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Posted 9 Jan 2012

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C++11 – A Glance [Part 1 of n]

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21 Sep 2019CPOL9 min read
A glance at the C++11 Standard, covering features supported in VS2010


C++0x is now a formal standard and will hereafter be called as C++11. It was ratified by ISO C++ in the year 2011.

The purpose of this article is to give a bird's eye of most of the C++11 features and for those features which are already shipped into VS2010, a deep analysis is given. This article can serve as a platform to start comprehensive study on individual features.

The article is divided into parts so that the length is at bay. I myself get scared to read lengthy stuff. Moreover, it will be boring to grab everything in one sitting.

As this is my first article on CodeProject, please bear with the formatting and with the typos, if any.


It took almost a century for Charles Babbage's Difference Engine to evolve into a electrically powered computer. In the 1940s, only assembly level languages were used owing to the then computer's low speed and memory capacity. Things started to turn after a decade and the period between 1950 to 1970 saw blooming of many programming languages of which many have survived till date.

In 1979, Bjarne Stroustrup working for the Bell labs began enhancing the "C" language first adding classes, then virtual functions, operator overloading, multiple inheritance, templates, and exception handling among other features. He called it initially "C with Classes". It was renamed to C++ [++ may be to say that it increments C] in the year 1983.

C++ Landmarks/Iterations Time Line

  • 1983 - First commercial C++ compiler
  • 1998 - C++ standards committee standardized C++ [C++98]
  • 2003 - A bug patch with no new features [C++03]
  • 2005 - A technical report called “Library Technical Report” (TR1 for short) was released
  • 2011 - Introduced significant number of features and also enhanced C++ standard library.

As we can see, this iteration is the biggest one (ok..ok...STL addition may also be big).

Do We Have to Know this New Standard ??

YES! The sooner the better. Resisting change is human. But we programmers/developers will be out of a job the day when every language or project reaches static phase. We like to be in dynamic projects and the same is with language.

Change is inevitable and when an expert committee brainstormed for almost a decade, then the result will obviously be beautiful and fruitful.

Even if we are not interested in incorporating these new iterations in the code, a quick glance at the features will help us to avoid or even think before coding certain scenarios using old compilers. Moreover, by just switching to a compiler supporting C++11, we will be immensely benefited as the Standard template library is enhanced and revamped for performance. So if your project is using STL contianers/algorithms, then switch as early as possible.

C++11 Features

Here is a table summarizing core C++11 features and also their implementation status in VS2010.

Feature Intent VS2010 status
Usability improvement yes
Usability improvement yes
Usability & Performance improvement yes
Usability improvement yes
Usability improvement yes
Usability & Performance improvement yes
Type safety improvement partial
Performance improvement yes
Performance improvement yes
Performance improvement yes
Usability improvement yes
Usability & Performance improvement yes
Performance improvement no
Usability & Performance improvement no
STL Enhancements
...... and many more

Individual Features

auto keyword

This feature is introduced in an effort to make C++ a more usable language. The committee has given a new meaning for the 'auto' keyword [just to remind readers that the old auto keyword is used to declare a variable having local scope and all local variables if their storage class is not specified as static, extern or register are implicitly converted to auto storage-class specifier].

As per the new interpretation, auto helps in deducing the type of the defined object by inspecting the RHS expression or its initializer.

auto i = 5      // i will be of type int

int n=3;
double pi=3.14;
auto j=pi*n;    // j will be of type double

Now, let's take a case where the type is hard to write:

// take a hypothetical Map of ( int and an map(int,int) )
map< int, map<int,int> > _Map;
// see the verbose for defining a const iterator of this map
map<int, map<int,int>>::const_iterator itr1 = _Map.begin();
// now with auto our life gets simplified
const auto itr2 = _Map.begin(); 

Now, take a case where the type is hard to know:

template<class U, class V>
void Somefunction(U u, V v)
    ??? result = u*v; // now what would be the type of result ??? 

    // with auto we leave the compiler to determine the type
    auto result = u*v;

I will be extending this function for the next feature to know more usability of auto. The auto keyword finds more usage while declaring and initializing a variable to a lambda expression [we will cover lambdas soon].

Few points on this feature:

  1. We can use const, volatile, pointer(*), reference (&), rvalue reference (&& - we will know about this shortly) specifiers on auto keyword:
    auto k = 5;
    auto* pK = new auto(k);
    auto** ppK = new auto(&k);
    const auto n = 6; 
  2. A variable declared as auto must have an initializer:
    auto m; // m should be initialized  
  3. An auto keyword cannot be joined with another type:
    auto int p; // no way
  4. A method/template parameters cannot be declared as auto:
    void MyFunction(auto parameter){} // no auto as method argument 
    template<auto T>                  // utter nonsense - not allowed
    void Fun(T t){}
  5. A variable that is declared on heap with the auto keyword using expression must have an initializer:
    int* p = new auto(0);  //fine
    int* pp = new auto();  // should be initialized
    auto x = new auto();   // Hmmm ... no initializer
    auto* y = new auto(9); // Fine. Here y is a int*
    auto z = new auto(9);  //Fine. Here z is a int* (It is not just an int)
  6. As auto keyword is a placeholder for a type, but is not a type itself, hence auto cannot be used for typecasting or operators such as sizeof and typeid.
    int value = 123;
    auto x2 = (auto)value; // no casting using auto
    auto x3 = static_cast<auto>(value); // same as above 
  7. All the variables in a declarator list that is declared with the auto keyword must resolve to the same type:
    auto x1 = 5, x2 = 5.0, x3='r';  // This is too much....we cannot combine like this
  8. Auto does not deduce CV-qualifiers (constant & Volatile qualifiers) unless declared as a reference:
    const int i = 99;
    auto j = i;       // j is int, rather than const int
    j = 100           // Fine. As j is not constant 
    // Now let us try to have reference
    auto& k = i;      // Now k is const int& 
    k = 100;          // Error. k is constant
    // Similarly with volatile qualifer
  9. auto decays arrays to pointers unless declared as a reference:
    int a[9];
    auto j = a;
    cout<<typeid(j).name()<<endl; // This will print int*
    auto& k = a;
    cout<<typeid(k).name()<<endl; // This will print int [9]

decltype type specifier

return_value decltype (expression)

[return_value is the type of the expression parameter]

This can be used to determine the type of a expression. As hinted by Bjarne, if we just need the type for a variable that we are about to initialize, auto is often a simpler choice. But if we need a type for something that is not a variable, such as a return type, then decltype is the thing we should be trying.

Now let's look back at an example we worked earlier:

template<class U, class V>
void Somefunction(U u, V v)
   result = u*v;               // now what would be the type of result ??? 

   decltype(u*v) result = u*v; // Hmm ....we got what we want

In the next section, I will make you familiar with the notion of combining auto and decltype to declare template functions whose return value type depends on its template arguments.

Few points on decltype:

  1. If the expression is a function, then decltype gives the type of the return of the function:
    int add(int i, int j) { return i+j; }
    decltype( add(5,6) ) var = 5; // Here the type of var is return of add( ) -> which is int
  2. If the expression is an lvalue, then decltype gives lvalue reference to the type of the expression.
    struct M { double x; };
    double pi = 3.14;
    const M* m = new M();
    decltype( (m->x) ) piRef = pi;
        // Note: Due to the inner brackets the inner statement is evaluated as expression,
        // rather than member 'x' and as type of x is double and as this is lvale
        // the return of declspec is double& and as 'm' is a const pointer 
        // the return is actually const double&.
        // So the type of piRef is const double&
  3. It is important to note that decltype does not evaluate the expression as auto does but just deduces the type of the expression:
    int foo(){}
    decltype( foo() ) x; // x is an int and note that
                         // foo() is not actually called at runtime

Trailing Return Types

This is completely a new feature for C++ developers. Till now, the type the return value of a function should go before the function's name. From C++11, we can also put the return type at the end of the function declaration, of course only after substituting auto for the name of the return type. Now why do we want to do this. Let's find out:

template<class U, class V>
??? Multiply(U u, V v)    // how to specifiy the type of the return value
   return u*v;

We cannot obviously do like:

template<class U, class V>
decltype(u*v) Multiply(U u, V v)    // Because u & v are not defined before Multiply.
                     //  What to do...what to do !!!
   return u*v;

In this situation, we can use auto and then latter once u&v's definitions are known, we can specify the return type using decltype.
Cool, isn't it?

template<class U, class V>
auto Multiply(U u, V v) -> decltype(u*v)    // Note -> after the function bracket.
   return u*v;

Right Angle Brackets

Look at this declaration:

map<int, vector<int>> _Map;

This is an error with earlier compilers as there is no space between >s and the compiler will treat it as right shift operator.

But C++11 compilers will parse these multiple right angle brackets as closing to the template argument list and saves us from the need of putting space between >.

This is not a great feature when compared to the rest, but as we C++ developers look for perfection, here is the one that is taken care of.


This macro can be used to detect and diagnose compile-time errors. Compile-time period. This is in contrast to the CRT-assert macro which is an assertion at run-time. This goody can be used to check program invariants at compile-time.

This takes an expression that can be evaluated to bool and a string literal. If the expression evaluates to false, then the compiler issues an error containing the specified string literal and the compilation is failed. If true, the declaration has no effect.

We can use static_assert at:

  1. namespace/global scope:
    static_assert(sizeof(void *) == 4, "Oops...64-bit code generation is not supported.");
  2. class scope:
    template<class T, int _n>
    class MyVec
        static_assert( _n > 0 , "How the hell the size of a vector be negative");
    void main()
        MyVec<int, -2> Vec_;
        // The above line will throw error as shown below ( in VS2010 compiler):
        //   > \main_2.cpp(120) : error C2338: How the hell the size of a vector be negative
        //   > main_2.cpp(126) : see reference to class template instantiation 'MyVec<t,_n />'
        //     being compiled
        //   > with
        //   > [ 
        //        > T=int, 
        //       > _n=-2
        //   > ]
        // This is fine
            MyVec<int, 100> Vec_;
  3. block scope:
    template<typename T, int div>
    void Divide( )
       static_assert(div!=0, "Bad arguments.....leading to division by zero");
    void main()
       Divide<int,0> ();
       // The above line will generate
       // error C2338: Bad arguments.....leading to division by zero

Do remember that since static_assert is evaluated at compile time, it cannot be used to check assumptions that depend on run-time values like the arguments of a function:

void Divide(int a, int b)
   static_assert(b==0, "Bad arguments.....leading to division by zero");
   // sorry mate! the above check is not possible via static_assert...use some other means

The static_assert declaration is especially useful for debugging templates. The compiler evaluates the constant-expression parameter immediately if it does not depend on a template parameter. Otherwise, the compiler evaluates the constant-expression parameter when the template is instantiated.


This feature is introduced mainly to take care of the pitfalls generated by using the (infamous and nasty) NULL macro. As we all know, NULL is nothing but a preprocessor expanding to 0 at compile time and this expansion often leads to ambiguity. Take for instance:

void SomeFunction(int i){ }

void SomeFunction(char* ch) { }

Now a call like: SomeFunction(NULL) will always be resolved to SomeFunction(int i), even though we want to call SomeFunction(char* ch) with null pointer argument.

To force, we have to call like: SomeFunction( (char*) NULL ) // yak ..ugly

To avoid these inconveniences, the nullptr is introduced finally. The nullptr literally means null pointer is not an integer. This can thus be safely used to indicate that an object handle, interior pointer, or native pointer type does not point to an object.

Some of the features are covered in the second part of this series. Please refer to "C++11 – A Glance [part 2 of n]".

Rest of the features will be covered in the coming parts.

Thank you for reading this article. It would be helpful if you rate/send feedback, so that I can improve while working on the remaining parts or updating this part with new information.

Other Sources

As the standard has been frozen just 3 months ago, there are no books describing the new features. Here are few references which are useful to get a deep insight on all the features.


Thanks to Clement Emerson for his views and review.


  • January 09, 2012: Added Introduction and Part-1
  • January 14, 2012: Added links to Part-2, "C++11 – A Glance [part 2 of n]"
  • January 15, 2012: A typo corrected
  • January 21, 2012: Corrected few broken links [no additional information]
  • January 25, 2012: Added few points to auto and decltype (as mentioned by user 'ephisino')
  • February 03, 2012: Corrected few typos [no additional information]


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

Written By
Technical Lead
India India

Did my masters from IIT-M in Advanced Manufacturing Technology and working mainly on C++ in CAD domain from 2004 onwards.
Working on web technologies using Angular 7.0 and above, HTML5, CSS3 from 2015.

Comments and Discussions

GeneralRe: My vote of 5 Pin
Lakamraju Raghuram9-Jan-12 17:47
Lakamraju Raghuram9-Jan-12 17:47 

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