Doc. no.: P0963R1
Date: 2023-08-14
Audience: Evolution Working Group
Reply-to: Zhihao Yuan <zy at miator dot net>

Structured binding declaration as a condition


Since R0
  • Rework the motivation
  • Clarify that decomposition is sequenced before testing


C++17 structured binding declaration is designed as a variant of variable declarations. As of today, it may appear as a statement on its own or as the declaration part of a range-based for loop. Meanwhile, the condition of an if statement may also be a variable declaration and can benefit from being a structured binding declaration. This paper proposes to allow structured binding declarations with initializers appearing in place of the conditions in if, while, for, and switch statements.


auto [b, p] = ranges::mismatch(current, end, pbegin, pend);


for (auto [index, value] : views::enumerate(vec))
    println("{}: {}", index, value);


if (auto [to, ec] = std::to_chars(p, last, 42))
    auto s = std::string(p, to);


By design, structured binding is only about decomposition. The information of an object to be decomposed equals the information of all the components combined. However, after deploying structured bindings for a few years, it has been found that, in some scenarios, certain side information contributes to complexity if left out.

Scenario 1

The author sees a pattern that can be demonstrated using the following code snippet:

if (auto [first, last] = parse(begin(), end()); first != last) {
    // interpret [first, last) into a value

The idea is to split parsing and the action. By returning a pair of pointers, it’s not only easy to incorporate C-style APIs in the implementation of the actions but also flexible to form different, windowed inputs by mixing & matching the pointers.

However, if you wear glasses of “I did not write the code,” the condition first != last doesn’t say much. It’s repetitive, opens the opportunity of being combined with other conditions, and can cause mistakes if comparing different pairs.

It would be nice if, when defining the intermediate type that carries the pairs to be decomposed, the condition can be baked into the type,

struct parse_window
    char const *first, *last;
    explicit operator bool() const noexcept { return first != last; }

and eliminates the need to maintain a convention:

if (auto [first, last] = parse(begin(), end())) {
    // interpret [first, last) into a value

In this example, information about the condition is spread across the components, and “how to form the condition” is not self-explanatory. If structured binding can channel this knowledge contextually, the library authors and the users may settle with a more solid pattern.

Scenario 2

Here is an updated example of using <charconv> in C++26 after adopting P2497[1]:

if (auto result = std::to_chars(p, last, 42)) {
    auto [ptr, _] = result;
    // okay to proceed
} else {
    auto [ptr, ec] = result;
    // handle errors

We succeeded at restricting the variable to the minimal lexical scope where needed, but the code still struggled to implement what the users wanted to express.

The example can be a lot simpler if, when testing the result variable which has no role other than being decomposed later, the test is done as a part of decomposition without naming the intermediate result:

if (auto [ptr, ec] = std::to_chars(p, last, 42)) {
    // okay to proceed
} else {
    // handle errors

So, even when a single component contains information about the condition ( in this example), people continue to be motivated to consolidate the knowledge of “how to test” into the complete object. But how to test when the complete object happens to be the underlying object of structured binding? The proposed feature answers the need.

Scenario 3

In an iterative solver, the code runs a primary solving step, like the following, in a loop. The call returns the state of the problem, decomposed into matrices and vectors:

auto [Ap, bp, x, y] = solve();

The solver must determine, right after the step, whether it gets an optimal solution. Mathematically, this can be done by evaluating one or more components like this:

if (is_optimal(x))  // scan the x vector

But doing so may involve a linear algorithm or worse. Meanwhile, the solve() procedure may know whether the answer is optimal and save this information in the result as if it is cached. If the language allows retrieving this information, the following code can be terser and more efficient at the same time:

if (auto [Ap, bp, x, y] = solve())  // no need to scan x again

In this example, the information about the condition needs to be reconstructed from the components at a cost. The complete object is an excellent place to cache this information but is not in a position to bring this redundant information into a separate component.

Scenario 4

Consider this example that uses the CTRE[2] library:

if (auto [all, city, state, zip] = ctre::match<"(\\w+), (\\w+) (\\d+)">(s); all) {
    return location{city, state, zip};

It is surprising to see a regular expression that introduces 3 capture groups generating a result of 4 components unless the readers are already familiar with other Perl-like regex engines, which offer a “default” capture group to represent the entire match. Such a match group can be referred to as \0 when performing regex-based substitution, which isn’t what we’re doing here.

It might be more WYSIWYG if, in the next generation of the API, three capture groups mean three components to extract:

if (auto [city, state, zip] = ctre2::match<"(\\w+), (\\w+) (\\d+)">(s)) {
    return location{city, state, zip};

In this example, if solely looking at the outcome, the information to be tested in the condition is not in the components. But still, when all components but one have similar roles, folding such a particular component into an implicit test well-suited for its role makes the code easier to understand.

Design Decisions

Unconditionally decompose

It is tempting to add extra semantics given the proposed syntax, such as conditionally evaluating the binding protocol after testing the underlying object:

auto consume_int() -> std::optional<int>;

if (auto [i] = consume_int()) {  // let e be the underlying object
    // i = *e
} else {
    // *e is not evaluated

This idea turns std::optional<T> into a new kind of type that is “conditionally destructurable.” Imagine this: if [x] can destructure optional<T>, then [x, y] won’t destructure optional<tuple<T, U>>. The pattern matching proposal[3] has better answers to these: let ?x and let ?[x, y]. With pattern matching, one can rewrite the hypothetical code snippet above as:

if (consume_int() match let ?i) {
    // use(i)
} else {
    // has no value

The idea of conditionally decomposing confuses sum types with product types; therefore, it is not included in this paper.

Testing is sequenced after decomposing

If decomposition is taken place unconditionally, when that happens becomes a question. Does it happen before evaluating the condition or after? The author’s mental model for structured binding in condition is the following:

if (auto [a, b, c] = fn()) {

is equivalent to

if (auto [a, b, c] = fn(); e) {

where e is the underlying object of the structured binding declaration. Therefore, evaluating the condition should be sequenced after decomposing the underlying object.

You can play with this effect here: b89aTP31aCompiler Explorer.

No underlying array object

It is worthwhile to figure out what array decomposition does in a condition. The condition forbids declaring arrays, so this paper neither allows decomposing arrays. However, the condition accepts array references, which always evaluate to true, which is also unchanged in this paper. The following works with the proposed change:

if (auto& [a, b, c] = "ht")
    // true branch is always taken

Decomposing arrays in conditions is very unmotivated.


The wording is relative to N4950.

Extend the grammar in [stmt.stmt]/1 as follows:

condition:    expression    attribute-specifier-seqopt decl-specifier-seq declarator brace-or-equal-initializer    attribute-specifier-seqopt decl-specifier-seq ref-qualifieropt [ identifier-list ] brace-or-equal-initializer

Modify [stmt.stmt]/4 as follows:

The rules for conditions apply both to selection-statements ([]) and to the for and while statements ([stmt.iter]). A condition that is not an expression is a declaration ([dcl.dcl]). The declarator shall not specify a function or an array. The decl-specifier-seq shall not define a class or enumeration. If the auto type-specifier appears in the decl-specifier-seq, the type of the identifier being declared is deduced from the initializer as described in []. If identifier-list appears in the condition, the declaration is a structured binding declaration ([dcl.struct.bind]), where the assignment-expression in the brace-or-equal-initializer shall not have array type if no ref-qualifier is present.

Insert a paragraph between [stmt.stmt]/4 and [stmt.stmt]/5:

The variable of a condition that is an initialized declaration is the declared variable. The variable of a condition that is a structured binding declaration ([dcl.struct.bind]) is the variable e with a unique name.

Rewrite the original [stmt.stmt]/5 as follows:

The value of a condition that is an initialized declaration in a statement other than a switch statement is the value of the declared variable contextually converted to bool. If that conversion is ill-formed, the program is ill-formed. The value of a condition that is an expression is the value of the expression, contextually converted to bool for statements other than switch; ifIf a condition is an expression, the value of the condition is the value of the expression, contextually converted to bool (7.3) for statements other than switch; if that conversion is ill-formed, the program is ill-formed. Otherwise, in a switch statement, the value of the condition is the value of the variable of the condition if it has integral or enumeration type, or that variable implicitly converted to integral or enumeration type otherwise. In a statement other than a switch statement, the value of the condition is the value of the variable of the condition contextually converted to bool. If that conversion is ill-formed, the program is ill-formed. The value of the condition will be referred to as simply “the condition” where the usage is unambiguous. If a condition is a structured binding declaration, the operation to obtain the value of the condition is sequenced after initializing all the bindings.


The proposed change has been shipped in Clang since 6.0.0, guarded by -Wbinding-in-condition: b64x65716Compiler Explorer.


Thank Richard Smith for encouraging the work and Hana Dusíková for providing motivating examples.


  1. Wakely, Jonathan. P2497R0 Testing for success or failure of <charconv> functions. ↩︎

  2. Dusíková, Hana. P1433R0 Compile Time Regular Expressions. ↩︎

  3. Park, Michael. P2688R0 Pattern Matching Discussion for Kona 2022. ↩︎