Document number:   P0046R1
Date:   2016-01-30
Project:   Programming Language C++, Library Evolution Working Group
Tomasz Kamiński <tomaszkam at gmail dot com>

Change is_transparent to metafunction (Revision 1)


This proposal discusses an alternative design for enabling a heterogeneous lookup function in the associative containers, that relies on use of metafunction.

This paper is result of the LWG recommendation provided in the resolution of the LWG issue #2430.

Revision History

Revision 1

Motivation and Scope

In the scope of this paper we propose a new metafunction permits_heterogenous_lookup. This metafunction is designed to be used to enable the heterogeneous lookup in associative container, instead of the current standard method relying on presence of is_transparent nested type in the comparator type ($23.2.4 [associative.reqmts]).

Preserving backward compatibility

The addition of the heterogeneous lookup to the container may silently change the behavior of the existing code and, to avoid such situations, it was designed as an opt-in feature. However, the mechanism created for the purpose is not always working correctly - existing programs may define is_transparent nested type in their comparator types, and as a consequence the meaning of such programs will be changed.

The introduction of the type trait allows the users to resolve the backward compatibility problem described above via providing an explicit specialization of the trait that derives from std::false_type. It is worth noting that this is only a viable solution for the situation when the programmer does not have the control over the comparator's code.

Furthermore, it is possible to avoid false positives via providing the default definition of permits_heterogeneous_lookup that has BaseCharacteristic of std::false_type. However, such design will no longer support user-defined comparators that intentionally enable new lookup function by declaring nested type is_transparent.

The resolution of this problem is discussed in Backward compatibility subsection of the proposal.

Support for third party comparators

In the current design enabling heterogeneous lookup requires a modification of the comparator class to declare a nested type. As a consequence of this intrusiveness, discussed functionality cannot be enabled for the third-party types that are outside of their control, even if they support such operations.

In contrast, the use of a type trait allows the new lookup mechanism to be enabled in the program without any modification to the third party libraries.

Creating transparent call wrappers

The introduction of the type trait would also simplify the definition of call wrapper types that would like to 'inherit' the heterogeneous comparison trait from the wrapped callable.

Suppose we are creating call_wrapper<F>. In the case of the proposed permits_heterogeneous_lookup trait, the implementation is pretty straight-forward:

namespace std
  template<typename F>
  struct permits_heterogeneous_lookup<call_wrapper<F>> 
    : permits_heterogeneous_lookup<F> {}; 

But for current design it becomes more complicated. The user is required to declare is_transparent nested type in the definition of call_wrapper<F> if such type was defined in the F type.

namespace detail 
  template<typename F, typename IT = void>
  struct is_transparent_base {};

  template<typename F>
  struct is_transparent_base<F, void_t<typename F::is_transparent>>
    using is_transparent = typename F::is_transparent; 

template<typename F>
struct call_wrapper : detail::is_transparent_base<F>
{ /*...*/ };

In addition to being longer and intrusive, the nested type implementation requires of type F to be complete at the point of instantiation of call_wrapper<F>. As a consequence, it is impossible to create a reference wrapper class that would support both incomplete types and heterogeneous container lookup.

Consistency with the Standard

Proposed solution will make this functionality consistent with rest of the standard that relies on the usage of the traits like: is_placeholder and is_bind_expression in similar situations.

Design Decisions

Semantics of the new trait

Existing is_transparent nested was used to mark classes that has one of the following characteristics:

  1. Transparently wraps operation expressed using build-in operators.
  2. Represents weak total order relation on heterogeneous types and as consequence support lookup thought a different type.

Although we may point out types that fulfills only one of above criteria. For example diamond version logical_not or plus are transparently wrapping some build-in operators, but usually they cannot be used as comparators. From the other side we may imagine the icase_less comparator that would provides overloads for std::string and char*.

The trait proposed in this paper is designed to identify only the types in the second category. The relation with the existing is_transparent is preserved only for backward compatibility reasons.


Following criteria was considered in the process of name selection for new metafunction:

This paper propose a new name for the trait permits_heterogeneous_lookup, instead of keeping the name used for nested type. This resolution was selected because the original name (is_transparent) does not fulfill criteria of a good name listed above.

Backward compatibility

As the result of the introduction of is_transparent tag in the C++14 the design of permits_heterogeneous_lookup must carefully decide to choose one of the following:

  1. Fix the pre-C++14 code compatibility problem that may be the result of silently enabling heterogeneous container lookup for existing comparators that have coincidentally provided the declaration of is_transparent nested type. To achieve that, the default implementation of the metafunction should always return false.
  2. Preserve the support for post-C++14 user-defined comparator types that intentionally enable heterogeneous container lookup via the declaration of is_transparent nested type. To achieve that, the default implementation of the metafunction should return true for the functors with this type present.

Considering small possibility of occurrence of compatibility problems and the fact the harm was already done (C++14 was shipped), the proposal decides to choose second option and provide the default implementation that relies on presence of the nested type.

As a consequence of this decision, two ways of enabling heterogeneous lookup are provided by the standard: via the declaration of the nested type, and the explicit specialization of the trait. The author strongly believes that new mechanism provides an better alternative and decides to express this view via non normative note in the wording.

Place of declaration

The semantics of new permits_heterogeneous_lookup trait is directly related to the associative containers and it would be preferable to declare it in related header. However currently no common utility header for associative container is defined in the standard. Furthermore the scale of the proposed changes does not not justify introduction of the new header. As consequence we propose that permits_heterogeneous_lookup should be included in <functional> header, as it contains definitions of default hash function and comparators that currently enables heterogeneous lookup.

Impact On The Standard

This proposal has no dependencies beyond a C++11 compiler and Standard Library implementation.

Nothing depends on this proposal.

Proposed wording

The proposed wording changes refer to N4567 (C++ Working Draft, 2015-11-09).

After the declaration of hash<T*> in the section 20.9 [function.objects]/2 (Header <functional> synopsis), add:

  // 20.9.14, heterogeneous container lookup;
  template <class F> struct permits_heterogeneous_lookup;

After the declaration of is_placeholder_v<T*> in the section 20.9 [function.objects]/2 (Header <functional> synopsis), add:

  // 20.9.14, heterogeneous container lookup;
  template <class F> constexpr bool permits_heterogeneous_lookup_v
    = permits_heterogeneous_lookup<F>::value;

After section 20.9.13 Class template hash, insert a new section.

20.9.14 Class template permits_heterogeneous_lookup [containers.heterlookup]

namespace std {
  template <class F> struct permits_heterogeneous_lookup; // see below

The associative containers defined in [associative] 23.4 use permits_heterogeneous_lookup to detect if member functions exposing heterogeneous container lookup should be enabled for a given comparator type.

Instantiations of the permits_heterogeneous_lookup template shall meet the UnaryTypeTrait requirements ([meta.rqmts] 20.10.1). The implementation shall provide a definition of permits_heterogeneous_lookup<F> that has a BaseCharacteristic of true_type if the qualified-id F::is_transparent is valid and denotes a type ([temp.deduct] 14.8.2), otherwise it shall have a BaseCharacteristic of false_type. A program may specialize this template for a user-defined type to have a BaseCharacteristic of true_type or false_type.

[ Note: Specializing permits_heterogeneous_lookup usually provides a better solution than declaring is_transparent nested type. — end note ]

Change the paragraph 23.2.4 Associative containers [associative.reqmts] p8.

In Table 102, X denotes an associative container class, a denotes a value of X, a_uniq denotes a value of X when X supports unique keys, a_eq denotes a value of X when X supports multiple keys, a_tran denotes a value of X when the qualified-id X::key_compare::is_transparent is valid and denotes a type (14.8.2) permits_heterogeneous_lookup_v<typename X::key_compare> is true ([containers.heterlookup] 20.9.14), i and j satisfy input iterator requirements and refer to elements implicitly convertible to value_type, [i,j) denotes a valid range, p denotes a valid const iterator to a, q denotes a valid dereferenceable const iterator to a, [q1, q2) denotes a valid range of const iterators in a, il designates an object of type initializer_list<value_type>, t denotes a value of X::value_type, k denotes a value of X::key_type and c denotes a value of type X::key_compare; kl is a value such that a is partitioned (25.4) with respect to c(r, kl), with r the key value of e and e in a; ku is a value such that a is partitioned with respect to !c(ku, r); ke is a value such that a is partitioned with respect to c(r, ke) and !c(ke, r), with c(r, ke) implying !c(ke, r). A denotes the storage allocator used by X, if any, or std::allocator<X::value_type> otherwise, and m denotes an allocator of a type convertible to A.

Feature-testing recommendation

For the purposes of SG10, we recommend the macro name __cpp_lib_permits_heterogeneous_lookup to be defined in the <functional> header.

Usage example:

namespace third_party
  struct icase_less
    bool operator()(std::string const&, std::string const&) const;
    bool operator()(std::string const&, char const*) const;
    bool operator()(char const*, std::string const&) const;
    bool operator()(char const*, char const*) const;

#if __cpp_lib_permits_heterogeneous_lookup
namespace std
  struct permits_heterogeneous_lookup<third_party::icase_less>
    : std::true_type {};
struct my_icase_less : third_party::icase_less
  using is_transparent = void;


Jonathan Wakely provided an improved wording for the LWG issue #2430, from which this paper originates. Futhermore he has offered many useful suggestions and corrections to the proposal.

Andrzej Krzemieński offered many useful suggestions and corrections to the proposal.

Stephan T. Lavavej suggested numerous corrections to the proposed wording and addition of permits_heterogeneous_lookup_v variable template.


  1. Marshall Clow, "C++ Standard Library Active Issues List (Revision R92)" (N4383,
  2. Richard Smith, "Working Draft, Standard for Programming Language C++" (N4567,