Doc. no.: P0849R3
Date: 2020-2-29
Audience: EWG, LWG
Reply-to: Zhihao Yuan <zy at miator dot net>

auto(x): decay-copy in the language

Changes Since R2

Changes Since R1

Changes Since R0


This paper proposes auto(x) and auto{x} for casting x into a prvalue value as if passing x as a function argument by value. The functionality is realized as the decay-copy function in the standard for exposition only.


Obtaining a prvalue copy is necessary

A generic way to obtain a copy of an object in C++ is auto a = x; but such a copy is an lvalue. We could often convey the purpose in code more accurately if we can obtain a copy as a prvalue. In the following example, let Container be a concept,

void pop_front_alike(Container auto& x) {
    std::erase(x.begin(), x.end(), auto(x.front()));

If we wrote

void pop_front_alike(Container auto& x) {
    auto a = x.front();
    std::erase(x.begin(), x.end(), a);

, questions arise – why this is not equivalent to

void pop_front_alike(Container auto& x) {
    std::erase(x.begin(), x.end(), x.front());

The problem is, the statement to obtain an lvalue copy is a declaration:

    auto a = x.front();

Its primary purpose is to declare a variable while being a copy is a property of the declaration. In contrast, the expression to obtain an rvalue copy is a clear command to perform a copy:


One might argue that the above is indifferent from


However, there are plenty of situations that the T is nontrivial to get. We probably don’t want to write the original example as

void pop_front_alike(Container auto& x) {
    using T = std::decay_t<decltype(x.front())>;
    std::erase(x.begin(), x.end(), T(x.front()));

Obtaining a prvalue copy with auto(x) works always

In standard library specification, we use the following exposition only function to fulfill the role of auto(x):

template<class T>
constexpr decay_t<T> decay_copy(T&& v) noexcept(
    is_nothrow_convertible_v<T, decay_t<T>>) {
    return std::forward<T>(v);

This definition involves templates, dependent constexpr, forwarding reference, noexcept, and two traits, and still has caveats if people want to use it in practice. An obvious issue is that decay_copy(x.front()) creates a copy of x.front() even if x.front() is already a prvalue (thus, already a copy).

There is a less obvious issue which needs a minimal reproduce:

class A {
    int x;


    auto run() {
        f(A(*this));           // ok
        f(auto(*this));        // ok as proposed
        f(decay_copy(*this));  // ill-formed

    A(const A&);

The problem is that decay_copy is nobody’s friend. We can use A directly in this specific example. Still, in a more general setting, where a type A has access to a set of type T's private or protected copy/move constructors, decay-copy an object of T fails inside A's class scope, but auto(x) continues to work.


auto(x) is a missing piece

Replacing the char in char('a') with auto, we obtain auto('a'), which is a function-style cast. Such a formula also supports injected-class-names and class template argument deduction in C++17. Introducing auto(x) and auto{x} significantly improves the language consistency:

variable definition function-style cast new expression
auto v(x); auto(x) new auto(x)
auto v{x}; auto{x} new auto{x}
ClassTemplate v(x); ClassTemplate(x) new ClassTemplate(x)
ClassTemplate v{x}; ClassTemplate{x} new ClassTemplate{x}

** The type of x is a specialization of ClassTemplate.

With this proposal, all the cells in the table copy construct form x (given CTAD’s default behavior) to obtain lvalues, prvalues, and pointers to objects, categorized by their columns. Defining auto(x) as a library[1] facility loses orthogonality.

Introducing auto(x) into the language even improves the library consistency:

type function style expression style
void_t<decltype(expr)> decltype(void(expr))
decay_t<decltype(expr)> decltype(auto(expr))

Do we also miss decltype(auto){x}?

decltype(auto){arg} can forward arg without computing arg's type. It is equivalent to static_cast<decltype(arg)>(arg) . If arg is a variable of type T&&, arg is an lvalue but static_cast<T&&>(arg) is an xvalue.

EWG discussed this idea, disliked its expert-friendly nature, and concluded that adding this facility would cause the teaching effort to add up.


Try it out: Godbolt


The wording is relative to N4849.

Modify [expr.type.conv]/1 as indicated:

A simple-type-specifier ( or typename-specifier (13.8) followed by a parenthesized optional expression-list or by a braced-init-list (the initializer) constructs a value of the specified type given the initializer. If the type is a placeholder for a deduced class type, it is replaced by the return type of the function selected by overload resolution for class template deduction ( for the remainder of this section. Otherwise, if the type is auto, it is replaced by the type deduced for the variable x in the invented declaration (

auto x init;

, where init is the initializer.

Modify []/5 as indicated:

A placeholder type can also be used in the type-specifier-seq in the new-type-id or type-id of a new-expression ( and as a decl-specifier of the parameter-declaration’s decl-specifier-seq in a template-parameter (13.2). The auto type-specifier can also be used as the simple-type-specifier in an explicit type conversion (functional notation) (

Remove the first entity from [expos.only.func]/2:

template<class T> constexpr decay_t<T> decay-copy(T&& v)
    noexcept(is_nothrow_convertible_v<T, decay_t<T>>)     // exposition only
  { return std::forward<T>(v); }

Search and replace “calls to decay-copy being evaluated in” (the thread/the current thread) with “where the values produced by auto are materialized in”.

Search and replace “decay-copy” with “auto”.


Thank Alisdair Meredith, Arthur O’Dwyer, and Billy O’Neal for providing examples and feedback for this paper. Thank James Touton for presenting the paper and bringing it forward.


  1. Krügler, Daniel. P0758R0 Implicit conversion traits and utility functions. ↩︎