Document Number: P0653r0
Date: 2017-05-28
Project: Programming Language C++
Audience: Library Evolution Working Group
Author: Glen Joseph Fernandes (

pointer_traits utility to convert to raw pointer

This paper proposes adding a new static member function to class template pointer_traits (called to_address) to obtain a raw pointer from an object of any pointer-like type.


It is often necessary to obtain a raw pointer from an object of any pointer-like type. One common use is writing allocator-aware code where an allocator's pointer member type is not a raw pointer type.

Typically the expression addressof(*p) is used but this is not well-defined when p does not reference storage that has an object constructed in it. This means that using this expression to obtain a raw pointer for the purpose of constructing an object (e.g. via a placement new-expression or via an allocator) is incorrect.

A typical example of such code:

P p = a.allocate(n);
new (addressof(*p)) T();

The correct code now looks like:

P p = a.allocate(n);
new (pointer_traits<P>::to_address(p)) T();

Why pointer_traits?

Typically implementors work around this problem by defining a utility like the following:

template <class Ptr>
typename pointer_traits<Ptr>::element_type* to_address(Ptr p) noexcept
  return to_address(p.operator->());

template <class T>
T* to_address(T* p) noexcept
  return p;

The C++ standard library already provides pointer_traits for supporting any pointer-like types and this to_address is the natural inverse of its pointer_to member function.


The Boost C++ library collection now contains an implementation of this proposal in the Core library. That boost::pointer_traits implementation is used by several Boost libraries, starting with the 1.65 release.

Proposed Wording

All changes are relative to N4640.

1. Insert into 20.10.3 [pointer.traits] as follows:

namespace std {
  template <class Ptr> struct pointer_traits {
    using pointer = Ptr;
    using element_type = see below;
    using difference_type = see below;

    template <class U> using rebind = see below;

    static pointer pointer_to(see below r);
    static element_type* to_address(pointer p) noexcept;

  template <class T> struct pointer_traits<T*> {
    using pointer = T*;
    using element_type = T;
    using difference_type = std::ptrdiff_t;

    template <class U> using rebind = U*;

    static pointer pointer_to(see below r) noexcept;
    static element_type* to_address(pointer p) noexcept;

2. Add to [pointer.traits.functions] as follows:

static element_type* pointer_traits::to_address(pointer p) noexcept;
static element_type* pointer_traits<T*>::to_address(pointer p) noexcept;

Returns: A pointer of type element_type* that references the same location as the argument p.

Remarks: The first member function returns pointer_traits<E>::to_address(expr) where expr is p.operator->() and E is its type. The second member function returns p.


Peter Dimov suggested a better design as well as reviewed the implementation and tests of the Boost version. Jonathan Wakely pointed out the issue that motivated this proposal. Michael Spencer reviewed this paper.