Doc. no.: P2174R0
Date: 2020-5-15
Audience: EWG Incubator
Reply-to: Zhihao Yuan <zy at miator dot net>

Compound Literals

This paper proposes to standardize an existing practice, namely compound literals, available in GCC and Clang for C++ language modes. It shares the syntax with C99 compound literals but produces prvalue.


When teaching new-expressions, the author found that it is useful to let a student correlate creating an object of automatic storage and an object of dynamic storage:

struct Point
    int x, y;

new Point(3, 4)  // returns a pointer to a Point object on heap, because
    Point(3, 4)  // is an anonymous Point object on stack, while
  Point a(3, 4); // can give a name to such an object

But this encounters some trouble when applying to dynamic arrays. In hypothesis, the author wants to see

new double[]{.3, .2, .1}  // returns a pointer to a dynamic array, because
    double[]{.3, .2, .1}  // is an anonymous array on stack, while
  double a[]{.3, .2, .1}; // can give a name to such an array

There is no such grammar for the second line, but it is entirely acceptable to spell such an expression as follows.

(double[]){.3, .2, .1}


  1. It is intuitive to group tokens with parenthesis.
  2. It works already in GCC and Clang.
  3. C has the same syntax.

Some people, including experts, believe that it is a part of C++ because all relevant C++ compilers, except MSVC, support the proposed syntax. We occasionally find open-source contributors reverting uses of compound literals in people’s C++ code.

However, the compilers powered by the EDG frontend seem to produce lvalues for the proposed syntax. In the following code snippet,

auto&& x = (double[]){ 3, 4, 5 };

x is of type double(&&)[3] in GCC and Clang, but is of type double(&)[3] in NVCC and Intel C++ Compiler. Hence, there is a widely spread existing practice, but with a slightly diverging behavior, which can be better-off if standardized.


There is a workaround for it…

using arr_t = double[];
auto&& x = arr_t{ 3, 4, 5 };

It’s silly.

Why don’t you define an alias template?

template<class T> using id = T;
auto&& x = id<double[]>{ 3, 4, 5 };

It’s not only silly but also expert only. The author has never seen the code outside [class.temporary]/6.8.

Let’s focus more on the portability aspect of our situation.

Why producing prvalue rather than closely matching C99?

Given the fact that a typedef followed by braced-init-list produces prvalue in C++,

using arr_t = double[];
auto&& x = arr_t{ 3, 4, 5 };  // double(&&)[3]

it would be a wat for a parentasised typedef followed by braced-init-list to produce lvalue:

using arr_t = double[];
auto&& x = (arr_t){ 3, 4, 5 }; // double(&)[3] ??

To quote Richard,

If we allow this syntax, I think the only consistent and rational semantic model is for T{inits} to mean the same thing as (T){inits}, and we should be cognizant that we are somewhat diverging from C’s semantics in adopting that model.

The “Initializer lists”[1] paper discussed an additional issue in ch. 5.5.


The wording is relative to N4861.

Extend the grammar:

  ( type-id ) cast-expression
  ( type-id ) braced-init-list

Insert a new paragraph after [expr.cast]/1:

The result of the expression (T) cast-expression is of type T. The result is an lvalue if T is an lvalue reference type or an rvalue reference to function type and an xvalue if T is an rvalue reference to object type; otherwise the result is a prvalue. [Note: […] — end note]
If an expression is of form ( type-id ) braced-init-list, let init be the braced-init-list and T be the type-id. The expression is equivalent to T init ([expr.type.conv]).


  1. Stroustrup, Bjarne and Gabriel Dos Reis. N2215 Initializer lists (Rev. 3). ↩︎