POD classes and operator&()
Clause [11] [class]
Andrei Iltchenko

Created on 2001-03-10.00:00:00 last changed 161 months ago


Date: 2002-10-15.00:00:00

[Moved to DR at October 2002 meeting.]

Date: 2001-10-15.00:00:00

Notes from 10/01 meeting:

A consensus was forming around the idea of disallowing operator& in POD classes when it was noticed that it is permitted to declare global-scope operator& functions, which cause the same problems. After more discussion, it was decided that such functions should not be prohibited in POD classes, and implementors should simply be required to "get the right answer" in constructs such as offsetof and va_start that are conventionally implemented using macros that use the "&" operator. It was noted that one can cast the original operand to char & to de-type it, after which one can use the built-in "&" safely.

Proposed resolution:

  • Add a footnote in 17.2 [support.types] paragraph 5:
    [Footnote: Note that offsetof is required to work as specified even if unary operator& is overloaded for any of the types involved.]
  • Add a footnote in 17.13 [support.runtime] paragraph 3:
    [Footnote: Note that va_start is required to work as specified even if unary operator& is overloaded for the type of parmN.]
Date: 2020-12-15.00:00:00

I think that the definition of a POD class in the current version of the Standard is overly permissive in that it allows for POD classes for which a user-defined operator function operator& may be defined. Given that the idea behind POD classes was to achieve compatibility with C structs and unions, this makes 'Plain old' structs and unions behave not quite as one would expect them to.

In the C language, if x and y are variables of struct or union type S that has a member m, the following expression are allowed: &x, x.m, x = y. While the C++ standard guarantees that if x and y are objects of a POD class type S, the expressions x.m, x = y will have the same effect as they would in C, it is still possible for the expression &x to be interpreted differently, subject to the programmer supplying an appropriate version of a user-defined operator function operator& either as a member function or as a non-member function.

This may result in surprising effects. Consider:

    // POD_bomb is a POD-struct. It has no non-static non-public data members,
    // no virtual functions, no base classes, no constructors, no user-defined
    // destructor, no user-defined copy assignment operator, no non-static data
    // members of type pointer to member, reference, non-POD-struct, or
    // non-POD-union.
    struct  POD_bomb  {
       int   m_value1;
       int   m_value2;
       int  operator&()
       {   return  m_value1++;   }
       int  operator&() const
       {   return  m_value1 + m_value2;   }

6.8 [basic.types] paragraph 2 states:

For any complete POD object type T, whether or not the object holds a valid value of type T, the underlying bytes (6.7.1 [intro.memory]) making up the object can be copied into an array of char or unsigned char [footnote: By using, for example, the library functions ( [headers]) memcpy or memmove]. If the content of the array of char or unsigned char is copied back into the object, the object shall subsequently hold its original value. [Example:
    #define N sizeof(T)
    char buf[N];
    T obj;   // obj initialized to its original value
    memcpy(buf, &obj, N);
		// between these two calls to memcpy,
		// obj might be modified
    memcpy(&obj, buf, N);
		// at this point, each subobject of obj of scalar type
		// holds its original value
end example]

Now, supposing that the complete POD object type T in the example above is POD_bomb, and we cannot any more count on the assertions made in the comments to the example. Given a standard conforming implementation, the code will not even compile. And I see no legal way of copying the contents of an object of a complete object type POD_bomb into an array of char or unsigned char with memcpy or memmove without making use of the unary & operator. Except, of course, by means of an ugly construct like:

    struct  POD_without_ampersand  {
       POD_bomb   a_bomb;
    }  obj;
    #define N sizeof(POD_bomb)
    char buf[N];
    memcpy(buf, &obj, N);
    memcpy(&obj, buf, N);

The fact that the definition of a POD class allows for POD classes for which a user-defined operator& is defined, may also present major obstacles to implementers of the offsetof macro from <cstddef>

17.2 [support.types] paragraph 5 says:

The macro offsetof accepts a restricted set of type arguments in this International Standard. type shall be a POD structure or a POD union (clause Clause 11 [class]). The result of applying the offsetof macro to a field that is a static data member or a function is undefined."

Consider a well-formed C++ program below:

    #include <cstddef>
    #include <iostream>

    struct  POD_bomb  {
       int   m_value1;
       int   m_value2;
       int  operator&()
       {   return  m_value1++;   }
       int  operator&() const
       {   return  m_value1 + m_value2;   }

    // POD_struct is a yet another example of a POD-struct.
    struct  POD_struct  {
       POD_bomb   m_nonstatic_bomb1;
       POD_bomb   m_nonstatic_bomb2;

    int  main()

       std::cout << "offset of m_nonstatic_bomb2: " << offsetof(POD_struct,
           m_nonstatic_bomb2) << '\n';
       return  0;


See Jens Maurer's paper 01-0038=N1324 for an analysis of this issue.

Date User Action Args
2008-10-05 00:00:00adminsetstatus: wp -> cd1
2003-04-25 00:00:00adminsetstatus: dr -> wp
2002-11-08 00:00:00adminsetmessages: + msg775
2002-11-08 00:00:00adminsetstatus: ready -> dr
2002-05-10 00:00:00adminsetstatus: review -> ready
2001-11-09 00:00:00adminsetmessages: + msg556
2001-11-09 00:00:00adminsetstatus: open -> review
2001-03-10 00:00:00admincreate