Overload resolution in operand of sizeof in constant expression
7.7 [expr.const]
Steve Adamczyk

Created on 2002-03-11.00:00:00 last changed 161 months ago


Date: 2008-06-15.00:00:00

[Voted into the WP at the June, 2008 meeting as paper N2634.]

Date: 2007-07-15.00:00:00

Notes from the July, 2007 meeting:

The problem is whether arbitrary expressions (for example, ones that include overload resolution) are allowed in template deduction contexts, and, if so, which expression errors are SFINAE failures and which are hard errors.

This issue deals with arbitrary expressions inside sizeof in deduction contexts. That's a fringe case right now (most compilers don't accept them). decltype makes the problem worse, because the standard use case is one that involves overload resolution. Generalized constant expressions make it worse yet, because they allow overload resolution and class types to show up in any constant expression in a deduction context.

Why is this an issue? Why don't we just say everything is allowed and be done with it?

  • Because it's hard to implement the general case. Template deduction/substitution has historically used a simplified model of semantic checking, i.e., the SFINAE rules (which are mostly about types), instead of full semantic checking. This limited semantic checking is typically done by completely separate code from the code for “normal” expression checking, and it's not easy to extend it to the general case. “Speculative compilation” sounds like an easy way out, but in practice compilers can't do that.
  • Because it affects name mangling and therefore the ABI.
  • Because we need to figure out what to say and how to say it in the Standard.

At the April, 2007 meeting, we were headed toward a solution that imposed a restriction on expressions in deduction contexts, but such a restriction seems to really hamper uses of constexpr functions. So we're now proposing that fully general expressions be allowed, and that most errors in such expressions be treated as SFINAE failures rather than errors.

One issue with writing Standard wording for that is how to define “most.” There's a continuum of errors, some errors being clearly SFINAE failures, and some clearly “real” errors, with lots of unclear cases in between. We decided it's easier to write the definition by listing the errors that are not treated as SFINAE failures, and the list we came up with is as follows:

  1. errors that occur while processing some entity external to the expression, e.g., an instantiation of a template or the generation of the definition of an implicitly-declared copy constructor
  2. errors due to implementation limits
  3. errors due to access violations (this is a judgment call, but the philosophy of access has always been that it doesn't affect visibility)

Everything else produces a SFINAE failure rather than a hard error.

There was broad consensus that this felt like a good solution, but that feeling was mixed with trepidation on several fronts:

  • The implementation cost is quite significant, at least for EDG and Microsoft (under GCC, it may be easier). It involves moving around a large amount of code. This may delay implementation and introduce bugs in compilers.
  • While it seems upward compatible with C++03, it's possible it will break existing code. Any big change in template processing has a pretty good chance of breaking something.
  • Since there is no implementation, we don't really know how it will work in the real world.

We will be producing wording for the Working Draft for the October, 2007 meeting.

(See also issue 657.)

Date: 2007-04-15.00:00:00

Notes from the April, 2007 meeting:

The CWG is pursuing a compromise proposal, to which the EWG has tentatively agreed, which would allow arbitrary expressions in the return types of function templates but which would restrict the expressions that participate in the function signature (and thus in overload resolution) to those that can be used as non-type template arguments. During deduction and overload resolution, these complex return types would be ignored; that is, there would be no substitution of the deduced template arguments into the return type at this point. If such a function were selected by overload resolution, however, a substitution failure in the return type would produce a diagnostic rather than a deduction failure.

This approach works when doing overload resolution in the context of a function call, but additional tricks (still being defined) are needed in other contexts such as friend function declaration matching and taking the address of a function, in which the return type does play a part.

Date: 2005-03-15.00:00:00

Note (March, 2005):

Dave Abrahams (quoting a Usenet posting by Vladimir Marko): The decltype and auto proposal (revision 3: N1607) presents

    template <class T,class U>
    decltype((*(T*)0)+(*(U*)0)) add(const T& t,const U& u);

as a valid declaration (if the proposal is accepted). If [the restrictions in the April, 2003 note] really applied to decltype, the declaration above would be invalid. AFAICT every non-trivial use of decltype in a template function declaration would be invalid. And for me this would render my favorite proposal useless.

I would propose to allow any kind of expression inside sizeof (and decltype) and explicitly add sizeof (and decltype) expressions involving template-parameters to non-deduced contexts (add a bullet to [temp.deduct.partial] paragraph 4).

Jaakko Jarvi: Just reinforcing that this is important and hope for insights. The topic is discussed a bit on page 10 of the latest revision of the proposal (N1705). Here's a quote from the proposal:

However, it is crucial that no restrictions are placed on what kinds of expressions are allowed inside decltype, and therefore also inside sizeof. We suggest that issue 339 is resolved to require the compiler to fail deduction (apply the SFINAE principle), and not produce an error, for as large set of invalid expressions in operands of sizeof or decltype as is possible to comfortably implement. We wish that implementors aid in classifying the kinds of expressions that should produce errors, and the kinds that should lead to failure of deduction.
Date: 2003-04-15.00:00:00

Notes from the April 2003 meeting:

Here is a better example:

  extern "C" int printf(const char *, ...);
  char f(int);
  int f(...);
  // Approach 1 -- overload resolution in template class
  // No problem
  template <class T> struct conv_int {
    static const bool value = (sizeof(f(T())) == 1);
  // Approach 2 -- overload resolution in type deduction
  // Difficult
  template <int I> struct A {
    static const int value = I;
  template <class T> bool conv_int2(A<sizeof(f(T()))> p) {
    return p.value == 1;

  template<typename T>
  A<sizeof(f(T()))> make_A() {
    return A<sizeof(f(T()))>();

  int main() {
    printf("short: %d\n", conv_int<short>::value);
    printf("int *: %d\n", conv_int<int *>::value);
    printf("short: %d\n", conv_int2<short>(make_A<short>()));
    printf("int *: %d\n", conv_int2<int *>(make_A<int*>()));

The core working group liked the idea of a restriction that says that expressions inside sizeof in template signature contexts must be otherwise valid as nontype template argument expressions (i.e., integer operations only, limited casts). This of course is subject to whether users can live with that restriction. This topic was brought up in full committee, but there was limited feedback from other groups.

It was also noted that if typeof (whatever it is called) is added, there may be a similar issue there.

Date: 2002-04-15.00:00:00

Notes from the 4/02 meeting:

Any argument for restricting such expressions must involve a cost/benefit ratio: a restriction would be palatable only if it causes minimum hardship for users and allows a substantial reduction in implementation cost. If we propose a restriction, it must be one that library writers can live with.

Lots of these cases fail with current compilers, so there can't be a lot of existing code using them. We plan to find out what cases there are in libraries like Loki and Boost.

We noted that in many cases one can move the code into a class to get the same result. The implementation problem comes up when the expression-in-sizeof is in a template deduction context or part of a template signature. The problem cases are ones where an error causes deduction to fail, as opposed to contexts where an error causes a diagnostic. The latter contexts are easier to handle; however, there are situations where "fail deduction" may be the desired behavior.

Date: 2002-03-11.00:00:00

I've seen some pieces of code recently that put complex expressions involving overload resolution inside sizeof operations in constant expressions in templates.

7.7 [expr.const] paragraph 1 implies that some kinds of nonconstant expressions are allowed inside a sizeof in a constant expression, but it's not clear that this was intended to extend all the way to things like overload resolution. Allowing such things has some hidden costs. For example, name mangling has to be able to represent all operators, including calls, and not just the operators that can appear in constant expressions.

  template <int I> struct A {};

  char xxx(int);
  char xxx(float);

  template <class T> A<sizeof(xxx((T)0))> f(T){}

  int main()

If complex expressions are indeed allowed, it should be because of an explicit committee decision rather than because of some looseness in this section of the standard.

Date User Action Args
2008-10-05 00:00:00adminsetstatus: dr -> cd1
2008-06-29 00:00:00adminsetmessages: + msg1721
2008-06-29 00:00:00adminsetstatus: drafting -> dr
2007-08-05 00:00:00adminsetmessages: + msg1520
2007-05-06 00:00:00adminsetmessages: + msg1486
2007-05-06 00:00:00adminsetstatus: open -> drafting
2005-03-07 00:00:00adminsetmessages: + msg1125
2003-04-25 00:00:00adminsetmessages: + msg846
2002-05-10 00:00:00adminsetmessages: + msg651
2002-03-11 00:00:00admincreate