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Introspecting an inner type

Introspecting a specific user-defined type

The TTI macro BOOST_TTI_HAS_TYPE introspects a nested type of a class. The type it introspects may be a typedef or, in C++11 on up, a type alias. Or the type may be the user-defined types of a class/struct, enumeration, or union.

The BOOST_TTI_HAS_TYPE macro takes a single parameter which is the name of an inner type whose existence the programmer wants to check. The macro generates a metafunction called "has_type_'name_of_inner_type'".

The main purpose of the generated metafunction is to check for the existence by name of the inner type. The metafunction can also be used to invoke an MPL lambda expression which is passed the inner type. One of the most common usages of the added functionality is to check whether or not the inner type is an alias for another type, either through a typedef or a type alias.

The metafunction is invoked by passing it the enclosing type to introspect. A second type may be passed to the metafunction, an MPL lambda expression taking the inner type and returning a boolean constant.

The metafunction returns a single type called 'type', which is a boost::mpl::bool_. As a convenience the metafunction returns the value of this type directly as a compile time bool constant called 'value'. This value is true or false depending on whether the inner type exists or not.

If a second optional type is passed, this type must be an MPL lambda expression and the expression will be invoked only if the inner type exists. In that case the metafunction returns true or false depending on whether the MPL lambda expression returns true or false. If the inner type does not exist, the MPL lambda expression, even if specified, is never invoked and the metafunction returns false.

Generating the metafunction

You generate the metafunction by invoking the macro with the name of an inner type:


generates a metafunction called 'has_type_AType' in the current scope.

Invoking the metafunction

You invoke the metafunction by instantiating the template with an enclosing type to introspect and, optionally, an MPL lambda expression. A return value called 'value' is a compile time bool constant.



First we generate metafunctions for various inner type names:

#include <boost/tti/has_type.hpp>


Next let us create some user-defined types we want to introspect.

struct Top
  typedef int MyTypeDef;
  struct AType { };
struct Top2
  typedef long ATypeDef;
  struct MyType { };

Finally we invoke our metafunction and return our value.

has_type_MyTypeDef<Top>::value;  // true
has_type_MyTypeDef<Top2>::value; // false

has_type_AType<Top>::value;  // true
has_type_AType<Top2>::value; // false

has_type_ATypeDef<Top>::value;  // false
has_type_ATypeDef<Top2>::value; // true

has_type_MyType<Top>::value;  // false
has_type_MyType<Top2>::value; // true

Examples - using lambda expressions

We can further invoke our metafunction with a second type, which is an MPL lambda expression.

An MPL lambda expression, an extremely useful technique in template metaprogramming, allows us to pass a metafunction to other metafunctions. The metafunction we pass can be in the form of a placeholder expression or a metafunction class. In our case the metafunction passed to our has_type_'name_of_inner_type' metafunction as an MPL lambda expression must return a boolean constant expression.

Example - using an MPL lambda expression with a placeholder expression

We will first illustrate the use of an MPL lambda expression in the form of a placeholder expression being passed as the second template parameter to our has_type_'name_of_inner_type' metafunction. A popular and simple placeholder expression we can use is 'boost::is_same<_1,SomeType>' to check if the inner type found is a particular type. This is particularly useful when the inner type is a typedef for some other type.

First we include some more header files and a using declaration for convenience.

#include <boost/mpl/placeholders.hpp
#include <boost/type_traits/is_same.hpp
using namespace boost::mpl::placeholders;

Next we invoke our metafunction:

has_type_MyTypeDef<Top,boost::is_same<_1,int> >::value; // true
has_type_MyTypeDef<Top,boost::is_same<_1,long> >::value; // false

has_type_ATypeDef<Top2,boost::is_same<_1,int> >::value; // false
has_type_ATypeDef<Top2,boost::is_same<_1,long> >::value; // true

Example - using an MPL lambda expression with a metafunction class

We will next illustrate the use of an MPL lambda expression in the form of a metafunction class being passed as the second template parameter to our has_type_'name_of_inner_type' metafunction.

A metafunction class is a type which has a nested class template called 'apply'. For our metafunction class example we will check if the inner type is a built-in integer type. First let us write out metafunction class:

#include <boost/type_traits/is_integral.hpp>

class OurMetafunctionClass
  template<class T> struct apply :

Now we can invoke our metafunction:

has_type_MyTypeDef<Top,OurMetafunctionClass>::value; // true
has_type_AType<Top,OurMetafunctionClass>::value; // false

has_type_ATypeDef<Top2,OurMetafunctionClass>::value; // true
has_type_MyType<Top2,OurMetafunctionClass>::value; // true

Metafunction re-use

The macro encodes only the name of the inner type for which we are searching and the fact that we are introspecting for an inner type within an enclosing type.

Because of this, once we create our metafunction for introspecting an inner type by name, we can reuse the metafunction for introspecting any enclosing type, having any inner type, for that name.

Furthermore since we have only encoded the name of the inner type for which we are introspecting, we can not only introspect for that inner type by name but add different lambda expressions to inspect that inner type for whatever we want to find out about it using the same metafunction.

Just as you use tti to look for a general type within some enclosing class, struct, or union, you can also look for a specific user-defined inner type. The only difference in this functionality is that the macros and default names for the generated metafunction change for each specific user-defined type. Otherwise the remaining functionality works exactly the way which was described in the previous topics when looking for a general inner type, including the optional use of an MPL lambda expression if the specific inner type is found.

The specific inner types, their macros, and default generated metafunction names are given in the following table:

Table 1.3. TTI Specific Inner Types

Inner Element

Simple Macro

Default Template Name

Class or Struct









As with the general type you can also use the complex macros form of BOOST_TTI_TRAIT_HAS_CLASS(trait,name), BOOST_TTI_TRAIT_HAS_ENUM(trait,name), and BOOST_TTI_TRAIT_HAS_UNION(trait,name) respectively to directly generate the metafunction name.

If you introspect for a specific user-defined type with a given name, and some other type with that given name is found, the metafunction will return the expected value of 'false', but no compiler error will result.

In all other respects using these macros/metafunctions for specific inner user-defined types will work in exactly the same way as has been explained for searching for a general inner type. The specific inner type functionality gives the end-user a finer grained introspection facility than looking for a general type within an enclosing user-defined type.