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Improved Function Object Adapters

The header functional.hpp provides enhancements to the function object adapters specified in the C++ Standard Library (sections 20.3.5, through to 20.3.8). The enhancements are principally possible due to two changes:

  1. We use the Boost call_traits templates to avoid the problem of references to references, and to improve the efficiency of parameter passing.
  2. We use two function object traits class templates to avoid the need for ptr_fun with the adapters in this library.


The header contains the following function and class templates:

Function object traits unary_traits
Used to determine the types of function objects' and functions' arguments. Eliminate the necessity for ptr_fun.
Negators unary_negate
Based on section 20.3.5 of the standard.
Binders binder1st
Based on section 20.3.6 of the standard.
Adapters for pointers to functions pointer_to_unary_function
Based on section 20.3.7 of the standard. Not required for use with this library since the binders and negators can adapt functions, but may be needed with third party adapters.
Adapters for pointers to member functions mem_fun_t
Based on section 20.3.8 of the standard.


Using these adapters should be pretty much the same as using the standard function object adapters; the only differences are that you need to write boost:: instead of std::, and that you will get fewer headaches.

For example, suppose you had a Person class that contained a set_name function:

class Person
    void set_name(const std::string &name);
  // ...

You could rename a bunch of people in a collection, c, by writing

std::for_each(c.begin(), c.end(), 
              boost::bind2nd(boost::mem_fun_ref(&Person::set_name), "Fred"));

If the standard adapters had been used instead then this code would normally fail to compile, because set_name takes a reference argument. Refer to the comments in the binder documentation to explain why this is so.

Compiler Compatibility

The header and test program have been compiled with the following compilers:

Compiler Comments
Borland C++Builder 4 Update 2 No known issues.
Borland C++ 5.5 No known issues.
g++ 2.95.2 No known issues.
Microsoft Visual C++ Service Pack 3 Compiler lacks partial specialisation, so this library offers little more than is provided by the standard adapters:
  • The call_traits mechanism is unable to prevent references to references, and so the adapters in this library will be usable in fewer situations.
  • The function_traits mechanism is unable to determine the argument and result types of functions, therefore ptr_fun continues to be required to adapt functions.

Future Directions

This library's primary focus is to solve the problem of references to references while maintaining as much compatibility as possible with the standard library. This allows you to use the techniques you read about in books and magazines with many of today's compilers.

In the longer term, even better solutions are likely:

  1. Several Boost members are working on expression template libraries. These will allow a more natural syntax for combining and adapting functions. As this is a new technology, it may be some time before it has matured and is widely supported by major compilers but shows great promise. In the meantime, the functional.hpp library fills the gap.
  2. The Standard Committee has recognised the problem of references to references occurring during template instantiation and has moved to fix the standard (see the C++ standard core language active issues list).


Mark Rodgers


Thanks to John Maddock for suggesting the mechanism that allowed the function objects traits to work correctly. Jens Maurer provided invaluable feedback during the formal review process.

Copyright 2000 Cadenza New Zealand Ltd. Permission to copy, use, modify, sell and distribute this document is granted provided this copyright notice appears in all copies. This document is provided "as is" without express or implied warranty, and with no claim as to its suitability for any purpose.

Revised 28 June 2000