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Thinking in C++
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Standard argument passing

In C it’s very common to pass by value, and when you want to pass an address your only choice is to use a pointer[43]. However, neither of these approaches is preferred in C++. Instead, your first choice when passing an argument is to pass by reference, and by const reference at that. To the client programmer, the syntax is identical to that of passing by value, so there’s no confusion about pointers – they don’t even have to think about pointers. For the creator of the function, passing an address is virtually always more efficient than passing an entire class object, and if you pass by const reference it means your function will not change the destination of that address, so the effect from the client programmer’s point of view is exactly the same as pass-by-value (only more efficient).

Because of the syntax of references (it looks like pass-by-value to the caller) it’s possible to pass a temporary object to a function that takes a const reference, whereas you can never pass a temporary object to a function that takes a pointer – with a pointer, the address must be explicitly taken. So passing by reference produces a new situation that never occurs in C: a temporary, which is always const, can have its address passed to a function. This is why, to allow temporaries to be passed to functions by reference, the argument must be a const reference. The following example demonstrates this:

//: C08:ConstTemporary.cpp
// Temporaries are const

class X {};

X f() { return X(); } // Return by value

void g1(X&) {} // Pass by non-const reference
void g2(const X&) {} // Pass by const reference

int main() {
  // Error: const temporary created by f():
//!  g1(f());
  // OK: g2 takes a const reference:
} ///:~

f( ) returns an object of class X by value. That means when you immediately take the return value of f( ) and pass it to another function as in the calls to g1( ) and g2( ), a temporary is created and that temporary is const. Thus, the call in g1( ) is an error because g1( ) doesn’t take a const reference, but the call to g2( ) is OK.

Thinking in C++
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire