June 16, 2020

Non-terminal variadic template parameters

A few months ago I presented a few features that I hope will be considered for C++23. I have since then submitted papers for multi-dimensional subscript expressions and ’_` as a variable placeholder.

In this article I want to talk about another improvement I would like to see in the next C++ version: Non-trailing variadic template parameters.

Indeed, while parameter packs can appear before the last function parameter, they do not get properly deduced when they do.

template <typename... A, typename B>
void f(A...a, B b); // OK

f(0); // Compiler is confused

Note that, they can appear in a different order in the template head, that’s perfectly fine:

template <typename B, typename... A> // OK
template <typename... A, typename B> // also OK

Unfortunately, this limitation is an issue in many instances.

For example, many people are surprised that std::visit accept the visitor argument first, and this is because it accepts a variadic number of variants:

template <class Visitor, class... Variants>
constexpr auto visit( Visitor&& vis, Variants&&... vars );

The following would make a better interface (easier to read, symmetric with std::transform, etc) but would not be viable because of the current deduction rules.

constexpr auto visit(Variants&&... vars, Visitor&& vis);


In C++20, we added source_location, such that source_location::current() returns the location (filename, line number etc) of where that call is made.

Typically, you would use it as default parameter of a log function:

void log(std::string view, std::source_location loc = std::source_location::current());

But what if your log function accepts a variadic number of arguments? For example, spdlog uses fmt, such that its log function looks like this:

void log(std::string view, auto... args);
log("Hello {}", "World");

We would probably want to write it as follow, but we can’t

void log(std::string_view, auto... args,
         std::source_location loc = std::source_location::current());

A clever stackoverflow contributor suggested that it can be achieved through deduction guide as follow:

template <typename... T>
struct log {
    log(std::string_view, T&&...,
        std::source_location loc = std::source_location::current());

template <typename... T>
log(std::string_view, T&&...) -> log<T...>;

This works by avoiding having trailing default parameters during the initial overload resolution of the call to log. It is, however, still the object of an active issue, but all compilers seem to accept that code.


A while back I wanted to use std::apply, but I needed to handle the last tuple element differently from the rest, which is a common pattern. Here is what I came up with.

template <class F, class Tuple>
constexpr decltype(auto) apply_last(F &&f, const Tuple &t) {
    return [&]<auto... I>(std::index_sequence<I...>) {
        return f(std::get<std::tuple_size_v<std::remove_reference_t<Tuple>> - 1>(t),
    }(std::make_index_sequence<std::tuple_size_v<std::remove_cvref_t<Tuple>> -1>{});

void f() {
    apply_last([](auto && last, auto&&... first) {
        assert(last == 3);
    }, std::tuple{1, 2, 3});

There is some amount of complexity here. Most notably, the last parameter appears first on the lambda, on the caller side.

It would be a lot more intuitive to be able to write:

#include <tuple>
#include <cassert>
#include <utility>
void f() {
    std::apply([](auto&&..., auto && last) {
        assert(last == 3);
    }, std::tuple{1, 2, 3});

And you can click the compiler explorer icon to test this experimental code!

In fact this feature was already proposed in 2016 in P0478R0 by Sy Brand, Bruno Manganelli and Michael Wong. Bruno Manganelli is notably responsible for the clang implementation. I merely did the not-so-fun work of porting it from clang 7 to clang 11, so that we can all play with it.

When it was first presented, WG21 felt the motivation wasn’t strong enough. I think there is more motivation now, and with the help of the original authors, I am hoping we can present that paper again. I expect the wording will be challenging though.

But frankly, given that their appearance is legal and it falls on its head during argument type deduction, and given the implementation divergence between GCC and MSVC, I am enclined to think this is a bug fix as much as it is a feature.

How does it work?

It is hard to argue that overloading rules in C++ are not complicated. But, in theory that feature is actually quite intuitive

lets say you have

f(auto a, auto... b, auto c, auto d);
f(1, 2, 3, 4, 5);

We know that we have 5 arguments and f has 3 non-variadic parameters (a, c and d).

So for the call to f to be valid, we can synthesize the following overload

f(auto a, auto b1, auto b2, auto c, auto d);

After that argument type resolution and overload resolution applies as it would to any non-variadic function.

The story is a bit less clear cut when there are default arguments. Our implementation will eagerly make the pack as large as possible

f(auto a, auto... b, auto c, auto d = 1);
f(1, 2, 3, 4, 5);
// => f(auto a, auto b1, auto b2, auto b3, auto c, auto d = 1);

But a better strategy would be to make this scenario ambiguous which is less error-prone and more consistent.

That doesn’t mean that variadic parameters and default parameters cannot co-exist. Let’s go back to the source_location use case:

void log(auto... args, source_location = source_location::current());

A call to log(1, 2) is unambiguous. after argument type deduction, the following function can be imagined to exist: void log(int, source_location) and void log(int, int, source_location = /*...*/). Overload resolution is then not ambiguous, the program is well-formed.

But what about log(source_location{})?

We can imagine both these to be synthetized:

void log(source_location = source_location::current());
void log(source_location, source_location = source_location::current());

Which during overload resolution would be considered ambiguous, and therefore ill-formed. But what if you want to write a function that forward all of it’s argument while still having default parameter of its own? Maybe log(source_location{}) is a perfectly reasonable thing to do!

This can be solved by a tag on the callee side, without further language modification

struct my_end_of_parameters_tag_t{};
void log(auto... args,
         my_end_of_parameters_tag_t = {}, source_location = source_location::current());

now, the call log(source_location{}) can synthetize

void log(my_end_of_parameters_tag_t, source_location = source_location::current());
void log(source_location,
        my_end_of_parameters_tag_t = {},
        source_location = source_location::current());

which during overload resolution correctly selects log(source_location, my_end_of_parameters_tag_t, source_location)

The general idea is provide to overload resolution a choice of two synthetized functions, one which assume that an argument was provided for the first defaulted parameter, and one which was not. Then overload resolution can do its thing without being modified. The handling of interaction between variadic parameters and defaulted parameters is some thing that still needs to be refined.

With these rules, a function would still be limited to one parameter pack, but this parameter pack would be allowed to appear anywhere in the function parameter list, and argument type and overload resolution would behave in a consistent and standard manner.

There are a few other proposals to improve the usability of parameter packs Generalized pack declaration and usage , Simplified structured bindings protocol with pack aliases

That’s all folks

Let me know what you think! Please play with this feature on Compiler-Explorer and let me know about the use cases you would have for such feature!

As often, A huge thanks to Matt Godbolt and the rest of the Compiler Explorer team.

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