Function declaration

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Special member functions

A function declaration introduces the function name and its type. A function definition associates the function name/type with the function body.


[edit] Function declaration

Function declarations may appear in any scope. A function declaration at class scope introduces a class member function (unless the friend specifier is used), see member functions and friend functions for details.

noptr-declarator ( parameter-list ) cv (optional) ref  (optional) except (optional) attr (optional) (1)
noptr-declarator ( parameter-list ) cv (optional) ref  (optional) except (optional) attr (optional)
-> trailing
(2) (since C++11)

(see Declarations for the other forms of the declarator syntax)

1) Regular function declarator syntax.
2) Trailing return type declaration. The decl-specifier-seq in this case must contain the keyword auto.
noptr-declarator - any valid declarator, but if it begins with *, &, or &&, it has to be surrounded by parentheses.
parameter-list - possibly empty, comma-separated list of the function parameters (see below for details)
attr - (since C++11) a list of attributes. These attributes are applied to the type of the function, not the function itself. The attributes for the function appear after the identifier within the declarator and are combined with the attributes that appear in the beginning of the declaration, if any.
cv - const/volatile qualification, only allowed in non-static member function declarations
ref - (since C++11) ref-qualification, only allowed in non-static member function declarations
except -

dynamic exception specification

(until C++11)

either dynamic exception specification
or noexcept specification

(since C++11)
(until C++17)

noexcept specification

(since C++17)
trailing - Trailing return type, useful if the return type depends on argument names, such as template<class T, class U> auto add(T t, U u) -> decltype(t + u); or is complicated, such as in auto fpif(int)->int(*)(int)

As mentioned in Declarations, the declarator can be followed by a requires clause, which declares the associated constraints for the function, which must be satisfied in order for the function to be selected by overload resolution. (example: void f1(int a) requires true;) Note that the associated constraint is part of function signature, but not part of function type.

(since C++20)

Function declarators can be mixed with other declarators, where the declaration specifier sequence allows:

// declares an int, an int*, a function, and a pointer to a function
int a = 1, *p = NULL, f(), (*pf)(double);
// decl-specifier-seq is int
// declarator f() declares (but doesn't define)
//                a function taking no arguments and returning int
struct S
    virtual int f(char) const, g(int) &&; // declares two non-static member functions
    virtual int f(char), x; // compile-time error: virtual (in decl-specifier-seq)
                            // is only allowed in declarations of non-static
                            // member functions

Using a volatile-qualified object type as parameter type or return type is deprecated.

(since C++20)

The return type of a function cannot be a function type or an array type (but can be a pointer or reference to those).

As with any declaration, attributes that appear before the declaration and the attributes that appear immediately after the identifier within the declarator both apply to the entity being declared or defined (in this case, to the function):

[[noreturn]] void f [[noreturn]] (); // OK: both attributes apply to the function f

However, the attributes that appear after the declarator (in the syntax above), apply to the type of the function, not to the function itself:

void f() [[noreturn]]; // Error: this attribute has no effect on the function itself
(since C++11)

Return type deduction

If the decl-specifier-seq of the function declaration contains the keyword auto, trailing return type may be omitted, and will be deduced by the compiler from the type of the expression used in the return statement. If the return type does not use decltype(auto), the deduction follows the rules of template argument deduction:

int x = 1;
auto f() { return x; }        // return type is int
const auto& f() { return x; } // return type is const int&

If the return type is decltype(auto), the return type is as what would be obtained if the expression used in the return statement were wrapped in decltype:

int x = 1;
decltype(auto) f() { return x; }  // return type is int, same as decltype(x)
decltype(auto) f() { return(x); } // return type is int&, same as decltype((x))

(note: “const decltype(auto)&” is an error, decltype(auto) must be used on its own)

If there are multiple return statements, they must all deduce to the same type:

auto f(bool val)
    if (val) return 123; // deduces return type int
    else return 3.14f;   // Error: deduces return type float

If there is no return statement or if the argument of the return statement is a void expression, the declared return type must be either decltype(auto), in which case the deduced return type is void, or (possibly cv-qualified) auto, in which case the deduced return type is then (identically cv-qualified) void:

auto f() {}              // returns void
auto g() { return f(); } // returns void
auto* x() {}             // Error: cannot deduce auto* from void

Once a return statement has been seen in a function, the return type deduced from that statement can be used in the rest of the function, including in other return statements:

auto sum(int i)
    if (i == 1)
        return i;              // sum’s return type is int
        return sum(i - 1) + i; // OK: sum’s return type is already known

If the return statement uses a brace-enclosed initializer list, deduction is not allowed:

auto func() { return {1, 2, 3}; } // Error

Virtual functions and coroutines(since C++20) cannot use return type deduction:

struct F
    virtual auto f() { return 2; } // Error

Function templates other than user-defined conversion functions can use return type deduction. The deduction takes place at instantiation even if the expression in the return statement is not dependent. This instantiation is not in an immediate context for the purposes of SFINAE.

template<class T>
auto f(T t) { return t; }
typedef decltype(f(1)) fint_t;    // instantiates f<int> to deduce return type
template<class T>
auto f(T* t) { return *t; }
void g() { int (*p)(int*) = &f; } // instantiates both fs to determine return types,
                                  // chooses second template overload

Redeclarations or specializations of functions or function templates that use return type deduction must use the same return type placeholders:

auto f(int num) { return num; }
// int f(int num);            // Error: no placeholder return type
// decltype(auto) f(int num); // Error: different placeholder
template<typename T>
auto g(T t) { return t; }
template auto g(int);     // OK: return type is int
// template char g(char); // Error: not a specialization of the primary template g

Similarly, redeclarations or specializations of functions or function templates that do not use return type deduction must not use a placeholder:

int f(int num);
// auto f(int num) { return num; } // Error: not a redeclaration of f
template<typename T>
T g(T t) { return t; }
template int g(int);      // OK: specialize T as int
// template auto g(char); // Error: not a specialization of the primary template g

Explicit instantiation declarations do not themselves instantiate function templates that use return type deduction:

template<typename T>
auto f(T t) { return t; }
extern template auto f(int); // does not instantiate f<int>
int (*p)(int) = f; // instantiates f<int> to determine its return type,
                   // but an explicit instantiation definition 
                   // is still required somewhere in the program
(since C++14)

[edit] Parameter list

Parameter list determines the arguments that can be specified when the function is called. It is a comma-separated list of parameter declarations, each of which has the following syntax:

attr (optional) decl-specifier-seq declarator (1)

attr (optional) this decl-specifier-seq declarator

(2) (since C++23)
attr (optional) decl-specifier-seq declarator = initializer (3)
attr (optional) decl-specifier-seq abstract-declarator (optional) (4)

attr (optional) this decl-specifier-seq abstract-declarator (optional)

(5) (since C++23)
attr (optional) decl-specifier-seq abstract-declarator (optional) = initializer (6)
void (7)
1) Declares a named (formal) parameter. For the meanings of decl-specifier-seq and declarator, see declarations.
int f(int a, int* p, int (*(*x)(double))[3]);
2) Declares a named explicit object parameter.
3) Declares a named (formal) parameter with a default value.
int f(int a = 7, int* p = nullptr, int (*(*x)(double))[3] = nullptr);
4) Declares an unnamed parameter.
int f(int, int*, int (*(*)(double))[3]);
5) Declares a unnamed explicit object parameter.
6) Declares an unnamed parameter with a default value.
int f(int = 7, int* = nullptr, int (*(*)(double))[3] = nullptr);
7) Indicates that the function takes no parameters, it is the exact synonym for an empty parameter list: int f(void); and int f(); declare the same function.
The type void (possibly cv-qualified) cannot be used in a parameter list otherwise: int f(void, int); and int f(const void); are errors (although derived types, such as void* can be used).
In a template, only non-dependent void type can be used (a function taking a single parameter of type T does not become a no-parameter function if instantiated with T = void).

An ellipsis ... may appear at the end of the parameter list; this declares a variadic function:

int printf(const char* fmt ...);

For compatibility with C89, an optional comma may appear before the ellipsis if the parameter list contains at least one parameter:

int printf(const char* fmt, ...); // OK, same as above

Although decl-specifier-seq implies there can exist specifiers other than type specifiers, the only other specifier allowed is register as well as auto(until C++11), and it has no effect.

(until C++17)

If any of the function parameters uses a placeholder (either auto or a concept type), the function declaration is instead an abbreviated function template declaration:

void f1(auto);    // same as template<class T> void f1(T)
void f2(C1 auto); // same as template<C1 T> void f2(T), if C1 is a concept
(since C++20)

A parameter declaration with the specifier this (syntax (2)/(5)) declares an explicit object parameter.

An explicit object parameter cannot be a function parameter pack, and it can only appear as the first parameter of the parameter list in the following declarations:

A member function with an explicit object parameter has the following restritions:

  • The function is not static.
  • The function is not virtual.
  • The declarator of the function does not contain cv and ref.
struct C
    void f(this C& self);     // OK
    template<typename Self>
    void g(this Self&& self); // also OK for templates
    void p(this C) const;     // Error: “const” not allowed here
    static void q(this C);    // Error: “static” not allowed here
    void r(int, this C);      // Error: an explicit object parameter
                              //        can only be the first parameter
// void func(this C& self);   // Error: non-member functions cannot have
                              //        an explicit object parameter
(since C++23)

Parameter names declared in function declarations are usually for only self-documenting purposes. They are used (but remain optional) in function definitions.

An ambiguity arises in a parameter list when a type name is nested in parentheses (including lambda expressions)(since C++11). In this case, the choice is between the declaration of a parameter of type pointer to function and the declaration of a parameter with redundant parentheses around the identifier of the declarator. The resolution is to consider the type name as a simple type specifier (which is the pointer to function type):

class C {};
void f(int(C)) {} // void f(int(*fp)(C param)) {}
                  // NOT void f(int C) {}
void g(int *(C[10])); // void g(int *(*fp)(C param[10]));
                      // NOT void g(int *C[10]);

Parameter type cannot be a type that includes a reference or a pointer to array of unknown bound, including a multi-level pointers/arrays of such types, or a pointer to functions whose parameters are such types.

The ellipsis that indicates variadic arguments need not be preceded by a comma, even if it follows the ellipsis that indicates a parameter pack expansion, so the following function templates are exactly the same:

template<typename... Args>
void f(Args..., ...);
template<typename... Args>
void f(Args... ...);
template<typename... Args>
void f(Args......);

An example of when such declaration might be used is the possible implementation of std::is_function.

#include <cstdio>
template<typename... Variadic, typename... Args>
constexpr void invoke(auto (*fun)(Variadic......), Args... args)
int main()
    invoke(std::printf, "%dm•%dm•%dm = %d%s%c", 2, 3, 7, 2 * 3 * 7, "m³", '\n');


2m•3m•7m = 42m³
(since C++11)

[edit] Function type

[edit] Parameter-type-list

A function’s parameter-type-list is determined as follows:

  1. The type of each parameter (including function parameter packs)(since C++11) is determined from its own parameter declaration.
  2. After determining the type of each parameter, any parameter of type “array of T” or of function type T is adjusted to be “pointer to T”.
  3. After producing the list of parameter types, any top-level cv-qualifiers modifying a parameter type are deleted when forming the function type.
  4. The resulting list of transformed parameter types and the presence or absence of the ellipsis or a function parameter pack(since C++11) is the function’s parameter-type-list.
void f(char*);         // #1
void f(char[]) {}      // defines #1
void f(const char*) {} // OK, another overload
void f(char* const) {} // Error: redefines #1
void g(char(*)[2]);   // #2
void g(char[3][2]) {} // defines #2
void g(char[3][3]) {} // OK, another overload
void h(int x(const int)); // #3
void h(int (*)(int)) {}   // defines #3

[edit] Determining function type

In syntax (1), assuming noptr-declarator as a standalone declaration, given the type of the qualified-id or unqualified-id in noptr-declarator as “derived-declarator-type-list T”:

  • If the exception specification is non-throwing, the type of the function declared is
    “derived-declarator-type-list noexcept function of
    parameter-type-list cv (optional) ref  (optional) returning T”.
(since C++17)
  • The(until C++17)Otherwise, the(since C++17) type of the function declared is
    “derived-declarator-type-list function of
    parameter-type-list cv (optional) ref  (optional)(since C++11) returning T”.

In syntax (2), assuming noptr-declarator as a standalone declaration, given the type of the qualified-id or unqualified-id in noptr-declarator as “derived-declarator-type-list T” (T must be auto in this case):

  • If the exception specification is non-throwing, the type of the function declared is
    “derived-declarator-type-list noexcept function of
    parameter-type-list cv (optional) ref  (optional) returning trailing ”.
(since C++17)
  • The(until C++17)Otherwise, the(since C++17) type of the function declared is
    “derived-declarator-type-list function of
    parameter-type-list cv (optional) ref  (optional) returning trailing ”.
(since C++11)

attr, if present, applies to the function type.

(since C++11)
// the type of “f1” is
// “function of int returning void, with attribute noreturn”
void f1(int a) [[noreturn]];
// the type of “f2” is
// “constexpr noexcept function of pointer to int returning int”
constexpr auto f2(int[] b) noexcept -> int;
struct X
    // the type of “f3” is
    // “function of no parameter const returning const int”
    const int f3() const;

[edit] Trailing qualifiers

A function type with cv  or ref  (since C++11) (including a type named by typedef name) can appear only as:

typedef int FIC(int) const;
FIC f;     // Error: does not declare a member function
struct S
    FIC f; // OK
FIC S::*pm = &S::f; // OK

[edit] Function signature

Every function has a signature.

The signature of a function consists of its name and parameter-type-list. Its signature also contains the enclosing namespace, with the following exceptions:

  • If the function is a member function, its signature contains the class of which the function is a member instead of the enclosing namespace. Its signature also contains the following components, if exists:
  • cv
  • ref
(since C++11)
  • trailing requires clause
(since C++20)
  • If the function is a non-template friend function with a trailing requires clause, its signature contains the enclosing class instead of the enclosing namespace. The signature also contains the trailing requires clause.
(since C++20)

except and attr(since C++11) are not parts of function signatures, although noexcept specification affects the function type(since C++17).

[edit] Function definition

A non-member function definition may appear at namespace scope only (there are no nested functions). A member function definition may also appear in the body of a class definition. They have the following syntax:

attr (optional) decl-specifier-seq (optional) declarator
virt-specifier-seq (optional) function-body
attr (optional) decl-specifier-seq (optional) declarator requires-clause function-body (2) (since C++20)
1) A function definition without constraints.
2) A function definition with constraints.
attr - (since C++11) a list of attributes. These attributes are combined with the attributes after the identifier in the declarator (see top of this page), if any.
decl-specifier-seq - the return type with specifiers, as in the declaration grammar
declarator - function declarator, same as in the function declaration grammar above (can be parenthesized)
virt-specifier-seq - (since C++11) override, final, or their combination in any order
requires-clause - a requires clause
function-body - the function body (see below)

function-body is one of the following:

ctor-initializer (optional) compound-statement (1)
function-try-block (2)
= delete ; (3) (since C++11)
= delete ( string-literal ); (4) (since C++26)
= default ; (5) (since C++11)
1) Regular function body.
3) Explicitly deleted function definition.
4) Explicitly deleted function definition with error message.
5) Explicitly defaulted function definition, only allowed for special member functions and comparison operator functions(since C++20).
ctor-initializer - member initializer list, only allowed in constructors
compound-statement - the brace-enclosed sequence of statements that constitutes the body of a function
function-try-block - a function try block
string-literal - an unevaluated string literal that could be used to explain the rationale for why the function is deleted
int max(int a, int b, int c)
    int m = (a > b) ? a : b;
    return (m > c) ? m : c;
// decl-specifier-seq is “int”
// declarator is “max(int a, int b, int c)”
// body is { ... }

The function body is a compound statement (sequence of zero or more statements surrounded by a pair of curly braces), which is executed when the function call is made. Moveover, the function body of a constructor also includes the following:

  • For all non-static data members whose identifiers are absent in the constructor's member initializer list, the default member initializers or(since C++11) default-initializations used to initialize the corresponding member subobjects.
  • For all base classes whose type names are absent in the constructor's member initializer list, the default-initializations used to initialize the corresponding base class subobjects.

If a function definition contains a virt-specifier-seq, it must define a member function.

(since C++11)

If a function definition contains a requires-clause, it must define a templated function.

(since C++20)
void f() override {} // Error: not a member function
void g() requires (sizeof(int) == 4) {} // Error: not a templated function

The parameter types, as well as the return type of a function definition cannot be (possibly cv-qualified) incomplete class types unless the function is defined as deleted(since C++11). The completeness check is only made in the function body, which allows member functions to return the class in which they are defined (or its enclosing class), even if it is incomplete at the point of definition (it is complete in the function body).

The parameters declared in the declarator of a function definition are in scope within the body. If a parameter is not used in the function body, it does not need to be named (it's sufficient to use an abstract declarator):

void print(int a, int) // second parameter is not used
    std::printf("a = %d\n", a);

Even though top-level cv-qualifiers on the parameters are discarded in function declarations, they modify the type of the parameter as visible in the body of a function:

void f(const int n) // declares function of type void(int)
    // but in the body, the type of “n” is const int

Deleted functions

If, instead of a function body, the special syntax (3) or (4)(since C++26) is used, the function is defined as explicitly deleted. Any use of a deleted function is ill-formed (the program will not compile). This includes calls, both explicit (with a function call operator) and implicit (a call to deleted overloaded operator, special member function, allocation function etc), constructing a pointer or pointer-to-member to a deleted function, and even the use of a deleted function in an expression that is not potentially-evaluated.

A non-pure virtual member function can be defined as deleted, even though it's implicitly odr-used. A deleted function can only be overriden by deleted functions, and a non-deleted function can only be overriden by non-deleted functions.

If the function is overloaded, overload resolution takes place first, and the program is only ill-formed if the deleted function was selected:

struct some_type
    void* operator new(std::size_t) = delete;
    void* operator new[](std::size_t) = delete;
some_type* p = new some_type; // Error: attempts to call deleted some_type::operator new

The deleted definition of a function must be the first declaration in a translation unit: a previously-declared function cannot be redeclared as deleted:

struct some_type { some_type(); };
some_type::some_type() = delete; // Error: must be deleted on the first declaration

If string-literal is present, the implementation is encouraged to include the text of it as part of the resulting diagnostic message which shows the rationale for deletion or to suggest an alternative.

void foo(int&) {}
void foo(const int&&) = delete("an argument must be an lvalue"); 
void bar()
    int x = 1;
    foo(x); // OK
    foo(1); // Error: attempts to call deleted 'foo': "an argument must be an lvalue"
(since C++26)

User-provided functions

A function is user-provided if it is user-declared and not explicitly defaulted or deleted on its first declaration. A user-provided explicitly-defaulted function (i.e., explicitly defaulted after its first declaration) is defined at the point where it is explicitly defaulted; if such a function is implicitly defined as deleted, the program is ill-formed. Declaring a function as defaulted after its first declaration can provide efficient execution and concise definition while enabling a stable binary interface to an evolving code base.

// All special member functions of “trivial” are
// defaulted on their first declarations respectively,
// they are not user-provided
struct trivial
    trivial() = default;
    trivial(const trivial&) = default;
    trivial(trivial&&) = default;
    trivial& operator=(const trivial&) = default;
    trivial& operator=(trivial&&) = default;
    ~trivial() = default;
struct nontrivial
    nontrivial(); // first declaration
// not defaulted on the first declaration,
// it is user-provided and is defined here
nontrivial::nontrivial() = default;


Within the function body, the function-local predefined variable __func__ is defined as if by

static const char __func__[] = "function-name";

This variable has block scope and static storage duration:

struct S
    S(): s(__func__) {} // OK: initializer-list is part of function body
    const char* s;
void f(const char* s = __func__); // Error: parameter-list is part of declarator
#include <iostream>
void Foo() { std::cout << __func__ << ' '; }
struct Bar
    Bar() { std::cout << __func__ << ' '; }
    ~Bar() { std::cout << __func__ << ' '; }
    struct Pub { Pub() { std::cout << __func__ << ' '; } };
int main()
    Bar bar;
    Bar::Pub pub;

Possible output:

Foo Bar Pub ~Bar
(since C++11)

[edit] Notes

In case of ambiguity between a variable declaration using the direct-initialization syntax and a function declaration, the compiler always chooses function declaration; see direct-initialization.

Feature-test macro Value Std Feature
__cpp_decltype_auto 201304L (C++14) decltype(auto)
__cpp_return_type_deduction 201304L (C++14) return type deduction for normal functions
__cpp_explicit_this_parameter 202110L (C++23) explicit object parameters (deducing this)
__cpp_deleted_function 202403L (C++26) deleted function with a reason

[edit] Example

#include <iostream>
#include <string>
// simple function with a default argument, returning nothing
void f0(const std::string& arg = "world!")
    std::cout << "Hello, " << arg << '\n';
// the declaration is in namespace (file) scope
// (the definition is provided later)
int f1();
// function returning a pointer to f0, pre-C++11 style
void (*fp03())(const std::string&)
    return f0;
// function returning a pointer to f0, with C++11 trailing return type
auto fp11() -> void(*)(const std::string&)
    return f0;
int main()
    int f2(std::string) noexcept; // declaration in function scope
    std::cout << "f2(\"bad\"): " << f2("bad") << '\n';
    std::cout << "f2(\"42\"): " << f2("42") << '\n';
// simple non-member function returning int
int f1()
    return 007;
// function with an exception specification and a function try block
int f2(std::string str) noexcept
    return std::stoi(str);
catch (const std::exception& e)
    std::cerr << "stoi() failed!\n";
    return 0;
// deleted function, an attempt to call it results in a compilation error
void bar() = delete
#   if __cpp_deleted_function
#   endif

Possible output:

stoi() failed!
Hello, world!
Hello, test!
Hello, again!
f2("bad"): 0
f2("42"): 42

[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 135 C++98 member functions defined in class
could not have a parameter of or return
its own class because it is incomplete
CWG 332 C++98 a parameter could have cv-qualified void type prohibited
CWG 393 C++98 types that include pointers/references to
array of unknown bound could not be parameters
such types are allowed
CWG 452 C++98 member initializer list was not a part of function body it is
CWG 577 C++98 dependent type void could be used to
declare a function taking no parameters
only non-dependent
void is allowed
CWG 1327 C++11 defaulted or deleted functions could not
be specified with override or final
CWG 1355 C++11 only special member functions could be user-provided extended to all functions
CWG 1394 C++11 deleted functions could not have any parameter of
an incomplete type or return an incomplete type
incomplete type allowed
CWG 1824 C++98 the completeness check on parameter type and
return type of a function definition could be made
outside the context of the function definition
only check in the
context of the
function definition
CWG 1877 C++14 return type deduction treated return; as return void(); simply deduce the return
type as void in this case
CWG 2015 C++11 the implicit odr-use of a deleted
virtual function was ill-formed
such odr-uses are exempt
from the use prohibition
CWG 2044 C++14 return type deduction on functions returning void
would fail if the declared return type is decltype(auto)
updated the deduction
rule to handle this case
CWG 2081 C++14 function redeclarations could use return type
deduction even if the initial declaration does not
not allowed
CWG 2145 C++98 the declarator in function definition could not be parenthesized allowed
CWG 2259 C++11 the ambiguity resolution rule regarding parenthesized
type names did not cover lambda expressions
CWG 2430 C++98 in the definition of a member function in a class definition,
the type of that class could not be the return type or
parameter type due to the resolution of CWG issue 1824
only check in the
function body
CWG 2760 C++98 the function body of a constructor did not include the initializations
not specified in the constructor's regular function body
also includes these
CWG 2831 C++20 a function definition with a requires-clause
could define a non-templated function
CWG 2846 C++23 explicit object member functions could not have out-of-class definitions allowed

[edit] See also

C documentation for Declaring functions