Quick Q: What are template deduction guides in C++17?

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Quick A: A solution for automatic template resolution on constructors.

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What are template deduction guides in C++17?

Template deduction guides are patterns associated with a template class that tell the compiler how to translate a set of parameter (and their types) into template arguments.

The simplest example is that of std::vector and its constructor that takes an iterator pair.

template<typename Iterator>
void func(Iterator first, Iterator last)
{
  vector v(first, last);
}

The compiler needs to figure out what vector<T>'s T type will be. We know what the answer is; T should be typename std::iterator_traits<Iterator>::value_type. But how do we tell the compiler without having to type vector<typename std::iterator_traits<Iterator>::value_type>?

You use a deduction guide:

template<typename Iterator> vector(Iterator b, Iterator e) -> vector<typename std::iterator_traits<Iterator>::value_type>;

This tells the compiler that, when you call a vector constructor matching that pattern, it will deduce the vector specialization using the code on the right of ->.

You need guides when the deduction of the type from the arguments is not based on the type of one of those arguments. Initializing a vector from an initializer_list explicitly uses the vector's T, so it doesn't need a guide.

The left side doesn't necessarily specify a constructor. The way it works is that, if you use template constructor deduction on a type, it matches the arguments you pass against all deduction guides (actual constructors provide implicit guides). If there is a match, it uses that to determine which template arguments to provide to the type. But overload resolution to determine which constructor to call happens after that.

This also means that you can use guides with aggregates and aggregate initialization:

template<typename T>
struct Thingy
{
  T t;
};

Thingy(const char *) -> Thingy<std::string>;

Thingy thing{"A String"}; //thing.t is a `std::string`.

So deduction guides are only used to figure out the type being initialized. The actual process of initialization works exactly as it did before, once that determination has been made.

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