Folding expressions

Andrew Sutton, Richard Smith
Date: 2014-10-07
Document number: N4191

Introduction

This paper introduces a new kind of primary expression that allows parameter packs to be expanded as a sequence of operators. We call these "fold expressions", named after the ubiquitous fold algorithm that applies a binary operator to a sequence values (also called accumulate in the standard library).

Today, when we want to compute folds over a parameter pack, we have to resort to a handful of overloads of a variadic template in order to compute the result. For example, a simple summation might be implemented like this:

auto sum() { return 0; }

template<typename T>
auto sum(T t) { return t; }

template(typename T, typename... Ts)
auto sum(T t, Ts... ts) { return t + sum(ts...); }

We should be able to do better. In particular, given a function parameter pack args, we would like to be able to compute its summation like this.

(args + ...)

This is a significant savings in keystrokes, and programmers are much less likely to get this wrong than the implementation above.

There are a number of binary operators for which folding can defined. One such is the , operator. The , operator can be used, for example, to apply a function to a sequence of elements in a parameter pack. For example, printing can be done like this:

template<typename T>
void print(const T& x) { cout << x << '\n'; }

template<typename T>
void for_each(const auto&... args) {
(print(args), ...);
}

Extra motivation

N4040 describes how a constrained-type-specifier is transformed into a declaration and its constraints. For example:

template<typename T>
concept bool Integral = std::is_integral<T>::value;

template<Integral T>  // "Integral T" is a constrained-parameter
void foo(T x, T y);

template<typename T>
requires Integral<T> // Becomes this.
void foo(T x, T y);

Hypothetically, this works to declare constrained template parameter packs.

template<Integral... Ts>  // "Integral Ts" is a constrained-parameter
void foo(Ts...);

What are the corresponding requirements? Can we do this?

template<typename... Ts>
requires Integral<Ts>... // error: ill-formed
void foo(Ts...);

template<typename... Ts>
requires std::all_of({Ts...}) // OK?
void foo(Ts...);

That might work if we had range algorithms and those algorithms were declared constexpr. Unfortunately, we have neither.

However, with this fold syntax, that transformation is straightforward.

template<typename... Ts>
requires (Integral<Ts> && ...)
void foo(Ts...);

Proposal

The proposal adds a new kind of primary-expression, called a fold-expression. A fold expression can be written like this:

(args + ...)

The arguments are expanded over the + operator as left fold. That is:

((args\$0 + args\$1) + ...) + args\$n

Or, you can write the expression with the parameter pack on the right of the operator, like this:

(... + args)

With this spelling, the arguments are expanded over the operator as a right fold:

args\$0 + (... + (args\$n-1 + args\$n))

The fold of an empty parameter pack evaluates to a specific value. The choice of value depends on the operator. The set of operators and their empty expansions are in the table below.

Operator Value when parameter pack is empty
* 1
+ 0
& -1
| 0
&& true
|| false
, void()

If a fold of an empty parameter pack is produced for any other operator, the program is ill-formed. However, all binary operators are supported to allow the use of folds over arbitrary overloaded operators.

In order to support expansions over a parameter pack and other operands, or to customize the behavior for a fold over an empty parameter pack, you can also use the mathematically oriented phrasing:

(args + ... + an)

This expands as a left fold, including the an as the last term in the sequence. Only one of the operands can be a parameter pack. You can also expand a right fold.

(a0 + ... + args)

Wording

5.1. Primary expressions [expr.prim]

Modify the grammar of primary-expression in [expr.prim] to include fold expressions.

primary-expression:
fold-expression

Add the a new subsection to [expr.prim] called "Fold expressions".

5.1.3 Fold expressions [expr.prim.fold]

A fold expression allows a template parameter pack ([temp.variadic]) over a binary operator.

fold-expression:
( cast-expression fold-operator ... )
( ... fold-operator cast-expression )
( cast-expression fold-operator ... fold-operator cast-expression )

fold-operator: one of
+  -  *  /  %  ^  &  |  ~  =  <  >  <<  >>
+=  -=  *=  /=  %=  ^=  &=  |=  <<=  >>=
==  !=  <=  >=  &&  ||  ,  .*  ->*

An expression of the form (e op ...) where op is a fold-operator is called a left fold. The cast-expression e shall contain an unexpanded parameter pack. A left fold expands as expression ((e\$1 op e\$2) op ...) op e\$n where \$n is an index into the unexpanded parameter pack.

An expression of the form (... op e) where op is a fold-operator is called a right fold. The cast-expression e shall contain an unexpanded parameter pack. A right fold expands as expression e\$1 op (... (e\$n-1 op e\$n)) where \$n is an index into the unexpanded parameter pack.
[ Example:

template
bool all(Args... args) { return (args && ...); }

all(true, true, true, false);

Within the instantiation of all, the returned expression expands to ((true && true) && true) && false, which evalutes to false. — end example ]

In an expression of the form (e1 op ... op e2) either e1 shall contain an unexpanded parameter pack or e2 shall contain an unexpanded parameter pack, but not both. If e1 contains an unexpanded parameter pack, the expression is a left fold and e2 is the rightmost operand the expansion. If e2 contains an unexpanded parameter pack, the expression is a right fold and e1 is the leftmost operand in the expansion. [ Example:

template<typename... Args>
bool f(Args... args) {
return (true + ... + args); // OK
}

template<typename... Args>
bool f(Args... args) {
return (args && ... && args); // error: both operands contain unexpanded parameter packs

end example]

When the unexpanded parameter pack in a fold expression expands to an empty sequence, the value the expression is shown in Table N; the program is ill-formed if the operator is not listed in Table N.

Table N. Value of folding empty sequences
Operator Value when parameter pack is empty
* 1
+ 0
& -1
| 0
&& true
|| false
, void()