Add a conditional noexcept specification to std::exchange

Published Proposal,

ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22/WG21 14882: Programming Language — C++


We propose to add a noexcept-specification to std::exchange , which is currently lacking one.

1. Changelog

2. Motivation and Scope

std::exchange's behavior is fully specified by the Standard in [utility.exchange]:

template<class T, class U = T>
  constexpr T exchange(T& obj, U&& new_val)
    T old_val = std::move(obj);
    obj = std::forward<U>(new_val);
    return old_val;

The body composes two move constructions (to build old_val, and to return it) and an assignment from new_val onto obj.

Such as specification would allow for a "natural" noexcept specification, which is however missing, making std::exchange never noexcept (according to the Standard; but also on multiple implementations, see below).

This is unfortunate; for instance, a primary use case of std::exchange is in the implementation of move constructors:

class buffer {
  int *data;
  buffer() : data(new int[42]) {}
  buffer(buffer&& other) noexcept // at face value, this is noexcept(false)!
    : data(std::exchange(other.data, nullptr)) {}
  ~buffer() { delete [] data; }


If one, pedantically, used a conditional noexcept specification for buffer's move constructor, using the expressions present in the move constructor itself (i.e. the std::exchange), the surprising answer would be that the move constructor in question is not noexcept.

This can, of course, be generalized to any function that features an usage of std::exchange and wants to provide a noexcept specification written in terms of its body. While the usage of conditional noexcept specifiers is "restricted" in the Standard Library by [P1656]'s policies (but see below), users may want still to use conditional noexcept as a contract. In this sense, the Standard Library shouldn’t "lie" to them, and claim that operations that cannot possibly throw (by contract of the inner operations) actually may.

Note that all the operations done by std::exchange's body are operations for which a standardized type trait to detect whether the operation is noexcept already exists; they are, respectively, std::is_nothrow_move_constructible and std::is_nothrow_assignable. The very fact that the operations have existing type traits shows that it is meaningful to check for their noexcept-ness. A function that composes such operations therefore can very easily carry the information about whether or not it may possibly throw exceptions.

2.1. Actual implementations

[res.on.exception.handling]/5 gives implementations some freedoms to mark functions as noexcept, even if they’re not specified as such in the Standard:

5: An implementation may strengthen the exception specification for a non-virtual function by adding a non-throwing exception specification.

std::exchange does qualify for this. At the time of this writing, [MS-STL] in fact has a conditional noexcept specification on std::exchange (functionally identical to the one we are proposing), but [libstdc++] and [libc++] do not feature one.

At least in the case of Microsoft’s compiler toolchain, the presence of noexcept actually improves codegen of std::exchange in debug builds.

2.2. What about the Standard Library noexcept policy?

[P1656] encodes the latest noexcept policy for the Standard Library. Its wording precludes any functions but swap, default/copy/move constructors and copy/move assignment operators to be conditionally noexcept (points c, d, e).

From a certain point of view, std::exchange is extremely similar to std::swap: it composes move constructions and a (generalized) assignment. It’s hard to see why the two functions should be therefore treated in different ways.

We are therefore asking for a very reasonable exception to [P1656]'s rules in order to make std::exchange conditionally noexcept.

2.3. Is this a defect fix?

We believe that the change we are proposing should be treated as a defect fix. For this reason we are not proposing a bump in std::exchange's feature-testing macro.

A prior art in this sense is [LWG2762], whose resolution is adding a conditional noexcept specification to unique_ptr::operator*(), again in spite of [P1656] strict rules, because of its "obvious" implementation. (Note that the time of this writing, [LWG2762] status is still Tentatively Ready.)

3. Impact On The Standard

This is a pure change for std::exchange.

4. Implementation experience

The proposed change has been already implemented and shipped by [MS-STL], and experimentally implemented in this libstdc++ branch on GitHub.

5. Technical Specifications

All the proposed changes are relative to [N4892].

6. Proposed wording

Modify [utility.syn] as shown:

template<class T, class U = T>
  constexpr T exchange(T& obj, U&& new_val)
    noexcept(see below);

Modify [utility.exchange] as shown:

template<class T, class U = T>
  constexpr T exchange(T& obj, U&& new_val)
    noexcept(see below);

Effects: Equivalent to:

T old_val = std::move(obj);
obj = std::forward<U>(new_val);
return old_val;
Remarks: The exception specification is equivalent to:
is_nothrow_move_constructible_v<T> && is_nothrow_assignable_v<T&, U>

7. Acknowledgements

Thanks to KDAB for supporting this work.

Thanks to Jonathan Wakely for the discussions on the LEWG reflector.

All remaining errors are ours and ours only.


Informative References

`std::exchange` implementation in libc++. URL: https://github.com/llvm/llvm-project/blob/699d47472c3f7c5799fe75486689545179cfba03/libcxx/include/__utility/exchange.h
`std::exchange` implementation in libstdc++. URL: https://github.com/gcc-mirror/gcc/blob/9f26e34a5a9614a5b66f146752ecef9ea67b3e2d/libstdc%2B%2B-v3/include/std/utility#L291
`unique_ptr operator*()` should be `noexcept`. URL: https://cplusplus.github.io/LWG/issue2762
`std::exchange` implementation in Microsoft STL. URL: https://github.com/microsoft/STL/blob/1866b848f0175c3361a916680a4318e7f0cc5482/stl/inc/utility#L613
Thomas Köppe. Working Draft, Standard for Programming Language C++. URL: http://www.open-std.org/jtc1/sc22/wg21/docs/papers/2021/n4892.pdf
Agustín Bergé. "Throws: Nothing" should be `noexcept`. URL: http://www.open-std.org/jtc1/sc22/wg21/docs/papers/2020/p1656r2.html
Proof of concept implementation of P2401 in libstdc++. URL: https://github.com/dangelog/gcc/tree/P2401