Simplify C++ templates with concepts

Written by Darren Ford

Description: Discover how C++20 features can take your C++ code to the next level. We’ll introduce concepts and explore how you can use it to find errors faster in your generic C++ code. We’ll also discuss the latest enhancements to the constexpr feature and show how you can leverage it to improve your app's performance by evaluating code at compile time.

Speaker: Alex Lorenz, Developer Tools Engineer

C++ Templates

Prior to C++20, C++ programmers did not have a good way to specify template requirements when writing generic C++ code.

For example

template<class T>
bool isOdd(T x) {
   return (x % 2) == 1;

While this looks good, the requirements for what types are allowed into 'isOdd' are not specified explicitly. So...

// Passing a double into a function that implies that 'T' specialization is an integer type

... causes a compiler error ("Invalid operands to binary expression (double and int)") in the isOdd function, which can be very hard to track down why.

Using concepts

This is where C++20 concepts comes in. You can use concepts to validate template requirements in your generic C++ code.

C++20 allows us to replace the class specifier in the template definition with a concept to restrict the set of types that this template can be used with.

#include <concepts>
template<std::integral T>
bool isOdd(T x) {
   return (x % 2) == 1;

The compiler will not even try to specialize this function template when T does not satisfy this concept and give us useful information as to why and where the actual error occurred.

  • Concepts are used to define the intent of your template code.
  • The standard library provides a set of core concepts which are accessed through the concepts header file and validated during compile time.

Built-in Concept Examples

std::floating_point<double>Is 'double' a floating point?
std::convertible_to<long, int>Can 'long' be converted to 'int'
std::move_constructible<std::vector<int>>satisfied by types that can be constructed directly from another value of the same type
std::equality_comparableDoes the types have a valid '==' operator that works with a value of the same type.

Other type examples :-

  • Can a type be moved or copied?
  • Check if a type is a callable object.

The requires keyword

Instead of replacing class with a concept, you can use the requires keyword to restrict multiple concepts

template<class T>
requires std::equality_comparable<T> && std::default_constructible<T>
bool isDefaultValue(const T &value) {
   return value == T();

Create concepts

You can create your own concepts. These run at compile time, and are completely discarded after the validation occurs.

template<class T>
Color computePixelColor(const T &shape, float x, float y) {
   float dist = shape.getDistanceFrom(x, y);
   if (dist <= 0.0) {
      return Color::white();
   return Color::transparent();

Create a 'shape' concept to validate the shape.

We create a concept that validates that the shape type has a getDistanceFrom function which takes two float parameters.

template<class T>
concept Shape = requires(const T &shape) {
  shape.getDistanceFrom(0.0f, 0.0f)
  • The argument list in the requires expression can declare values of any time. You can then use these values within the requires body.
  • The body contains a set of requirements that must pass in order for the concept to be satisfied. This is only needed at compile time to validate, and is discarded after validation.

We can further extend this concept to check that the function returns the expected type.

template<class T>
concept Shape = requires(const T &shape) {
  { shape.getDistanceFrom(0.0f, 0.0f) } -> std::same_as<float>;

So, this shape concept now validates :-

  1. The shape has a getDistanceFrom function, which takes two float values.
  2. The getDistanceFrom function returns a value which is the same as a float.

Now, I can create functions that only accept valid 'Shape' types

template<Shape T>
Color computePixelColor(const T &shape, float x, float y) { … }

Multiple variants of a function template

You can create multiple variants of function template using different concepts

template<class T>
concept GradientShape = Shape<T> && requires(const T &shape) {
  { shape,getGradientColor(0,0f, 0,0f) } -> std::same_as<Color>;

template<GradientShape T>
Color computePixelColor(const T &shape, float x, float y) { … }

Thus, calling computePixelColor with a GradientShape object will call the correct function.

  • The compiler will choose the most specific template function available, so even though a GradientShape works with both variants it will choose the most specific overload.

Creating concepts

  • Create concepts by identifying requirements in generic code
  • Use requires expression(s) to validate behviour of types
  • Use concepts to provide overloaded variants for generic functions

Additional C++20 improvements in Xcode 14

Compile time evaluation (constexpr)

  • Reduce the cost of initialization for variables
  • Verify constants at compile time

Mark your functions/declaractions constexpr if you want them to be run at compile time.

constexpr Color Color::fromHexCode(std::string_view hexcode) { … }
constexpr const std::array<Color, 3> colorPalette = {

This way, the colorPalette is guaranteed to be initialized with the contant values at compile time, significantly reducing startup time.

New Supported C++20 Features

  • std::bind_front
  • Concepts
  • Template Constraints
  • Safe Mixed-Type
  • Integral Comparisons
  • constexpr std::sort
  • constexpr std::tuple
  • std::to_underlying
  • constexpr std::pair
  • constexpr std::reverse
  • constexpr std::swap
  • constexpr Default Constructor for std::atomic
  • using enum
  • Iterator Concepts
  • Core Concepts Library
  • Atomic Synchronization Library
  • Contains Method For Associative Containers

You should switch to C++20 today if you haven't already done so

  • You can use the "C++ Language Dialect" setting in your Xcode project to upgrade to C++20
  • C++20 does not require a minimum deployment target

Missing anything? Corrections? Contributions are welcome 😃