ISO/ IEC JTC1/SC22/WG21 N3617

´╗┐Document number: 	N3617
Date: 	2013-03-14
Project: 	Programming Language C++, Core Working Group
Reply-to: 	Philipp Juschka <p.juschka at hotmail dot de>

Lifting overload sets into function objects

### I. Introduction

Many generic libraries, including the standard library, draw from the functional programming paradigm, where passing around functions is a common occurence. This proposal aims to allow the usage of functional techniques with plain old overloaded functions and function templates without needing to create a function object by hand.

### II. Motivation and Scope

When dealing with generic algorithms, like the function templates in <algorithm>, it can be quite cumbersome to pass an overloaded function or a function template, because the user needs to either

* specify the exact type of the resulting function pointer through a cast or binding it to an appropriate variable first; or
* wrap the function in a lambda, still having to specify the argument types [note: the polymorphic lambda proposal will lessen the burden here, but this proposal aims to go farther than regular syntactic sugar]

This doesn't lend itself to clean code or high genericity, especially when aiming to write code in a functional style.

### III. Impact on the Standard

No impact on the current standard, no other dependencies. This paper only references the polymorphic lambda proposal[2] and the polymorphic operator functors proposal[3] for explanations.
[note. It would, help implementations tremendously if member templates of local class-types were allowed. Such a proposal, however, is not out of the scope for this paper.]

IV. Impact on existing code

The proposed '[]id-expression' syntax is currently ill-formed, so no impact on existing code.

V. Design Decisions

The main goal is to provide a concise and unobtrusive syntax, while yielding an intuitive result. For that purpose, the semantics borrow from INVOKE's cases, while the grammar borrows from the existing *lambda-expression* syntax. The '[]id-expression' syntax is open to bikeshedding discussions, of course, but I chose it as a first option because it seems rather natural, and others[2] also seem to have reached this conclusion independently.

The `[]operator-function-id` special case may be seen as a generalization to 'Making Operator Functors greater<>'[3], although I personally would use those for clarity. It may be worth considering which operators would actually be allowed by this form, as `[]operator++` and `[]operator--` are inherently ambiguous. These denote both prefix and postfix versions, and would need a way to disambiguate. One idea is that `[]operator++(int)` and `[]operator--(int)` as a special syntax would denote the postfix versions, but this will likely have to be investigated further.

Another thing that must be considered is mirroring the data-member cases of INVOKE. These can be ambiguous with free function overloads / templates, as in the following example:

    template<class T>
    void foo(T){}

    struct X{
      int foo;

    void f(){
      X x;
      []foo(x); // would currently return X::foo, maybe not intended
One idea that came up in a discussion was to allow `[].id-expression` to denote members-only.

### VI. Discussion

The envisioned syntax would be a simple '[]id-expresson', which I call a *lifting-expression* or *lifting-lambda*. The idea started out as just having a short-hand notation for the following polymorphic lambda, if that proposal was to be adopted:

    [](auto&&... vs){ return id-expression(std::forward<decltype(vs)>(vs)...); }
The above allows the user to pass any overloaded function or function template as if it were a function object, bypassing the main issues mentioned in the motivation. However, there are drawbacks:

* writing out the whole lambda expression is tedious and introduces unnecessary clutter
* it only allows exactly that invokation form and dismisses member functions and member data
* the above points become even more prevalent with operators

These drawbacks, especially the third one, can not be solved in a "library"-way (say, with a #define), the solution needs to be at the language level since it partly depends on what grammar-elements are used as the *id-expression*.

The question then becomes what the '[]id-expression' should represent, and how the resulting object should behave. The semantics of 'INVOKE' sounded like a good starting point, but since 'INVOKE' only deals with objects and not with *id-expressions* themselves, it can only serve as a rough basis for behaviour. Special handling only needs to be done for *operator-function-ids* that are *unqualified-ids*, as far as I can see. With that, a *lifting-expression* can be described in terms of 'LIFTED_INVOKE', similar to how 'std::bind' and others are described in terms of 'INVOKE'.

### VII. Technical Specification

Define LIFTED_INVOKE(id-expression, a1, a2, ..., aN) as follows:
* LIFTED_INVOKE_OP(id-expression, a1, a2, ..., aN) when the *id-expression* is an *unqualified-id* and represents an *operator-function-id*;
*, ..., aN) when the expression would represent a member function invokation;
* (*a1).id-expression(a2, ..., aN) when the previous item does not apply and the expression the expression would represent a member function invokation;
* when N == 1 and the *id-expression* names a data-member of a1;
* (*a1).id-expression when N == 1, the *id-expression* names a data-member of the result of (*a1) and the previous item does not apply;
* id-expression(a1, a2, ..., aN) in all other cases.

Define LIFTED_INVOKE_OP(operator-function-id, a1, a2, ..., aN) as follows, where @ represents the respective operator:
* @a1 when N == 1;
* a1 @ a2 when N == 2;
* a1[a2] when N == 2 and the *operator-function-id* is 'operator[]';
* a1(a2, ..., aN) when N >= 1 and the *operator-function-id* is 'operator()';
* (a1->*a2)(a3, ..., aN) when N >= 2, the *operator-function-id* is 'operator->*' and 'a2' is a pointer-to-member-function;
* a1->*a2 when N == 2, the *operator-function-id* is 'operator->*' and 'a2' is a pointer-to-member-data;

[note: The split between LIFTED_INVOKE and LIFTED_INVOKE_OP is deliberate and intended for clarity.]

Extend the grammar rule for *primary-expression*:

Add a new grammar rule:

        [] id-expression

A *lifting-expression* would then evaluate to a *lifting-lambda* h and the effects of 'h(a1, a2, ..., aN)' shall be 'LIFTED_INVOKE(id-expression, a1, a2, ..., aN)' if the resulting expression is well-formed. Otherwise, the operator() of the *lifting-lambda* shall not participate in overload resolution. [note: This makes the lifting-lambda usable in code that employs expression SFINAE.]
The operator() shall be *perfect-returning*. This means that prvalues of the final expression are returned as prvalues, xvalues as xvalues, and lvalues as lvalues. [note: A simple 'auto&& operator()(...)' (assuming deduced return types were in the language) will not suffice, as that would return dangling rvalue references if the final expression evaluates to a prvalue.]
[note: The intent is that the *lifting-lambda* acts as much as the substituted expression would, meaning it perfect-forwards all arguments and also evaluates to the same value-category. The *perfect-returning* semantics are basically mirroring the 'decltype' semantics.]

Usage example:

    struct user{
      int id;
      std::string name;

    void f()
      std::vector<user> users{ {4, "Bjarne"}, {1, "Herb"}, {3, "Scott"}, {0, "Stephan"}, {2, "Andrei"} };
      // ordered_by implementation left as an exercise to the reader 
      std::sort(users.begin(), users.end(), ordered_by([]id));
      // [(0, "STL"), (1, "Herb"), (2, "Andrei"), (3, "Scott"), (4, "Bjarne")]
      std::sort(users.begin(), users.end(), ordered_by([]name));
      // [(2, "Andrei"), (4, "Bjarne"), (1, "Herb"), (3, "Scott"), (0, "Stephan")]

### VIII. Acknowledgements

Many thanks to R. Martinho Fernandes, DeadMG and others from the StackOverlow Lounge<C++> chat room, aswell as Richard Smith and others from the #llvm channel on, for their helpful suggestions and input on discussions.

### IX. References

[1] Proposal for Generic (Polymorphic) Lambda Expressions, F. Vali, H. Sutter, D. Abrahams
[2] C++Next blog
    And also the polymorphic lambda proposal above, albeit with different semantics.
[3] Making Operator Functors greater<>, Stephan T. Lavavej