Document number: P1751R0
Date: 2019-06-16
Audience: SG6, LEWGI

Numeric Type Families

Introduction

This paper introduces the notion of numeric type families which play an important role in facilitating efficient, extensible, generic numeric code. It explains what they are, how they are used and proposes library facilities for accessing and manipulating them.

Definition

The two first paragraphs of [basic.fundamental] in [N4810] introduce the signed integer types and the unsigned integer types respectively. Together, these constitute the fundamental integer type family.

They are supported by optional library aliases (int32_t etc.) which provide width guarantees and by type traits (is_signed, make_signed and make_unsigned) which allow transformations between them.

Outside the standard, other numeric type families exist. A recurring pattern is is that their members vary in width and signedness. Some even exhibit a 1-to-1 mapping with the fundamental integer type family. For example, the SafeInt class is parameterised on a fundamental integer type:

SafeInt<int> a{42};

Other families have continuous ranges of widths. For example, boost::multiprecision::number has a width parameter:

number<cpp_int_backend<32>> b{42};

[example]

Applications

Example 1: Generic Arithmetic Functions

There is an increasing demand to make numeric types easier to use in generic code. Consider a library which provides overflow-resistant arithmetic :

namespace acme {
// avoids negative overflow when b>a
auto minus(uint32_t a, uint32_t b) {
return int64_t{a}-b;
}

// avoids positive overflow when product exceeds range of the operands
auto multiply(uint32_t a, uint32_t b) {
return uint64_t{a}*b;
}
}

Now consider all of overloads of the above functions necessary to cover the fundamental integers. Finally, consider the overloads necessary to cover third-party integers such as the SafeInt and Boost.Multiprecision types. Clearly, function templates are needed.

One facility which would cover the case for fundamental integers is parameterisation of width or digits. We already have numeric_limits::digits which is helpful in calculating the range of a number. A complementary setter is frequently requested as a standard library addition.

Boost provides facilities for chosing a fundamental signed or unsigned type given a number of bits, e.g.:

//  signed
template<int Bits>
struct int_t
{
/* Member exact may or may not be defined depending upon Bits */
typedef implementation-defined-type  exact;
typedef implementation-defined-type  least;
typedef int_fast_t<least>::fast      fast;
};

//  unsigned
template<int Bits>
struct uint_t
{
/* Member exact may or may not be defined depending upon Bits */
typedef implementation-defined-type  exact;
typedef implementation-defined-type  least;
typedef int_fast_t<least>::fast      fast;
};

This is a step in the right direction and helps out with the minus function in our library:

namespace acme {
// avoids negative overflow when b>a
template<class Operand>
auto minus(Operand a, Operand b) {
using result = boost::int_t<numeric_limits<Operand>::digits+1>::fast;
return result{a}-b;
}

// avoids positive overflow when product exceeds range of the operands
auto multiply(uint32_t a, uint32_t b) {
return uint64_t{a}*b;
}
}

But multiply is more awkward: we need signed and unsigned overloads to make use of boost::int_t and boost::uint_t. And it still only works for fundamental integers.

[P0675] proposes a user-customisable metafunction, set_digits which addresses both of these concerns with a single type parameter:

template<class T, int MinDigits>
struct set_digits;

Common arguments to T are signed and unsigned :

set_digits_t<unsigned, 5> a{30};  // an unsigned integer with at least 5 digits.

Two things are worth noting here:

1. The type returned by this metafunction is the same signedness and the same family as the input.
2. The terminology is digits, not bits or width. This is an important but subtle distinction: width includes the sign bit but digits does not.

Including set_digits, [P0675] proposes a full set of user-customizable metafunctions for transforming between types within a family:

• set_digits - returns a type with at least the given number of digits
• digits - returns the number of digits (equivalent to numeric_limits::digits)
• is_signed - returns true iff T is signed (equivalent to numeric_limits::is_signed)
• add_signedness - returns a signed equivalent of T (like make_signed but user-customisable)
• remove_signedness - complement to add_signedness

Lets see how these helps our multiply function :

namespace acme {
// avoids negative overflow when b>a
template<class Operand>
auto minus(Operand a, Operand b) {
constexpr auto operand_digits = digits_v<Operand>;
using result = set_digits_t<signed_operand, operand_digits+1>;
return result{a}-b;
}

// avoids positive overflow when product exceeds range of the operands
template<class Operand>
auto multiply(Operand a, Operand b) {
constexpr auto operand_digits = digits_v<Operand>;
using result = set_digits_t<Operand, operand_digits*2>;
return result{a}*b;
}
}

Now the functions work with all fundamental integers (except the widest ones, for which there are no valid return types). Better still, we can now provide a dab of glue and pass Boost.Multiprecision types, among many others.

Example 2: Generic Arithmetic Types

The above example shows safe -- but tedious -- named functions which quickly becomes unreadable. [P0828] proposes the same facility in the form of a numeric type, elastic_integer, with a full set of arithmetic operators:

template<int MaxDigits, class Narrowest>
class elastic_integer;

This makes the same facility far more readable:

// elastic_integer<32, signed>{-1}
auto a{elastic_integer{0U}-elastic_integer{1U}};

// elastic_integer<64, unsigned>{UINT_MAX*UINT_MAX}
auto b{elastic_integer{UINT_MAX}*elastic_integer{UINT_MAX}};

Example 3: Composite Types

In order to be generally useful, elastic_integer also specializes the family metafunctions, e.g.:

template<int Digits, class Narrowest, int MinNumBits>
struct set_digits<elastic_integer<Digits, Narrowest>, MinNumBits> {
using type = elastic_integer<MinNumBits, Narrowest>;
};

Now elastic_integer itself can start to become a piece in a larger system and we begin to build up a vocabulary for describing components and their interaction. For instance, we can use a 'safe integer' type to wrap -- not only fundamental types as SafeInt does but also -- all suitable class-based numeric types.

[P0554] describes an entire system for numeric composition in which the notion of a family will become an essential notion. Introduced in that paper is a more generic alternative to SafeInt called overflow_integer:

template<class Rep, class OverflowTag = contract_overflow_tag>
class overflow_integer;

Once set_digits and all the other family metafunctions have been specialized for elastic_integer, it becomes a family which can be plugged into overflow_integer:

template<
int MinDigits,
class Narrowest = signed,
class OverflowTag = contract_overflow_tag>
using safe_integer =
overflow_integer<elastic_integer<MinDigits, Narrowest>, OverflowTag>;

Such a composite numeric type is hard to digest without some idea of the families involved:

• Narrowest is -- by default -- a signed member of the fundamental integer family. The concrete storage for an instantiation of safe_integer will be either int or something wider than int. Swapping this out for unsigned would give equivalent unsigned behavior. Non-fundamental families are accepted but must have the family metafunctions specialized for them.
• Rep is the family wrapped by overflow_integer and in this case, the choice is elastic_integer<MinDigits, Narrowest>. Any change to the digits or signedness of overflow_integer will involve an equivalent change in the elastic_integer parameters.
• safe_integer<MinDigits, Narrowest, OverflowTag> is specialized to become a member of the outermost family. A member of that family might be, safe_integer<31> which would give it the same digits and signedness as int32_t. (To strain the family metaphore to its limits, if int were the matriarch of the fundamental integer family, her default safe_integer counterpart would be safe_integer<31>.)

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Davis Herring for extensive and invaluable input on this topic.