Placeholder Syntax

Let's learn about placeholder syntax in this lesson.

With auto, C++11 has unconstrained placeholders. We can use concepts in C++20 as constrained placeholders. Decisive quantum leap does not look so thrilling at the first glimpse. C++ templates will become easy to use C++ features.

According to our definition, C++98 is not a consistent language. By consistent, we mean that you have to apply a few rules to derived C++ syntax from it. C++11 is something in between. For example, we have consistent rules like initializing all with curly braces (see { } - Initialization). Of course, even C++14 has a lot of features where we miss a consistent principle. One of the favorites is the generalized lambda function.

Placeholder Syntax: auto

auto genLambdaFunction= [](auto a, auto b) { 
   return a < b;

template <typename T, typename T2>    // 3
auto genFunction(T a, T2 b){          // 4
   return a < b; 

Inconsistency in C++14

By using the placeholder auto for the parameter a and b, the generalized lambda function becomes - in a magic way - a function template. We know, genLambdaFunction is a function object that has an overloaded call operator which accepts two type parameters. The genFunction is also a function template. But wouldn’t it be nice to define a function template by just using auto in a function definition? This would be consistent but is not possible. Hence, we have to use a lot more syntax (line 3 and 4). That syntax is often too difficult for a lot of C++ programmer.

Exactly that inconsistency will be removed with the placeholder syntax. Therefore, we have a new simple principle and C++ will become - according to my definition - a lot easier to use.

Generic Lambdas introduced a new way to define templates.

Constrained and Unconstrained Placeholders

We will get unconstrained and constrained placeholders. auto is an unconstrained placeholder because a with auto defined variable can be of any type. A concept is a constrained placeholder because it can only be used to define a variable that satisfies the concept.

General Rule: Constrained Concepts can be used where unconstrained templates (auto) are usable.

Let’s define and use a simple concept before we dig into the details.


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