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Thinking in C++
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Function templates

In drawAll( ) you see something new. So far in this chapter, we have been using only class templates, which instantiate new classes based on one or more type parameters. However, you can as easily create function templates, which create new functions based on type parameters. The reason you create a function template is the same reason you use for a class template: You’re trying to create generic code, and you do this by delaying the specification of one or more types. You just want to say that these type parameters support certain operations, not exactly what types they are.

The function template drawAll( ) can be thought of as an algorithm (and this is what most of the function templates in the Standard C++ Library are called). It just says how to do something given iterators describing a range of elements, as long as these iterators can be dereferenced, incremented, and compared. These are exactly the kind of iterators we have been developing in this chapter, and also – not coincidentally – the kind of iterators that are produced by the containers in the Standard C++ Library, evidenced by the use of vector in this example.

We’d also like drawAll( ) to be a generic algorithm, so that the containers can be any type at all and we don’t have to write a new version of the algorithm for each different type of container. Here’s where function templates are essential, because they automatically generate the specific code for each different type of container. But without the extra indirection provided by the iterators, this genericness wouldn’t be possible. That’s why iterators are important; they allow you to write general-purpose code that involves containers without knowing the underlying structure of the container. (Notice that, in C++, iterators and generic algorithms require function templates in order to work.)

You can see the proof of this in main( ), since drawAll( ) works unchanged with each different type of container. And even more interesting, drawAll( ) also works with pointers to the beginning and end of the array sarray. This ability to treat arrays as containers is integral to the design of the Standard C++ Library, whose algorithms look much like drawAll( ).

Because container class templates are rarely subject to the inheritance and upcasting you see with “ordinary” classes, you’ll almost never see virtual functions in container classes. Container class reuse is implemented with templates, not with inheritance.

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