Boost C++ Libraries of the most highly regarded and expertly designed C++ library projects in the world. Herb Sutter and Andrei Alexandrescu, C++ Coding Standards

This is the documentation for a snapshot of the develop branch, built from commit 3475a457cf.


[section Optional references]

[section Overview]

This library allows the template parameter `T` to be of reference type:
`T&`, and to some extent, `T const&`.

However, since references are not real objects some restrictions apply and
some operations are not available in this case:

* Converting constructors
* Converting assignment
* InPlace construction
* InPlace assignment
* Value-access via pointer

Also, even though `optional<T&>` treats it wrapped pseudo-object much as
a real value, a true real reference is stored so aliasing will occur:

* Copies of `optional<T&>` will copy the references but all these references
will nonetheless refer to the same object.
* Value-access will actually provide access to the referenced object
rather than the reference itself.

[caution On compilers that do not conform to Standard C++ rules of reference binding, some operations on optional references are disabled in order to prevent subtle bugs. For more details see [link boost_optional.dependencies_and_portability.optional_reference_binding Dependencies and Portability section].]

[heading Rvalue references]

Rvalue references and lvalue references to const have the ability in C++ to extend the life time of a temporary they bind to. Optional references do not have this capability, therefore to avoid surprising effects it is not possible to initialize an optional references from a temporary. Optional rvalue references are disabled altogether. Also, the initialization and assignment of an optional reference to const from rvalue reference is disabled.

    const int& i = 1;            // legal
    optional<const int&> oi = 1; // illegal


[section Rebinding semantics for assignment of optional references]

If you assign to an ['uninitialized ] `optional<T&>` the effect is to bind (for
the first time) to the object. Clearly, there is no other choice.

    int x = 1 ;
    int& rx = x ;
    optional<int&> ora ;
    optional<int&> orb(x) ;
    ora = orb ; // now 'ora' is bound to 'x' through 'rx'
    *ora = 2 ; // Changes value of 'x' through 'ora'

If you assign to a bare C++ reference, the assignment is forwarded to the
referenced object; its value changes but the reference is never rebound.

    int a = 1 ;
    int& ra = a ;
    int b = 2 ;
    int& rb = b ;
    ra = rb ; // Changes the value of 'a' to 'b'
    b = 3 ;
    assert(ra!=b); // 'ra' is not rebound to 'b'

Now, if you assign to an ['initialized ] `optional<T&>`, the effect is to
[*rebind] to the new object instead of assigning the referee. This is unlike
bare C++ references.

    int a = 1 ;
    int b = 2 ;
    int& ra = a ;
    int& rb = b ;
    optional<int&> ora(ra) ;
    optional<int&> orb(rb) ;
    ora = orb ; // 'ora' is rebound to 'b'
    *ora = 3 ; // Changes value of 'b' (not 'a')

[heading Rationale]

Rebinding semantics for the assignment of ['initialized ] `optional` references has
been chosen to provide [*consistency among initialization states] even at the
expense of lack of consistency with the semantics of bare C++ references.
It is true that `optional<U>` strives to behave as much as possible as `U`
does whenever it is initialized; but in the case when `U` is `T&`, doing so would
result in inconsistent behavior w.r.t to the lvalue initialization state.

Imagine `optional<T&>` forwarding assignment to the referenced object (thus
changing the referenced object value but not rebinding), and consider the
following code:

    optional<int&> a = get();
    int x = 1 ;
    int& rx = x ;
    optional<int&> b(rx);
    a = b ;

What does the assignment do?

If `a` is ['uninitialized], the answer is clear: it binds to `x` (we now have
another reference to `x`).
But what if `a` is already ['initialized]? it would change the value of the
referenced object (whatever that is); which is inconsistent with the other
possible case.

If `optional<T&>` would assign just like `T&` does, you would never be able to
use Optional's assignment without explicitly handling the previous
initialization state unless your code is capable of functioning whether
after the assignment, `a` aliases the same object as `b` or not.

That is, you would have to discriminate in order to be consistent.

If in your code rebinding to another object is not an option, then it is very
likely that binding for the first time isn't either. In such case, assignment
to an ['uninitialized ] `optional<T&>` shall be prohibited. It is quite possible
that in such a scenario it is a precondition that the lvalue must be already
initialized. If it isn't, then binding for the first time is OK
while rebinding is not which is IMO very unlikely.
In such a scenario, you can assign the value itself directly, as in: