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reference initialization

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Binds a reference to an object

Contents

Syntax

T & ref = object ;

T & ref ( object ) ;

T & ref { object } ;

(1)
T && ref = object ;

T && ref ( object ) ;

T && ref { object } ;

(2) (since C++11)
R fn ( T & arg );

or

R fn ( T && arg );

fn ( object )

(3)
T & fn () {

or

T && fn () {

return object ;

(4)

Explanation

A reference to T can be initialized with an object of type T, a function of type T, or an object implicitly convertible to T. Once initialized, a reference cannot be changed to refer to another object.

References are initialized in the following situations:

1) When a named lvalue reference variable is declared with an initializer
2) When a named rvalue reference variable is declared with an initializer
3) In a function call expression, when the function parameter has reference type
4) In the return statement, when the function returns a reference type

The effects of reference initialization are:

  • If the reference is an lvalue reference:
  • If object is an lvalue expression, and its type is T or derived from T, and is equally or less cv-qualified, then the reference is bound to the object identified by the lvalue or the base class subobject of the object.
  • If object is an lvalue expression, and its type is implicitly convertible to a type that is either T or derived from T, equally or less cv-qualified, then the non-explicit conversion functions of the source type and its base classes that return lvalue references are considered and the best one is selected by overload resolution. The reference is then bound to the object identified by the lvalue returned by the conversion function (or its base class subobject)
  • Otherwise, if the reference is either rvalue reference or lvalue reference to const:
  • If object is an xvalue, a class prvalue, an array prvalue, or a function lvalue type that is either T or derived from T, equally or less cv-qualified, then the reference is bound to the value of the initializer expression or its base subobject.
  • If object is a class type expression that can be implicitly converted to an xvalue, a class prvalue, or a function value of type that is either T or derived from T, equally or less cv-qualified, then the reference is bound to the result of the conversion or its base subobject.
  • Otherwise, a temporary of type T is constructed and copy-initialized from object. The reference is then bound to this temporary.

Lifetime of a temporary

Whenever a reference is bound to a temporary or to a base subobject of a temporary, the lifetime of the temporary is extended to match the lifetime of the reference, with the following exceptions:

  • a temporary bound to a return value of a function in a return statement is not extended: it is destroyed immediately at the end of the return expression. Such function always returns a dangling reference.
  • a temporary bound to a reference member in a constructor initializer list persists only until the constructor exits, not as long as the object exists.
  • a temporary bound to a reference parameter in a function call exists until the end of the full expression containing that function call: if the function returns a reference, which outlives the full expression, it becomes a dangling reference.
  • a temporary bound to a reference in the initializer used in a new-expression exists until the end of the full expression containing that new-expression, not as long as the initialized object. If the initialized object outlives the full expression, its reference member becomes a dangling reference.

In general, the lifetime of a temporary cannot be further extended by "passing it on": a second reference, initialized from the reference to which the temporary was bound, does not affect its lifetime.

Notes

References appear without initializers only in function parameter declaration, in function return type declaration, in the declaration of a class member, and with the extern specifier.

Example

#include <utility>
#include <sstream>
struct S {
 int mi;
 const std::pair<int,int>& mp; // reference member
};
 
void foo(int) {}
 
struct A {};
struct B : A {
   int n;
   operator int&() { return n; };
};
 
B bar() {return B(); }
 
//int& bad_r; // error: no initializer
extern int& ext_r; // OK
 
int main()
{
 // lvalues
    int n = 1;
    int& r1 = n;  // lvalue reference to the object n
    const int& cr(n); // reference can be more cv-qualified
    volatile int& cv{n}; // any initializer syntax can be used
    int& r2 = r1; // another lvalue reference to the object n
//    int& bad = cr; // error: less cv-qualified
    int& r3 = const_cast<int&>(cr); // const_cast is needed
 
    void (&rf)(int) = foo; // lvalue reference to function
    int ar[3];
    int (&ra)[3] = ar; // lvalue reference to array
 
    B b;
    A& base_ref = b; // reference to base subobject
    int& converted_ref = b; // reference to the result of a conversion
 
// rvalues
//  int& bad = 1; // error: cannot bind lvalue ref to rvalue
    const int& cref = 1; // bound to rvalue
    int&& rref = 1; // bound to rvalue
 
    const A& cref2 = bar(); // reference to A subobject of B temporary
    A&& rref2 = bar();      // same
 
    int&& xref = static_cast<int&&>(n); // bind directly to n
//  int&& copy_ref = n; // error: can't bind to an lvalue
    double&& copy_ref = n; // bind to an rvalue temporary with value 1.0
 
// restrictions on temporary lifetimes
    std::ostream& buf_ref = std::ostringstream() << 'a'; // the ostringstream temporary
                      // was bound to the left operand of operator<<, but its lifetime
                      // ended at the semicolon: buf_ref is now a dangling reference.
 
    S a { 1, {2,3} }; // temporary pair {2,3} bound to the reference member
                      // a.mp and its lifetime is extended to match a
    S* p = new S{ 1, {2,3} }; // temporary pair {2,3} bound to the reference
                      // member a.mp, but its lifetime ended at the semicolon
                      //  p->mp is a dangling reference
    delete p;
}


See also