Watched on YouTube the video of How to Adopt Modern C++17 into Your C++ Code and below are the notes.

Idiomic modern C++

In C++98, code is written as following with a lot of pointer operations:

circle* p = new circle(42);
vector<shape*> v = load_shapes();
for (vector<shape*>::iterator i = v.begin(); i != v.end(); ++i) {
    if (*i && **i == *p)
		cout << **i << " is a match\n";
// ... later
for (vector<shape*>::iterator i = v.begin(); i != v.end(); ++i) {
	delete *i;
delete p;

And the equivalent in modern C++, using smart pointers and auto:

auto p = make_shared<circle>(42);
auto v = load_shapes();
for (auto& s: v) {
	if (s && *s == *p)
		cout << *s << " is a match\n";

In Python, we write the arithmetic mean function in one of the following ways:

def mean(seq):
	n = 0.0
	for x in seq:
		n += x
	return n / len(seq)

def mean(seq):
	return sum(seq) / len(seq)

mean = lambda seq: sum(seq)/len(seq)

And below are the line-by-line translation in C++17:

auto mean(const Sequence& seq)
	auto n = 0.0;
	for (auto x : seq)
		n += x;
	return n/seq.size();

auto mean(const Sequence& seq)
	return reduce(begin(seq), end(seq))/seq.size();

auto mean = [](const Sequence& seq)
	{ return reduce(begin(seq), end(seq))/seq.size(); }

The STL function reduce() can even be made to run parallel if we add par_unseq to it:

auto mean(const Sequence& seq)
	return reduce(par_unseq, begin(seq), end(seq))/seq.size();

auto mean = [](const Sequence& seq)
	{ return reduce(par_unseq, begin(seq), end(seq))/seq.size(); }

Value types & move efficiency

In C++98, we return pointer in a function instead of the object because copying object can be expensive, especially if it is huge.

set<widget>* load_huge_data() {
  set<widget>* ret = new set<widget>();
  // .. load data and populate *ret
  return ret
widgets = load_huge_data();

In modern C++, no deep copy if it is unnecessary because of move operation. This makes the code cleaner and improved efficiency:

set<widget> load_huge_data() {
  set<widget> ret;
  // .. load data and populate ret
  return ret
widgets = load_huge_data(); // no deep copy here

Key new std:: vocabulary types in C++17


  • non-owning const view of any contiguous sequence of chars
    • not null-terminated
  • variations for different char types (e.g. wide then wstring_view)
  • if defined function argument in string view, it works for all kinds of string types. If the string type is null-terminated and convertable to std::string, it is used as-is. Otherwise, it should be used with a length hint. Example:
void f(wstring_view s);

std::wstring s;

wchar_t* s; size_t len;
f({s, len});

CStringW s;

_bstr_t s;
f({s, s.length()});

f({s.Buffer, s.Length});


  • contains a T value or empty, example:
std::optional<std::string> create() {
  if (something) return "xyzzyx";
  else           return {};

int main() {
	auto result = create();

	if (result) {
		std::cout << *result << "\n";

	try {
		cout << *result; // may throw
	} catch (const bad_optional_access& e) {
		/* ... */

	cout << result.value_or("empty") << "\n"; // prints "empty" if empty, otherwise "xyzzyx"


  • contains one value of a fixed set of types
  • like a union but safe against misuse of type, example:
auto v = variant<int, double>(42);	// holds an int here
cout << get<int>(v);				// prints "42"
try {
	cout << get<double>(v);			// throws error
} catch 9const bad_variant_access& e) {
	cout << e.what();
v = 3.14159;						// v switched to hold a double
cout << get<double>(v);				// prints "3.14159"


  • contains one value of any type
  • like a variant but for fully dynamic type, example:
auto v = any(42);					// holds an int here
cout << any_cast<int>(v);			// prints "42"
try {
	cout << any_cast<string>(v);	// throws error
} catch 9const bad_any_access& e) {
	cout << e.what();
v = "xyzzyx"s;						// v switched to hold a string
cout << any_cast<string>(v);		// prints "xyzzyx"


For idiomatic C++. RAII = resources always owned by objects. Example:

void f()
	auto p = make_unique<widget>(...);
	my_class x(OpenFile());
	// ...
} // auto destruction and deallocation, auto exception safety

If you want new, use make_unique instead: If resources are created by new in the function, there is a risk that we forget to delete it upon return. But if we use make_unique<widget> instead of new widget, the unique pointer created will have a destructor to relinquish the resource created. RAII guarantees the unique pointer’s destructor to be called.

RAII can be leveraged for scoped lifetime, for example:

class widget {
		gadget g;
		void draw();

void f()
	widget w; // lifetime limited to function scope
	// ...
	// ...
} // auto destruction of widget w and gadget w.g

The member g of gadget type will be implicitly destroyed when widget is destroyed due to RAII. If g is declared as pointer to gadget, we may forget to destory and have memory leak. If widget w is declared inside a scope, e.g. a function, it will be destroyed automatically when it is out of scope, and the destruction cascades into member objects.

Error and exceptions

C API usually use error code and C++ prefers exceptions. Both are for reporting errors when functions can’t do what it advertised.

Reasons for exceptions:

  • Error codes are ignored by default
  • Error codes have to manually propagated by intermediate code
  • Error codes don’t work well for errors in constructors and operators
  • Error codes interleave “normal” and “error handling” code

Reason for error codes: For interfacing with non-C++ code

Exceptions are for recoverable errors

  • not recoverable error = precondition violation
    • the program is not able to do anything sensible
    • if function is ever called with precondition violation, it is a logic bug, and the program is corrupted
    • don’t use exceptions, use contracts (not yet in C++)


Most differentiated part between classic and modern C++. In C++98, we do this:

widget* factory();
void caller()
	widget* w = factory();
	gadget* g = new gadget();
	use(*w, *g);
	delete g;
	delete w;

In modern C++, we should avoid owning type_t*, new, delete except encapsulated inside implementation of low-level data structures. Modern C++ should be this:

unique_ptr<widget> factory();
void caller()
	auto w = factory();
	auto g = make_unique<gadget>();
	use(*w, *g);
  • new: use make_unique, or make_shared
  • delete: don’t write, smart pointer handles that

Non-owning * and & are still OK, such as using as function parameters and return values. Example:

void f(widget& w) // required a widget
void g(widget* w) // widget optional, can be NULL
	if(w) use(*w);

auto upw = make_unique<widget>();
auto spw = make_shared<widget>();
g(spw.get()); // .get() may return NULL pointer

Use smart pointers as function parameters if you need to, example:

// derived-to-base conversion
void f(const shared_ptr<Base>&);

// non-const-to-const conversion
void f(const shared_ptr<const Node>&);

// Aliasing constructor
struct Node{Data data};
shared_ptr<Data> get_data(const shared_ptr<Node>& pn)
	return {pn, &(pn->Data)};

The last example, aliasing constructor, is to make pointer to Data and pointer to Node share the same reference count. This is as if the pointer to Data is an alias to pointer to Node.

There are some antipattern in manipulating pointers:

Any of these makes smart pointer usage slow:

// refcnt_ptr can be any ref counted pointer
void f(refcnt_ptr<widget>& w)	// smart pointer used unnecessarily

void f(refcnt_ptr<widget> w)	// even worse, copy of smart pointer make it slow by ref counting

refcnt_ptr<wdget> w = ...;
for (auto& e : baz) {
	auto w2 = w;				// do not copy smart pointer in a loop
	use(w2, *w, whatever)


  • Facebook RocksDB in late 2013 pass smart pointer by value in function calls. Change it to pass-by-reference or even pass raw pointer/raw reference make 400% performance improvement.
  • C++/WinRT factory cache found more than 50% time spend on ref counting of returned object.

Correctness pitfall: reentrancy. For example below:

shared_ptr<widget> other_p; // global

void f(widget& w) {
	use(w);			// w already vanished

void g() {
	other_p = ...;  // de-refcount, destroyed old other_p

void my_code() {
	f(*other_p);	// passing nonlocal
	other_p->foo(); // oops

The way to spot this error is to figure out use of non-local copy of shared_ptr. The fix is:

void my_code() {
	auto pin = other_p;	// "pin" a copy to local, ref count + 1
	f(*pin);			// passing local
	pin->foo()			// use local again

Pin only do once in the call tree, cost of ref counting is amortized for multiple use in the scope and sub-scope.

Patterns of passing smart pointers

unique_ptr<widget> factory();				// source: produces widget
void sink(unique_ptr<widget>);				// consumed: transfering ptr to function
void reseat(unique_ptr<widget>&);			// "will" or "might" reseat ptr
void thinko(const unique_ptr<widget>&);		// alert, usually not what you want

shared_ptr<widget> factory();				// source+shared ownership
void sink(shared_ptr<widget>);				// "will" retain refcount
void reseat(shared_ptr<widget>&);			// "might" reseat ptr
void may_share(const shared_ptr<widget>&);	// "might" retain refcount

Summary of do it right:

  • never pass smart pointers (by value or by reference) unless you actually want to manipulate the pointer
    • manipulate = store, change, let go of a reference
    • instead, prefer passing object by * or & as usual
    • pass object by f(*other_p) should make unaliased+local copy of other_p at top of call tree
  • express ownership using unique_ptr wherever possible, e.g., you don’t know whether the object will actually ever be shared
    • free: exactly the cost of a raw pointer by design
    • safe: exception-safe, better than a raw pointer
    • declarative: intended uniqueness and source/sink semantics
    • removes many objects out of refcount population
  • otherwise, the object will be shared, use make_shared up front wherever possible