Placeholder type specifiers (since C++11)

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For variables, specifies that the type of the variable that is being declared will be automatically deduced from its initializer.

For functions, specifies that the return type will be deduced from its return statements.

(since C++14)

For non-type template parameters, specifies that the type will be deduced from the argument.

(since C++17)


[edit] Syntax

type-constraint (optional) auto (1) (since C++11)
type-constraint (optional) decltype ( auto ) (2) (since C++14)
type-constraint - (since C++20) a concept name, optionally qualified, optionally followed by a template argument list enclosed in <>
1) type is deduced using the rules for template argument deduction.
2) type is decltype(expr), where expr is the initializer or ones used in return statements.

The placeholder auto may be accompanied by modifiers, such as const or &, which will participate in the type deduction. The placeholder decltype(auto) must be the sole constituent of the declared type.(since C++14)

[edit] Explanation

A placeholder type specifier may appear in the following contexts:

  • in the type specifier sequence of a variable: auto x = expr; as a type specifier. The type is deduced from the initializer.
    If the placeholder type specifier is auto or type-constraint auto(since C++20), the variable type is deduced from the initializer using the rules for template argument deduction from a function call (see template argument deduction — other contexts for details).
    For example, given const auto& i = expr;, the type of i is exactly the type of the argument u in an imaginary template template<class U> void f(const U& u) if the function call f(expr) was compiled. Therefore, auto&& may be deduced either as an lvalue reference or rvalue reference according to the initializer, which is used in range-based for loop.

    If the placeholder type specifier is decltype(auto) or type-constraint decltype(auto)(since C++20), the deduced type is decltype(expr), where expr is the initializer.

    (since C++14)

    If the placeholder type specifier is used to declare multiple variables, the deduced types must match. For example, the declaration auto i = 0, d = 0.0; is ill-formed, while the declaration auto i = 0, *p = &i; is well-formed and the auto is deduced as int.

  • in the type-id of a new expression. The type is deduced from the initializer. For new T init (where T contains a placeholder type, init is either a parenthesized initializer or a brace-enclosed initializer list), the type of T is deduced as if for variable x in the invented declaration T x init;.
  • (since C++14) in the return type of a function or lambda expression: auto& f();. The return type is deduced from the operand of its non-discarded(since C++17) return statement.
    See function — return type deduction.
  • (since C++17) in the parameter declaration of a non-type template parameter: template<auto I> struct A;. Its type is deduced from the corresponding argument.

The auto specifier may also appear in the simple type specifier of an explicit type conversion: auto(expr) and auto{expr}. Its type is deduced from the expression.

(since C++23)

Furthermore, auto and type-constraint auto(since C++20) can appear in:

(since C++14)

Type constraint

If type-constraint is present, let T be the type deduced for the placeholder, the type-constraint introduces a constraint expression as follows:

  • If type-constraint is Concept<A1, ..., An>, then the constraint expression is Concept<T, A1, ..., An>;
  • otherwise (type-constraint is Concept without an argument list), the constraint expression is Concept<T>.

Deduction fails if the constraint expression is invalid or returns false.

(since C++20)

[edit] Notes

Until C++11, auto had the semantic of a storage duration specifier.

Mixing auto variables and functions in one declaration, as in auto f() -> int, i = 0; is not allowed.

The auto specifier may also be used with a function declarator that is followed by a trailing return type, in which case the declared return type is that trailing return type (which may again be a placeholder type).

auto (*p)() -> int; // declares p as pointer to function returning int
auto (*q)() -> auto = p; // declares q as pointer to function returning T
                         // where T is deduced from the type of p

The auto specifier may also be used in a structured binding declaration.

(since C++17)

The auto keyword may also be used in a nested-name-specifier. A nested-name-specifier of the form auto:: is a placeholder that is replaced by a class or enumeration type following the rules for constrained type placeholder deduction.

(concepts TS)
Feature-test macro Value Std Feature
__cpp_decltype_auto 201304L (C++14) decltype(auto)

[edit] Example

#include <iostream>
#include <utility>
template<class T, class U>
auto add(T t, U u) { return t + u; } // the return type is the type of operator+(T, U)
// perfect forwarding of a function call must use decltype(auto)
// in case the function it calls returns by reference
template<class F, class... Args>
decltype(auto) PerfectForward(F fun, Args&&... args) 
    return fun(std::forward<Args>(args)...); 
template<auto n> // C++17 auto parameter declaration
auto f() -> std::pair<decltype(n), decltype(n)> // auto can't deduce from brace-init-list
    return {n, n};
int main()
    auto a = 1 + 2;          // type of a is int
    auto b = add(1, 1.2);    // type of b is double
    static_assert(std::is_same_v<decltype(a), int>);
    static_assert(std::is_same_v<decltype(b), double>);
    auto c0 = a;             // type of c0 is int, holding a copy of a
    decltype(auto) c1 = a;   // type of c1 is int, holding a copy of a
    decltype(auto) c2 = (a); // type of c2 is int&, an alias of a
    std::cout << "before modification through c2, a = " << a << '\n';
    std::cout << " after modification through c2, a = " << a << '\n';
    auto [v, w] = f<0>(); //structured binding declaration
    auto d = {1, 2}; // OK: type of d is std::initializer_list<int>
    auto n = {5};    // OK: type of n is std::initializer_list<int>
//  auto e{1, 2};    // Error as of DR n3922, std::initializer_list<int> before
    auto m{5};       // OK: type of m is int as of DR n3922, initializer_list<int> before
//  decltype(auto) z = { 1, 2 } // Error: {1, 2} is not an expression
    // auto is commonly used for unnamed types such as the types of lambda expressions
    auto lambda = [](int x) { return x + 3; };
//  auto int x; // valid C++98, error as of C++11
//  auto x;     // valid C, error in C++
    [](...){}(c0, c1, v, w, d, n, m, lambda); // suppresses "unused variable" warnings

Possible output:

before modification through c2, a = 3
 after modification through c2, a = 4

[edit] Defect reports

The following behavior-changing defect reports were applied retroactively to previously published C++ standards.

DR Applied to Behavior as published Correct behavior
CWG 1265 C++11 the auto specifier could be used to declare a function with a trailing
return type and define a variable in one declaration statement
CWG 1346 C++11 a parenthesized expression list could not be assigned to an auto variable allowed
CWG 1347 C++11 a declaration with the auto specifier could define two variables
with types T and std::initializer_list<T> respectively
CWG 1852 C++14 the auto specifier in decltype(auto) was also a placeholder not a placeholder in this case