Raw pointer lookup for sets of unique_ptrs


I often find myself wanting to write code like this:

class MyClass
  void addObject(std::unique_ptr<Object>&& newObject);

  void removeObject(const Object* target);

  std::set<std::unique_ptr<Object>> objects;

However, much of the std::set interface is kind of useless with std::unique_ptrs since the lookup functions require std::unique_ptr parameters (which I obviously don't have because they're owned by the set itself).

I can think of two main solutions to this.

  1. Create a temporary unique_ptr for lookup. For example, the above removeObject() could be implemented like:

    void MyClass::removeObject(const Object* target)
      std::unique_ptr<Object> targetSmartPtr(target);
  2. Replace the set with a map of raw pointers to unique_ptrs.

      // ...
      std::map<const Object*, std::unique_ptr<Object>> objects;

However, both seem slightly stupid to me. In solution 1, erase() isn't noexcept, so the temporary unique_ptr might delete the object it doesn't really own, and 2 requires double the storage for the container unnecessarily.

I know about Boost's pointer containers, but their current features are limited compared to modern C++11 standard library containers.

I was recently reading about C++14 and came across "Adding heterogeneous comparison lookup to associative containers". But form my understanding of it, the lookup types must be comparable to the key types, but raw pointers aren't comparable to unique_ptrs.

Anyone know of a more elegant solution or an upcoming addition to C++ that solves this problem?

By : Jo Bates

In C++14, std::set<Key>::find is a template function if Compare::is_transparent exists. The type you pass in does not need to be Key, just equivalent under your comparator.

So write a comparator:

template<class T>
struct pointer_comp {
  typedef std::true_type is_transparent;
  // helper does some magic in order to reduce the number of
  // pairs of types we need to know how to compare: it turns
  // everything into a pointer, and then uses `std::less<T*>`
  // to do the comparison:
  struct helper {
    T* ptr;
    helper():ptr(nullptr) {}
    helper(helper const&) = default;
    helper(T* p):ptr(p) {}
    template<class U, class...Ts>
    helper( std::shared_ptr<U,Ts...> const& sp ):ptr(sp.get()) {}
    template<class U, class...Ts>
    helper( std::unique_ptr<U, Ts...> const& up ):ptr(up.get()) {}
    // && optional: enforces rvalue use only
    bool operator<()( helper o ) const {
      return std::less<T*>()( ptr, o.ptr );
  // without helper, we'd need 2^n different overloads, where
  // n is the number of types we want to support (so, 8 with
  // raw pointers, unique pointers, and shared pointers).  That
  // seems silly:
  // && helps enforce rvalue use only
  bool operator()( helper const&& lhs, helper const&& rhs ) const {
    return lhs < rhs;

then use it:

typedef std::set< std::unique_ptr<Foo>, pointer_comp<Foo> > owning_foo_set;

now, owning_foo_set::find will accept unique_ptr<Foo> or Foo* or shared_ptr<Foo> (or any derived class of Foo) and find the correct element.

Outside of C++14, you are forced to use the map to unique_ptr approach, or something equivalent, as the signature of find is overly restrictive. Or write your own set equivalent.

By : Yakk

You can try to use boost::multi_index_container with additional indexing by Object*. Something like this:

typedef std::unique_ptr<Object> Ptr;
typedef multi_index_container<
    ordered_unique<const_mem_fun<Ptr,Object*,&Ptr::get> >
> Objects;

Fore more information see Boost Multi-index Containers documentation

Or may be you can use std::shared_ptr everywhere, or use raw pointers in set instead?

Why you need to lookup by raw pinter? If you store it anywhere and check that object with this pointer is valid then better to use std::shared_ptr for storing in container and std::weak_ptr for other objects. In this case before usage you don't need lookup by raw pointer at all.

By : PSyton

While definitely a hack, I just realized it's possible to construct a temporary "dumb" unique_ptr with placement new and not risk de-allocation. removeObject() could be written something like this:

void MyClass::removeObject(const Object* target)
  char dumbPtrData[sizeof(std::unique_ptr<Object>)];

      *::new (dumbPtrData) std::unique_ptr<Object>(const_cast<Object *>(target)));

This solution would work for std::unordered_set, std::map keys, and std::unordered_map keys as well, all using standard C++11 only, with practically zero unnecessary overhead.

By : Jo Bates

This video can help you solving your question :)
By: admin