the evaluation order of function arguments is “practical” and predictable. In our example, the compiler won’t be allowed to call otherFunction() before the expression unique_ptr<T>(new T) is fully evaluated.

In an expression:

f(a, b, c);

The order of evaluation of a, b, c is still unspecified, but any parameter is fully evaluated before the next one is started. It’s especially crucial for complex expressions like this:

f(a(x), b, c(y));

If the compiler chooses to evaluate a(x) first, then it must evaluate x before processing b, c(y) or y.

This guarantee fixes the problem with make_unique vs unique_ptr<T>(new T()). A given function argument must be fully evaluated before other arguments are evaluated.

Let’s take a look at evaluation order in C++ 17 in detail in the next lesson.

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