Document number: P2862R0
Date: 2023-05-07
Audience: Library Evolution Working Group (Design), Library Working Group (Wording)
Author: Daniel Krügler
Reply-to: Daniel Krügler

text_encoding::name() should never return null values


This proposal suggests to modify one aspect of the most recent proposal P1885R12 ("Naming Text Encodings to Demystify Them"), namely the part that specifies that its name() member function under certain circumstances returns null values.


P1885R12 introduces a highly useful text encoding facility. Among its query functions it provides a name() member function that has a const char* result type, which returns the name of the text encoding.

In certain circumstances there doesn't exist a name and the specification says that in this case the function shall return a null pointer value.

In the following I'm focusing on the most recently wording update of P1885R12 which specifies the following invariants defined in [text.encoding.general]:

An object e of type text_encoding such that e.mib() == text_encoding::id::unknown is false and e.mib() == text_encoding::id::other is false maintains the following invariants:

The question arises why the paper actually decided to use nullptr result at all for the name() function?

This topic is mentioned in the paper and the only remaining trace of the discussion is:

When constructed from the unknown mib, name returns a nullptr rather than an empty string.

The paper does not provide information why returning a nullptr is preferred over — for example — an empty string.

This paper here questions that particular part of the P1885 design decision in regard to null values and suggests to ensure that the name() member function of text_encoding never returns a null value.


The P1885R12 proposal highlights various times that the API suggested by that paper is intended to be compatible with C API related to text encodings, e.g. on page 23:

One of the design goals is to be compatible with widely deployed libraries such as ICU and iconv, which are, on most platforms, the defacto standards for text transformations, classification, and transcoding. These are C APIs that expect null-terminated strings. […] EWG previously elected to use const char* in source_location, stack trace, etc.

Often (but not always) such C APIs do not support null values for encoding names. E.g. attempting to call iconv_open(nullptr, "utf-8"), typically leads to a segmentation fault.

This is not restricted to C APIs. Even the following seemingly simple code lines will cause undefined behaviour, assuming that te denotes a text_encoding value whose mib value is either text_encoding::id::unknown or text_encoding::id::other (and the provided name was empty in this latter case):

std::cout <<;             // Violates [ostream.inserters.character] p3
std::format("Name: {}",; // Violates [format.arg] p5
""sv ==;                  // Violates [string.view.cons] p2 since traits::length doesn't accept null values

Our increased awareness to reduce the possibility of causing undefined behaviour should alert us.

In addition, existing practice of comparable APIs of the current working draft gives us some hints:

For recently adopted types such as source_location these always return an NTBS for const char* result types, in particular it specifies for the function_name attribute (emphasize mine):

A name of the current function such as in __func__ (9.5.1 [dcl.fct.def.general]) if any, an empty string otherwise.

For the new stacktrace facility, the finally agreed on wording for the description and source_file attributes actually decided for using std::string as result type, but says that in all these cases an empty string should be returned, if the corresponding information is not available ( [stacktrace.entry.query] p2+p4).

It might also be worth pointing out that for std::filesystem::path, we also invented an empty string content to denote "an empty path" as degenerate case.

The following edge case demonstrates that the current P1885R12 design choice can lead so an unexpected result from a user perspective:

If the user creates a text_encoding object te from a valid character sequence enc denoting the encoding name, the resulting always satisfies == enc, except when enc denotes an empty sequence, because in this case the special empty-name_ rule of the name() Returns: element transforms the actual empty name into a nullptr and transforms this comparison into UB land.

According to the author of this paper, it is advantageous to decide for an empty string (instead of a nullptr result) as degenerate value for text_encoding::name() for the following reasons:

  1. It is consistent with other C API-compatible parts of the C++ standard library, that denote lack of information.

  2. It prevents that user-code unintentionally causes undefined behaviour when invoking typical C APIs related to text encodings.

  3. It prevents implementors from special-casing the return value of the name member and similarly reduces special casing the result of name when the user forwards it to other functions.

  4. It leads to the following implied invariant:

    text_encoding(enc).name() == enc is true for every string_view value enc that is valid to construct a text_encoding object.

[Drafting note: It is possible to argue that the possible null result of name() allows a quick test condition such as "if (". While I consider this not as a strong argument in favor, I'd like to point out that with the revised semantics suggested by this paper the alternative test would only by one character longer by writing "if (*" instead.]


This specification change has been implemented as a special branch on top of the most recent original cor3ntin/encoding-identification trunk.

The effective delta demonstrates the amount of simplification and code-safety.

Proposed resolution

The proposed wording changes refer to P1885R12.

[Drafting note: The author of this proposal considers this specification change as really important. He would like to remark that if LEWG disagrees with currently suggested wording change, he would like to offer an alternative proposal, which would suggest two different name() attributes. For example it would be possible to introduce a new member function such as c_name() that returns the exposition-only member name_ as shown below and keep the name() function with the P1885R12 semantics. The concrete wording for this alternative is not prepared in this proposal revision, but could be provided if requested.]

  1. Modify in [text.encoding.general] as indicated:

    An object e of type text_encoding such that e.mib() == text_encoding::id::unknown is false and e.mib() == text_encoding::id::other is false maintains the following invariants:

    • * == '\0'nullptr is false.

    • e.mib() == text_encoding( is true.

  2. Modify [text.encoding.members] as indicated:

    constexpr const char* name() const noexcept;

    Returns: name_.if (name_[0] != '\0'), nullptr otherwise;

    Remarks: If name() == nullptr is false,name() is an NTBS and accessing elements of name_ outside of the range name() + [0, strlen(name()) + 1) is undefined behavior.


Thanks to Corentin Jabot and Peter Brett for the otherwise excellent proposal P1885R12.

Thanks to Tim Song for asking the important "*why* does name() return a null pointer instead of an empty string if name_ is an empty string?" question during the reflector discussions.


[N4944] Thomas Köppe: "Working Draft, Standard for Programming Language C++", 2023

[P1885R12] Corentin Jabot, Peter Brett: "Naming Text Encodings to Demystify Them", 2023