C++ Const Iterator

Introduction

Iterator is a key concept for C++ STL. When we implement a custom container for C++, we will also have to implement the iterator class for the custom container. In my previous blog post “C++ Iterator”, I discussed about how to implement C++ iterator using nested class inside a certain sequence container class for generic programming. Since C++14, a new const iterator class has been introduced, which is usually returned from the cbegin and cend container methods. In this blog post, I would like to discuss about what C++ const iterator is and how to implement const iterator from scratch.

Constant Iterator

C++ iterator was introduced in C++11. Essentially, it is a pointer wrapper and dereferencing the iterator returns the object in the container by reference T&. If we forgot to cast a const to the returned reference, we might modify the objects in the container unintentionally. For example,

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#include <iostream>
#include <vector>
#include <iterator>

int main()
{
std::vector<int> v = { 3, 1, 4 };
// vi is not a const iterator.
// vi cannot even iterate since it is const.
const auto vi = std::begin(v);
std::cout << *vi << std::endl;
*vi = 8;
std::cout << *vi << std::endl;
}

Since C++14, a new const iterator class was introduced and the user cannot modify the container via const iterator. This time, dereferencing the const iterator returns the object in the container by const reference const T& and we cannot modify the objects in the container accidentally.

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#include <iostream>
#include <vector>
#include <iterator>

int main()
{
std::vector<int> v = { 3, 1, 4 };
// vi is not a const iterator.
auto vi = std::cbegin(v);
std::cout << *vi << std::endl;
// Compile time error.
// *vi = 8;
std::cout << *vi << std::endl;
}

Constant Iterator Implementation for Custom Container

Implementation With Code Duplication

The implementation of iterator and const iterator class are extremely similar, except that dereferencing returns T& for iterator and const T& for const iterator. We can just copy and paste most of the code for the iterator for implementing the const iterator. The drawback is there will be “code duplications”.

const_iterator_code_duplication.cpp
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#include <algorithm>
#include <array>
#include <iostream>
#include <list>
#include <vector>

// Custom data structure with iterators
// For some additional implementations for Vector
// /blog/CPP-Const-Overloading/
template <typename T>
class DummyVector
{
public:
// Default constructors
DummyVector();
// Constructors which take more than zero arguments
explicit DummyVector(size_t size);
explicit DummyVector(std::initializer_list<T> lst);

// Iterator basics
class Iterator;
class ConstIterator;
Iterator begin();
Iterator end();
ConstIterator cbegin();
ConstIterator cend();

private:
size_t mSize;
T* mBuffer;
};

// However, the best practice for template classes and functions is to put the
// definition and the declaration together. Mainly, there are two reasons
// 1. Compiler needs to know all the definition for any templates during compile
// time
// 2. Namescope is trivial to write and confusing
template <typename T>
DummyVector<T>::DummyVector() : mSize{0}, mBuffer{nullptr}
{
}

template <typename T>
DummyVector<T>::DummyVector(size_t size) : mSize{size}, mBuffer{new T[size]}
{
for (int i = 0; i < mSize; i++)
{
mBuffer[i] = 0;
}
}

template <typename T>
DummyVector<T>::DummyVector(std::initializer_list<T> lst)
: mSize{lst.size()}, mBuffer{new T[lst.size()]}
{
std::copy(lst.begin(), lst.end(), this->mBuffer);
}

// Iterator is an abstract notion
template <typename T>
class DummyVector<T>::Iterator
{
public:
// Constructor
Iterator(T* ptr);
// Compulsory methods
// Prefix
Iterator& operator++();
Iterator& operator--();
// Postfix
// Returns the value before update
// Impossible to return by reference
// Return by value instead
Iterator operator++(int);
Iterator operator--(int);
T& operator*();
bool operator==(const Iterator& iter);
bool operator!=(const Iterator& iter);

private:
T* mPtr;
};

template <typename T>
DummyVector<T>::Iterator::Iterator(T* ptr) : mPtr{ptr}
{
}

// Prefix overloading
// If T::X is a dependent typename, then we need to prefix it by typename to
// tell the compiler to parse it in a certain way.
template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::Iterator& DummyVector<T>::Iterator::operator++()
{
this->mPtr++;
return *this;
}
// Prefix overloading
template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::Iterator& DummyVector<T>::Iterator::operator--()
{
this->mPtr--;
return *this;
}

// Postfix overloading
template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::Iterator DummyVector<T>::Iterator::operator++(int)
{
DummyVector<T>::Iterator temp = *this;
this->mPtr++;
return temp;
}
// Postfix overloading
template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::Iterator DummyVector<T>::Iterator::operator--(int)
{
DummyVector<T>::Iterator temp = *this;
this->mPtr--;
return temp;
}

template <typename T>
T& DummyVector<T>::Iterator::operator*()
{
return *this->mPtr;
}

template <typename T>
bool DummyVector<T>::Iterator::operator==(const Iterator& iter)
{
return this->mPtr == iter.mPtr;
}

template <typename T>
bool DummyVector<T>::Iterator::operator!=(const Iterator& iter)
{
return this->mPtr != iter.mPtr;
}

template <typename T>
class DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator
{
public:
// Constructor
ConstIterator(T* ptr);
// Compulsory methods
// Prefix
ConstIterator& operator++();
ConstIterator& operator--();
// Postfix
// Returns the value before update
// Impossible to return by reference
// Return by value instead
ConstIterator operator++(int);
ConstIterator operator--(int);
// Return by const reference
// So that the container cannot be modified
const T& operator*();
bool operator==(const ConstIterator& iter);
bool operator!=(const ConstIterator& iter);

private:
T* mPtr;
};

template <typename T>
DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator::ConstIterator(T* ptr) : mPtr{ptr}
{
}

// Prefix overloading
// If T::X is a dependent typename, then we need to prefix it by typename to
// tell the compiler to parse it in a certain way.
template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator&
DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator::operator++()
{
this->mPtr++;
return *this;
}
// Prefix overloading
template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator&
DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator::operator--()
{
this->mPtr--;
return *this;
}

// Postfix overloading
template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator
DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator::operator++(int)
{
DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator temp = *this;
this->mPtr++;
return temp;
}
// Postfix overloading
template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator
DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator::operator--(int)
{
DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator temp = *this;
this->mPtr--;
return temp;
}

template <typename T>
const T& DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator::operator*()
{
return *this->mPtr;
}

template <typename T>
bool DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator::operator==(const ConstIterator& iter)
{
return this->mPtr == iter.mPtr;
}

template <typename T>
bool DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator::operator!=(const ConstIterator& iter)
{
return this->mPtr != iter.mPtr;
}

template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::Iterator DummyVector<T>::begin()
{
return DummyVector<T>::Iterator{this->mBuffer};
}

template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::Iterator DummyVector<T>::end()
{
return DummyVector<T>::Iterator{this->mBuffer + this->mSize};
}

template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator DummyVector<T>::cbegin()
{
return DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator{this->mBuffer};
}

template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator DummyVector<T>::cend()
{
return DummyVector<T>::ConstIterator{this->mBuffer + this->mSize};
}

// Template function for iterators
template <typename Iter>
Iter maximum(Iter first, Iter last)
{
Iter max = first;
for (Iter iter = first; iter != last; iter++)
{
if (*max < *iter)
{
max = iter;
}
}
return max;
}

int main()
{
// STL containers
std::list<int> lst{1, 2, 3, 4, 5};
std::array<float, 5> arr{1, 2, 3, 4, 5};
std::vector<float> vec{1, 2, 3, 4, 5};
// Custom container
DummyVector<double> dummyVec{1, 2, 3, 4, 5};

// Ordinary iterator from custom container
auto lstIter = lst.begin();
while (lstIter != lst.end())
{
*lstIter = 0;
lstIter++;
}
auto lstMaxIter = maximum(lst.begin(), lst.end());
std::cout << *lstMaxIter << std::endl;

// Const iterator from STL container
auto lstConstIter = lst.cbegin();
while (lstConstIter != lst.cend())
{
// Cannot assign
// *lstConstIter = 5;
lstConstIter++;
}
auto lstMaxConstIter = maximum(lst.cbegin(), lst.cend());
std::cout << *lstMaxConstIter << std::endl;

// Ordinary iterator from custom container
auto dummyVecIter = dummyVec.begin();
while (dummyVecIter != dummyVec.end())
{
*dummyVecIter = 0;
dummyVecIter++;
}
auto dummyVecMaxIter = maximum(dummyVec.begin(), dummyVec.end());
std::cout << *dummyVecMaxIter << std::endl;

// Const iterator from custom container
auto dummyVecConstIter = dummyVec.cbegin();
while (dummyVecConstIter != dummyVec.cend())
{
// Cannot assign
// *dummyVecConstIter = 5;
dummyVecConstIter++;
}
auto dummyVecMaxConstIter = maximum(dummyVec.cbegin(), dummyVec.cend());
std::cout << *dummyVecMaxConstIter << std::endl;
}
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$ g++ const_iterator_code_duplication.cpp -o const_iterator_code_duplication -std=c++11
$ ./const_iterator_code_duplication
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It works. But it has lots of “code duplications” between the Iterator implementation and the ConstIterator implementation.

Implementation Without Code Duplication

With std::enable_if, it is possible to reduce the code duplication in the const iterator implementation by metaprogramming.

const_iterator.cpp
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#include <algorithm>
#include <array>
#include <iostream>
#include <list>
#include <vector>

// Custom data structure with iterators
// For some additional implementations for Vector
// /blog/CPP-Const-Overloading/
template <typename T>
class DummyVector
{
public:
// Default constructors
DummyVector();
// Constructors which take more than zero arguments
explicit DummyVector(size_t size);
explicit DummyVector(std::initializer_list<T> lst);

// Iterator basics
template <bool Const>
class Iterator;
Iterator<false> begin();
Iterator<false> end();
Iterator<true> cbegin();
Iterator<true> cend();

private:
size_t mSize;
T* mBuffer;
};

// However, the best practice for template classes and functions is to put the
// definition and the declaration together. Mainly, there are two reasons
// 1. Compiler needs to know all the definition for any templates during compile
// time
// 2. Namescope is trivial to write and confusing
template <typename T>
DummyVector<T>::DummyVector() : mSize{0}, mBuffer{nullptr}
{
}

template <typename T>
DummyVector<T>::DummyVector(size_t size) : mSize{size}, mBuffer{new T[size]}
{
for (int i = 0; i < mSize; i++)
{
mBuffer[i] = 0;
}
}

template <typename T>
DummyVector<T>::DummyVector(std::initializer_list<T> lst)
: mSize{lst.size()}, mBuffer{new T[lst.size()]}
{
std::copy(lst.begin(), lst.end(), this->mBuffer);
}

// Iterator is an abstract notion
template <typename T>
template <bool Const>
class DummyVector<T>::Iterator
{
public:
// Constructor
Iterator(T* ptr);
// Compulsory methods
// Prefix
Iterator& operator++();
Iterator& operator--();
// Postfix
// Returns the value before update
// Impossible to return by reference
// Return by value instead
Iterator operator++(int);
Iterator operator--(int);
template <bool Q = Const>
typename std::enable_if<Q, const T&>::type operator*();
template <bool Q = Const>
typename std::enable_if<!Q, T&>::type operator*();
bool operator==(const Iterator& iter);
bool operator!=(const Iterator& iter);

private:
T* mPtr;
};

template <typename T>
template <bool Const>
DummyVector<T>::Iterator<Const>::Iterator(T* ptr) : mPtr{ptr}
{
}

// Prefix overloading
// If T::X is a dependent typename, then we need to prefix it by typename to
// tell the compiler to parse it in a certain way.
template <typename T>
template <bool Const>
typename DummyVector<T>::template Iterator<Const>&
DummyVector<T>::Iterator<Const>::operator++()
{
this->mPtr++;
return *this;
}
// Prefix overloading
template <typename T>
template <bool Const>
typename DummyVector<T>::template Iterator<Const>&
DummyVector<T>::Iterator<Const>::operator--()
{
this->mPtr--;
return *this;
}

// Postfix overloading
template <typename T>
template <bool Const>
typename DummyVector<T>::template Iterator<Const>
DummyVector<T>::Iterator<Const>::operator++(int)
{
DummyVector<T>::Iterator<Const> temp = *this;
this->mPtr++;
return temp;
}
// Postfix overloading
template <typename T>
template <bool Const>
typename DummyVector<T>::template Iterator<Const>
DummyVector<T>::Iterator<Const>::operator--(int)
{
DummyVector<T>::Iterator<Const> temp = *this;
this->mPtr--;
return temp;
}

template <typename T>
template <bool Const>
template <bool Q>
typename std::enable_if<!Q, T&>::type
DummyVector<T>::Iterator<Const>::operator*()
{
return *this->mPtr;
}

template <typename T>
template <bool Const>
template <bool Q>
typename std::enable_if<Q, const T&>::type
DummyVector<T>::Iterator<Const>::operator*()
{
return *this->mPtr;
}

template <typename T>
template <bool Const>
bool DummyVector<T>::Iterator<Const>::operator==(const Iterator& iter)
{
return this->mPtr == iter.mPtr;
}

template <typename T>
template <bool Const>
bool DummyVector<T>::Iterator<Const>::operator!=(const Iterator& iter)
{
return this->mPtr != iter.mPtr;
}

template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::template Iterator<false> DummyVector<T>::begin()
{
return DummyVector<T>::Iterator<false>{this->mBuffer};
}

template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::template Iterator<false> DummyVector<T>::end()
{
return DummyVector<T>::Iterator<false>{this->mBuffer + this->mSize};
}

template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::template Iterator<true> DummyVector<T>::cbegin()
{
return DummyVector<T>::Iterator<true>{this->mBuffer};
}

template <typename T>
typename DummyVector<T>::template Iterator<true> DummyVector<T>::cend()
{
return DummyVector<T>::Iterator<true>{this->mBuffer + this->mSize};
}

// Template function for iterators
template <typename Iter>
Iter maximum(Iter first, Iter last)
{
Iter max = first;
for (Iter iter = first; iter != last; iter++)
{
if (*max < *iter)
{
max = iter;
}
}
return max;
}

int main()
{
// STL containers
std::list<int> lst{1, 2, 3, 4, 5};
std::array<float, 5> arr{1, 2, 3, 4, 5};
std::vector<float> vec{1, 2, 3, 4, 5};
// Custom container
DummyVector<double> dummyVec{1, 2, 3, 4, 5};

// Ordinary iterator from custom container
auto lstIter = lst.begin();
while (lstIter != lst.end())
{
*lstIter = 0;
lstIter++;
}
auto lstMaxIter = maximum(lst.begin(), lst.end());
std::cout << *lstMaxIter << std::endl;

// Const iterator from STL container
auto lstConstIter = lst.cbegin();
while (lstConstIter != lst.cend())
{
// Cannot assign
// *lstConstIter = 5;
lstConstIter++;
}
auto lstMaxConstIter = maximum(lst.cbegin(), lst.cend());
std::cout << *lstMaxConstIter << std::endl;

// Ordinary iterator from custom container
auto dummyVecIter = dummyVec.begin();
while (dummyVecIter != dummyVec.end())
{
*dummyVecIter = 0;
dummyVecIter++;
}
auto dummyVecMaxIter = maximum(dummyVec.begin(), dummyVec.end());
std::cout << *dummyVecMaxIter << std::endl;

// Const iterator from custom container
auto dummyVecConstIter = dummyVec.cbegin();
while (dummyVecConstIter != dummyVec.cend())
{
// Cannot assign
// *dummyVecConstIter = 5;
dummyVecConstIter++;
}
auto dummyVecMaxConstIter = maximum(dummyVec.cbegin(), dummyVec.cend());
std::cout << *dummyVecMaxConstIter << std::endl;
}
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$ g++ const_iterator.cpp -o const_iterator -std=c++11
$ ./const_iterator
0
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0

References

Author

Lei Mao

Posted on

03-18-2022

Updated on

03-18-2022

Licensed under


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