Document #: P2825R0
Date: 2023-03-15
Project: Programming Language C++
Audience: EWG
Reply-to: Gašper Ažman

1 Introduction

This paper introduces a new compile-time expression into the language, for the moment with the syntax __builtin_calltarget(postfix-expression).

The expression is a compile-time constant with the value of the pointer-to-function (PF) or pointer-to-member-function (PMF) that would have been called if the postfix-expression had been evaluated.

In that, it’s basically a compile-time resolver.

2 Motivation and Prior Art

The language already has a number of sort-of overload resolution facilities:

All of these are woefully unsuitable for type-erasure that library authors (such as [P2300R6]) would actually like to work with. Sure, we can always indirect through a lambda:

template <typename R, typename Args...>
struct my_erased_wrapper {
  using fptr = R(*)(Args_...);
  fptr erased = +[](my_erased_wrapper* self, auto&&... args_) -> R {
    return self->fptr(std::forward<decltype>(args_)...);

This has several drawbacks:

Oh, if only we had a facility to ask the compiler what function we’d be calling and then just have the pointer to it.

This is what this paper is trying to provide.

2.1.1 Reflection

Of course, reflection would give us this. However, reflection ([P2320R0],[P1240R1],[P2237R0],[P2087R0],[N4856]) is both nowhere close to shipping, and is far wider in scope as another decltype-ish proposal that’s easily implementable today, and std::execution could use immediately.

Regardless of how we chose to provide this facility, it is dearly needed, and should be provided by the standard library or a built-in.

See the Alternatives to Syntax chapter for details.

2.1.2 Library fundamentals TS v3

The Library Fundamentals TS version 3 defines invocation_type<F(Args...) and raw_invocation_type<F(Args...)> with the hope of getting the function pointer type of a given call expression.

However, this is not good enough to actually be able to perform that call.


struct S {
  static void f(S) {} // #1
  void f(this S) {}   // #2
void h() {
  static_cast<void(*)(S)>(S::f) // error, ambiguous
  S{}.f(S{}); // calls #1
  S{}.f(); // calls #2
  // no ambiguity for __builtin_calltarget
  __builtin_calltarget(S{}.f(S{})); // &#1
  __builtin_calltarget(S{}.f());    // &#2

A library solution can’t give us this, no matter how much we try, unless we can reflect on unevaluated operands (which Reflection does).

3 Proposal

We propose a new (technically) non-overloadable operator (because sizeof is one, and this behaves similarly):

(strawman syntax)

auto fptr = __builtin_calltarget(expression);

Where the program is ill-formed if expression does not call a function as its top-level AST-node (good luck to me wording this).


void g(long x) { return x+1; }
void f() {}                                                // #1
void f(int) {}                                             // #2
struct S {
  friend auto operator+(S, S) noexcept -> S { return {}; } // #3
  auto operator-(S) -> S { return {}; }                    // #4
  auto operator-(S, S) -> S { return {}; }                 // #5
  void f() {}                                              // #6
  void f(int) {}                                           // #7
  S() noexcept {}                                          // #8
  ~S() noexcept {}                                         // #9
  auto operator->(this auto&& self) const -> S*;           // #10
  auto operator[](this auto&& self, int i) -> int;         // #11
  static auto f(S) -> int;                                 // #12
  using fptr = void(*)(long);
  auto operator void(*)() const { return &g; }             // #13
  auto operator<=>(S const&) = default;                    // #14
S f(int, long) { return S{}; }                             // #15
struct U : S {}

void h() {
  S s;
  U u;
  __builtin_calltarget(f());                     // ok, &#1             (A)
  __builtin_calltarget(f(1));                    // ok, &#2             (B)
  __builtin_calltarget(f(std::declval<int>()));  // ok, &#2             (C)
  __builtin_calltarget(f(1s));                   // ok, &#2 (!)         (D)
  __builtin_calltarget(s + s);                   // ok, &#3             (E)
  __builtin_calltarget(-s);                      // ok, &#4             (F)
  __builtin_calltarget(-u);                      // ok, &#4 (!)         (G)
  __builtin_calltarget(s - s);                   // ok, &#5             (H)
  __builtin_calltarget(s.f());                   // ok, &#6             (I)
  __builtin_calltarget(u.f());                   // ok, &#6 (!)         (J)
  __builtin_calltarget(s.f(2));                  // ok, &#7             (K)
  __builtin_calltarget(s);                       // error, constructor  (L)
  __builtin_calltarget(s.S::~S());               // error, destructor   (M)
  __builtin_calltarget(s->f());                  // ok, &#6 (not &#10)  (N)
  __builtin_calltarget(s.S::operator->());       // ok, &#10            (O)
  __builtin_calltarget(s[1]);                    // ok, &#11            (P)
  __builtin_calltarget(S::f(S{}));               // ok, &#12            (Q)
  __builtin_calltarget(s.f(S{}));                // ok, &#12            (R)
  __builtin_calltarget(s(1l));                   // ok, &#13            (S)
  __builtin_calltarget(f(1, 2));                 // ok, &#15            (T)
  __builtin_calltarget(new (nullptr) S());       // error, not function (U)
  __builtin_calltarget(delete &s);               // error, not function (V)
  __builtin_calltarget(1 + 1);                   // error, built-in     (W)
       return __builtin_calltarget(f());
    }()());                                      // ok, &2              (X)
  __builtin_calltarget(S{} < S{});               // error, synthesized  (Y)

3.1 Interesting cases in the above example

3.2 Alternatives to syntax

We could wait for reflection in which case we could write call_target roughly as

namespace std::meta {
  template<info r> constexpr auto call_target = []{
    if constexpr (is_nonstatic_member(r)) {
      return pointer_to_member<[:pm_type_of(r):]>(r);
    } else {
      return entity_ref<[:type_of:]>(r);
    } /* insert additional cases as we define them. */

And call it as

auto my_expr_ptr = call_target<^f()>;

It’s unlikely to be quite as efficient as just hooking directly into the resolver, but it does have the nice property that it doesn’t take up a whole keyword.

Many thanks to Daveed Vandevoorde for helping out with this example.

3.3 Naming

3.3.1 Grabbing a pattern

A suggestion of an esteemed former EWG chair is that we, as a committee, grab the keyword-space prefix __std_meta_* and have all the functions with that prefix have unevaluated arguments.

In that case, this proposal becomes


This is done so as to stop wringing our hands about function-like APIs that have unevaluated operands, and going for less appropriate solutions for want of a function. The naming itself signals that it’s not a normal function. Its address also can’t be taken, it behaves as-if consteval.

It’s ugly on purpose. That’s by design. It’s not meant to be pretty.

3.3.2 Possible names

For all intents and purposes, this facility grammatically behaves in the same way as sizeof, except that we should require the parentheses around the operand.

We could call it something really long and unlikely to conflict, like expression_targetof, or calltargetof or decltargetof or targetexpr or resolvetarget.

4 Possible Extensions

We could make compilers invent functions for the cases that currently aren’t legal.

4.1 Inventing contructor free-functions

For instance, constructor calls could “invent” a free function that is expression-equivalent to calling placement new on the return object:

// immovable aggregate
struct my_immovable_type {
  my_other_immovable_type x;
  some_immovable_type y = {};
my_immovable_type x(my_other_immovable_type{});
// note: prvalue parameters in type, since in-place construction through copy-elision is possible
std::same_as<my_immovable_type(*)(my_other_immovable_type, some_immovable_type)> 
  auto constructor_pointer = __builtin_calltarget(my_immovable_type(my_other_immovable_type{}));
auto y = constructor_pointer(my_other_immovable_type{});
// x and y have no difference in construction.

The main problem with this is that free functions have a different ABI than constructors of aggregates - they would have to expose where to construct the arguments in their signatures.

This paper is not about that, so we leave it for the future.

4.2 Inventing destructor free-forms

Or, for destructors (this would make smart pointers slightly faster and easier to do):

std::same_as<void(*)(S&)> auto
  dtor = [](S* x){return __builtin_calltarget(x->~S());}(nullptr);
S x;
dtor(x); // expression-equivalent to x.~S()

4.3 Inventing pointers to built-in functions

We could invent pointers to functions that are otherwise built-in, like built-in operators:

__builtin_calltarget(1+1); // &::operator+(int, int)

5 Usecases

Broadly, anywhere where we want to type-erase a call-expression. Broad uses in any type-erasure library, smart pointers, ABI-stable interfaces, compilation barriers, task-queues, runtime lifts for double-dispatch, and the list goes on and on and on and …

5.1 What does this give us that we don’t have yet

Two things, mainly:

5.2 That’s not good enough to do all that work. What else?

Together with [P2826R0], the two papers constitute the ability to implement expression-equivalent in many important cases (not all, that’s probably impossible).

[P2826R0] proposes a way for a function signature to participate in overload resolution and, if it wins, be replaced by some other function.

This facility is the key to finding that other function. The ability to preserve prvalue-ness is crucial to implementing quite a lot of the standard library customization points as mandated by the standard, without compiler help.

6 References

[N4856] David Sankel. 2020-03-02. C++ Extensions for Reflection.
[P1240R1] Daveed Vandevoorde, Wyatt Childers, Andrew Sutton, Faisal Vali, Daveed Vandevoorde. 2019-10-08. Scalable Reflection in C++.
[P2087R0] Mihail Naydenov. 2020-01-12. Reflection Naming: fix reflexpr.
[P2237R0] Andrew Sutton. 2020-10-15. Metaprogramming.
[P2300R6] Michał Dominiak, Georgy Evtushenko, Lewis Baker, Lucian Radu Teodorescu, Lee Howes, Kirk Shoop, Michael Garland, Eric Niebler, Bryce Adelstein Lelbach. 2023-01-19. `std::execution`.
[P2320R0] Andrew Sutton, Wyatt Childers, Daveed Vandevoorde. 2021-02-15. The Syntax of Static Reflection.
[P2826R0] Gašper Ažman. Replacement functions.