Argument-dependent name lookup

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In the C++ programming language, argument-dependent lookup (ADL), or argument-dependent name lookup,[1] applies to the lookup of an unqualified function name depending on the types of the arguments given to the function call. This behavior is also known as Koenig lookup, as it is often attributed to Andrew Koenig, though he is not its inventor.[2]

ADL occurs only if the normal lookup of an unqualified name fails to find a matching class member function. In this case, other namespaces not considered during normal lookup may be searched where the set of namespaces to be searched depends on the types of the function arguments. Specifically, the set of declarations discovered during the ADL lookup process, and considered for resolution of the function name, is the union of the declarations found by normal lookup with the declarations found by looking in the set of namespaces associated with the types of the function arguments.

Type-associated namespaces[edit]

The set of associated namespaces for any type T is the structural scope of T (which can be used to locate friend functions) and the namespace where T is defined, if T is a structure type, together with the namespaces associated with the structure types necessary for defining the type T, excluding the types necessary only for defining members. This set of associated namespaces is included for resolving a function call lookup with an argument of type T.

Example[edit]

An example of ADL looks like this:

namespace NS 
{
   class A {};
   void f( A *&, int ) {}
}
int main() 
{
   NS::A *a;
   f( a, 0 );    //calls NS::f
}

A common pattern in the C++ Standard Library is to declare overloaded operators that will be found in this manner. For example, this simple Hello World program would not compile if it weren't for ADL:[2]

#include<iostream>
 
int main() 
{
  string hello = "Hello World, where did operator<<() come from?";
  std::cout << hello << std::endl;
}

Using << is equivalent to calling operator<<, which however lacks the std qualifier. In this case, function std::ostream& std::operator<<(std::ostream&, const char*) is found through ADL.

Note that std::endl is a function but it needs full qualification, since it is used as an argument to operator<< (std::endl is a function pointer, not a function call).

Interfaces[edit]

Functions found by ADL are considered part of a class's interface. In the Standard Template Library, several algorithms use unqualified calls to swap from within the std namespace. As a result, the generic std::swap function is used if nothing else is found, but if these algorithms are used with a third-party class, Foo, found in another namespace that also contains swap(Foo&, Foo&), that overload of swap will be used.

Criticism[edit]

While ADL makes it practical for functions defined outside of a class to behave as if they were part of the interface of that class, it makes namespaces less strict and so can require the use of fully qualified names when they would not otherwise be needed. For example, the C++ standard library makes extensive use of unqualified calls to std::swap to swap two values. The idea is that then one can define an own version of std::swap in one's own namespace and it will be used within the standard library algorithms. In other words, the behavior of

std::swap(a, b);

may or may not be the same as the behavior of

using std::swap;
swap(a, b);

(where a and b are of type N::A) because if N::swap(N::A&, N::A&) exists, the second of the above examples will call it while the first will not. Furthermore, if for some reason both N::swap(N::A&, N::A&) and std::swap(N::A&, N::A&) are defined, then the first example will call std::swap(N::A&, N::A&) but the second will not compile because swap(a, b) would be ambiguous.

In general, over-dependence on ADL can lead to semantic problems. If one library, L1, expects unqualified calls to foo(T) to have one meaning and another library, L2 expects it to have another, then namespaces lose their utility. If, however, L1 expects L1::foo(T) to have one meaning and L2 does likewise, then there is no conflict, but calls to foo(T) would have to be fully qualified (i.e. L1::foo(x) as opposed to using L1::foo; foo(x);) lest ADL get in the way.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Working Draft, Standard for Programming Language C++". JTC1/SC22/WG21. 19 October 2005. Chapter 3.4.2 - Argument-dependent name lookup - p. 2. Retrieved 13 March 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "A Personal Note About Argument-Dependent Lookup". Retrieved 7 February 2014. 

External links[edit]