Document number: P0944R0
Date: 2018-02-11
Project: C++ Extensions for Ranges, Library Evolution Working Group
Reply-to: Casey Carter <>


This paper proposes extensions to ISO/IEC TS 21425:2017 “C++ Extensions for ranges” (The “Ranges TS”) to enable first-class support for contiguous iterators and contiguous ranges. Contiguity of storage is a critical property of data which the Ranges design should be able to communicate to generic algorithms.


The C++ standard library has been slowly recognizing the increasing importance of data contiguity. The word “contiguous” does not appear in the C++98 standard library specification. Nevertheless:

As a Technical Corrigendum, C++03 made very few changes. One of those changes was to promote the contiguity of vector<not_bool> from QoI to a requirement in [lib.vector]/1:

The elements of a vector are stored contiguously, meaning that if v is a vector<T, Allocator> where T is some type other than bool, then it obeys the identity &v[n] == &v[0] + n for all 0 <= n < v.size(). Presumably five more years of studying the interactions of contiguity with caching made it clear to WG21 that contiguity needed to be mandated and non-contiguous vector implementation should be clearly banned.

Eight more years of processor speed increasing faster than memory latency made cache effects even more pronounced in the C++11 era. The standard library responded by adding more support for contiguity: basic_string added a requirement for contiguous storage, the new std::array sprang into existence with contiguous storage, and a new library function std::align was added to help users parcel out aligned chunks of contiguous memory from large blocks of storage.

C++17 recognized that pointers are members of a larger class of contiguous iterators. N4284 “Contiguous iterators” defined the terms “contiguous iterator” [iterator.requirements.general]/6:

Iterators that further satisfy the requirement that, for integral values n and dereferenceable iterator values a and (a + n), *(a + n) is equivalent to *(addressof(*a) + n), are called contiguous iterators. and “contiguous container” [container.requirements.general]/13: A contiguous container is a container that supports random access iterators and whose member types iterator and const_iterator are contiguous iterators.

Sadly, C++17 fell short of providing the tools necessary to make contiguous iterators usable in generic contexts. There is a set of concrete iterator types that are specified to be contiguous iterators, but there is no general mechanism in C++17 to determine if a given iterator type is a contiguous iterator. It is notable that N3884 “Contiguous Iterators: a refinement of random access iterators” did try to provide such a facility in the form of a new iterator tag contiguous_iterator_tag. LEWG rejected the new category tag in Issaquah 2014 out of fear that too much code would be broken by changing the iterator category of the existing contiguous iterators from random_access_iterator_tag to contiguous_iterator_tag. LEWG requested a new type trait be used to distinguish contiguous iterators. N4183 “Contiguous Iterators: Pointer Conversion & Type Trait” presented such a trait, but that proposal seems to have been regarded with indifference by LEWG.

This paper does not motivate the need for contiguous ranges, or for generic algorithms that work with contiguous ranges. The treatment in N3884 is sufficient.

Proposed Design

This paper proposes to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the distinct mechanisms in the Ranges TS to both leave the iterator category of the standard library’s contiguous iterators unchanged and update the category of those iterators to denote them as contiguous. In the Ranges TS design, the category of iterators is determined using the ranges::iterator_category_t alias and its backing class template ranges::iterator_category (Ranges TS [iterator.assoc.types.iterator_category]). This trait is notably distinct from std::iterator_traits that determines the category of Standard iterators. By defining the Ranges and Standard traits to different categories, “new” code that is Ranges-aware can detect contiguous iterators using ranges::iterator_category_t, while “old” code that may break if presented a category other than random access for for e.g. vector::iterator will use std::iterator_traits and be presented std::random_access_iterator_tag.

This paper also proposes that contiguous iterators are a refinement of random access iterators as did N3884. Since a contiguous range [i, s) (where s is a sentinel for i) must be equivalent to some pointer range [p, n) and random access is certainly possible in that pointer range, it is trivial to implement random access for any contiguous iterator. Allowing contiguous iterators that are not random access would not admit any additional models or increase the expressive power of the design.

Unlike the prior art, this paper does not propose a customization point to retrieve the pointer value that corresponds to some contiguous iterator value. This paper’s goal is to enable access to contiguous ranges, rather than provide mechanisms to handle individual contiguous iterators, and a sized contiguous range rng (or [i, s)) can always be converted to a pointer range [data(rng), size(rng)) (resp. [s - i ? addressof(*i) : nullptr, s - i)). Implementation of generic algorithms that take advantage of contiguity does not require a facility to convert a “monopole” contiguous iterator to a pointer. The copy algorithm, for example, could be approximated with:

template<InputIterator I, Sentinel<I> S, Iterator O>
requires IndirectlyCopyable<I, O>
void copy(I i, S s, O o) {
  for (; i != s; ++i, ++o) {
    *o = *i;

template<ContiguousIterator I, SizedSentinel<I> S, ContiguousIterator O>
requires IndirectlyCopyable<I, O> &&
  Same<value_type_t<I>, value_type_t<O>> &&
void copy(I i, S s, O o) {
  if (s - i > 0) {
    std::memmove(&*o, &*i, (s - i) * sizeof(value_type_t<I>));

Implementation Experience

A variant of this design has been implemented in CMCSTL2, the reference implementation of the Ranges TS, for several months.

Technical Specification

Wording relative to N4685, the Ranges TS Working Draft.

Change the synopsis of header <experimental/ranges/iterator> in [iterator.synopsis] as follows:

  // [iterators.random.access], RandomAccessIterator:
  template <class I>
  concept bool RandomAccessIterator = see below;

  // [iterators.contiguous], ContiguousIterator:
  template <class I>
  concept bool ContiguousIterator = see below;


  // 9.6.3, iterator tags:
  struct output_iterator_tag { };
  struct input_iterator_tag { };
  struct forward_iterator_tag : input_iterator_tag { };
  struct bidirectional_iterator_tag : forward_iterator_tag { };
  struct random_access_iterator_tag : bidirectional_iterator_tag { };
  struct contiguous_iterator_tag : random_access_iterator_tag { };

Modify [iterator.assoc.types.iterator_category]/1 as follows:

1 iterator_category_t<T> is implemented as if:


template <class T>
struct iterator_category<T*>
  : enable_if<is_object<T>::value, random_accesscontiguous_iterator_tag> { };


Insert a new paragraph after [iterator.assoc.types.iterator_category]/3:

-?- iterator_category<I>::type is contiguous_iterator_tag when I denotes:

  • the member type iterator or const_iterator of a specialization of std::basic_string (ISO/IEC 14882:2014 [basic.string])
  • the member type iterator or const_iterator of a specialization of std::array (ISO/IEC 14882:2014 [array])
  • the member type iterator or const_iterator of a specialization of std::vector except for std::vector<bool> (ISO/IEC 14882:2014 [vector])
  • the type returned by the std::valarray overloads of std::begin and std::end (ISO/IEC 14882:2014 [valarray.range])

[Note: Implementations of this document that also implement basic_string_view from ISO/IEC 14882:2017 are also encouraged to ensure that iterator_category<I>::type is contiguous_iterator_tag when I denotes the member type iterator or const_iterator of a specialization of basic_string_view.—end note]

Add a new subclause immediately after [iterators.random.access]:

9.3.?? Concept ContiguousIterator [iterator.contiguous]

The ContiguousIterator concept refines RandomAccessIterator and provides a guarantee that the denoted elements are stored contiguously in memory.

template <class I>
concept bool ContiguousIterator =
  RandomAccessIterator<I> &&
  DerivedFrom<iterator_category_t<I>, contiguous_iterator_tag> &&
  is_lvalue_reference<reference_t<I>>::value &&
  Same<value_type_t<I>, remove_cv_t<remove_reference_t<reference_t<I>>>>;

Let a and b be a dereferenceable iterators of type I such that b is reachable from a. ContiguousIterator<I> is satisfied only if:

  • addressof(*(a + (b - a))) == addressof(*a) + (b - a)

Modify [std.iterator.tags]/1 as follows:

1 […] The category tags are: input_iterator_tag, output_iterator_tag, forward_iterator_tag, bidirectional_iterator_tag, and random_access_iterator_tag, and contiguous_iterator_tag. […]

namespace std { namespace experimental { namespace ranges { inline namespace v1 {
  struct output_iterator_tag { };
  struct input_iterator_tag { };
  struct forward_iterator_tag : input_iterator_tag { };
  struct bidirectional_iterator_tag : forward_iterator_tag { };
  struct random_access_iterator_tag : bidirectional_iterator_tag { };
  struct contiguous_iterator_tag : random_access_iterator_tag { };

Modify the synopsis of class template reverse_iterator in [reverse.iterator] as follows:

template <BidirectionalIterator I>
class reverse_iterator {
  using iterator_type = I;
  using difference_type = difference_type_t<I>;
  using value_type = value_type_t<I>;
  using iterator_category = iterator_category_t<I>see below;

Add a new paragraph following the synopsis:

-?- The member typedef-name iterator_category denotes random_access_iterator_tag if ContiguousIterator<I> is satisfied, and otherwise denotes the same type as iterator_category_t<I>.

Modify the synopsis of <experimental/ranges/range> in [range.synopsis] as follows:


  // 10.6.10, RandomAccessRange:
  template <class T>
  concept bool RandomAccessRange = see below;

  // 10.6.??, ContiguousRange:
  template <class T>
  concept bool ContiguousRange = see below;

Modify [] as follows:


(1.3) — Otherwise, ranges::begin(E) if it is a valid expression of pointer to object type.

(1.?) — Otherwise, if ranges::begin(E) is a valid expression whose type satisfies ContiguousIterator, ranges::begin(E) == ranges::end(E) ? nullptr : addressof(*ranges::begin(E)), except that E is evaluated only once.

(1.4) — Otherwise, ranges::data(E) is ill-formed.


Add a new subclause after [ranges.random.access]:

10.6.?? Contiguous ranges [ranges.contiguous]

1 The ContiguousRange concept specifies requirements of a RandomAccessRange type for which begin returns a type that satisfies ContiguousIterator ([iterators.contiguous]).

template <class R>
concept bool ContiguousRange =
  Range<R> && ContiguousIterator<iterator_t<R>> &&
  requires(R& r) {
    requires Same<decltype(ranges::data(r)), add_pointer_t<reference_t<iterator_t<R>>>>;