Chapter 19: The STL Generic Algorithms

19.1: The Generic Algorithms

Before using the generic algorithms presented in this chapter, except for those in the Operators category (defined below), the <algorithm> header file must be included. Before using a generic algorithm in the Operators category the <numeric> header file must be included.

In the previous chapter the Standard Template Library (STL) was introduced. An important element of the STL, the generic algorithms, was not covered in that chapter as they form a fairly extensive part of the STL. Over time the STL has grown considerably, mainly as a result of a growing importance and appreciation of templates. Covering generic algorithm in the STL chapter itself would turn that chapter into an unwieldy one and so the generic algorithms were moved to a chapter of their own.

Generic algorithms perform an amazing task. Due to the strength of templates, algorithms could be developed that can be applied to a wide range of different data types while maintaining type safety. The prototypical example of this is the sort generic algorithm. To contrast: while C requires programmers to write callback functions in which type-unsafe void const * parameters have to be used, internally forcing the programmer to resort to casts, STL's sort frequently allows the programmer merely to state something akin to

    sort(first-element, last-element)

Generic algoritms should be used wherever possible. Avoid the urge to design your own code for commonly encountered algorithms. Make it a habit to first thoroughly search the generic algorithms for an available candidate. The generic algorithms should become your weapon of choice when writing code: acquire full familiarity with them and make their use your `second nature'.

This chapter's sections cover the STL's generic algorithms in alphabetical order. For each algorithm the following information is provided:

In the prototypes of the algorithms Type is used to specify a generic data type. Furthermore, the particular type of iterator (see section 18.2) that is required is mentioned as well as other generic types that might be required (e.g., performing BinaryOperations, like plus<Type>). Although iterators are commonly provided by abstract containers and comparable pre-defined data structrues, at some point you may want to design your own iterators. Section 22.14 offers guidelines for constructing your own iterator classes and provides an overview of of operators that must be implemented for the various types of iterators.

Almost every generic algorithm expects an iterator range [first, last), defining the series of elements on which the algorithm operates. The iterators point to objects or values. When an iterator points to a Type value or object, function objects used by the algorithms usually receive Type const & objects or values. Usually function objects cannot modify the objects they receive as their arguments. This does not hold true for modifying generic algorithms, which are of course able to modify the objects they operate upon.

Generic algorithms may be categorized. The C++ Annotations distinguishes the following categories of generic algorithms:

19.1.1: accumulate

19.1.2: adjacent_difference

19.1.3: adjacent_find

19.1.4: binary_search

19.1.5: copy

19.1.6: copy_backward

19.1.7: count

19.1.8: count_if

19.1.9: equal

19.1.10: equal_range

19.1.11: fill

19.1.12: fill_n

19.1.13: find

19.1.14: find_end

19.1.15: find_first_of

19.1.16: find_if

19.1.17: for_each

The example also shows that the for_each algorithm may be used with functions defining const and non-const parameters. Also, see section 19.1.63 for differences between the for_each and transform generic algorithms.

The for_each algorithm cannot directly be used (i.e., by passing *this as the function object argument) inside a member function to modify its own object as the for_each algorithm first creates its own copy of the passed function object. A lambda function or a wrapper class whose constructor accepts a pointer or reference to the current object and possibly to one of its member functions solves this problem.

19.1.18: generate

19.1.19: generate_n

19.1.20: includes

19.1.21: inner_product

19.1.22: inplace_merge

19.1.23: iter_swap

19.1.24: lexicographical_compare

19.1.25: lower_bound

19.1.26: max

19.1.27: max_element

19.1.28: merge

19.1.29: min

19.1.30: min_element

19.1.31: mismatch

19.1.32: next_permutation

19.1.33: nth_element

19.1.34: partial_sort

19.1.35: partial_sort_copy

19.1.36: partial_sum

19.1.37: partition

19.1.38: prev_permutation

19.1.39: random_shuffle

19.1.40: remove

19.1.41: remove_copy

19.1.42: remove_copy_if

19.1.43: remove_if

19.1.44: replace

19.1.45: replace_copy

19.1.46: replace_copy_if

19.1.47: replace_if

19.1.48: reverse

19.1.49: reverse_copy

19.1.50: rotate

19.1.51: rotate_copy

19.1.52: search

19.1.53: search_n

19.1.54: set_difference

19.1.55: set_intersection

19.1.56: set_symmetric_difference

19.1.57: set_union

19.1.58: sort

19.1.59: stable_partition

19.1.60: stable_sort

Note that the example implements a solution to an often occurring problem: how to sort using multiple hierarchal criteria. The example deserves some additional attention:

19.1.61: swap

19.1.62: swap_ranges

19.1.63: transform

the following differences between the for_each (section 19.1.17) and transform generic algorithms should be noted: Also note that the range-based for loop can often be used instead of the transform generic algorithm. However, but different from the range-based for-loop the transform algoritm can also be used width sub-ranges and with reverse-iterators.

19.1.64: unique

19.1.65: unique_copy

19.1.66: upper_bound

19.1.67: Heap algorithms

A heap is a kind of binary tree which can be represented by an array. In the standard heap, the key of an element is not smaller than the key of its children. This kind of heap is called a max heap. A tree in which numbers are keys could be organized as shown in figure 21.

Figure 21: A binary tree representation of a heap

Such a tree may also be organized in an array:
        12, 11, 10, 8, 9, 7, 6, 1, 2, 4, 3, 5
In the following description, keep two pointers into this array in mind: a pointer node indicates the location of the next node of the tree, a pointer child points to the next element which is a child of the node pointer. Initially, node points to the first element, and child points to the second element. Since child now points beyond the array, the remaining nodes have no children. So, nodes 6, 1, 2, 4, 3 and 5 don't have children.

Note that the left and right branches are not ordered: 8 is less than 9, but 7 is larger than 6.

A heap is created by traversing a binary tree level-wise, starting from the top node. The top node is 12, at the zeroth level. At the first level we find 11 and 10. At the second level 8, 9, 7 and 6 are found, etc.

Heaps can be constructed in containers supporting random access. So, a list is not an appropriate data structure for a heap. Heaps can be constructed from an (unsorted) array (using make_heap). The top-element can be pruned from a heap, followed by reordering the heap (using pop_heap), a new element can be added to the heap, followed by reordering the heap (using push_heap), and the elements in a heap can be sorted (using sort_heap, which, of course, invalidates the heap). The `make_heap' function The `pop_heap' function The `push_heap' function The `sort_heap' function An example using the heap functions

Here is an example showing the various generic algorithms manipulating heaps:
    #include <algorithm>
    #include <iostream>
    #include <functional>
    #include <iterator>
    using namespace std;

    void show(int *ia, char const *header)
        cout << header << ":\n";
        copy(ia, ia + 20, ostream_iterator<int>(cout, " "));
        cout << '\n';
    int main()
        int ia[] = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
                    11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20};

        make_heap(ia, ia + 20);
        show(ia, "The values 1-20 in a max-heap");

        pop_heap(ia, ia + 20);
        show(ia, "Removing the first element (now at the end)");

        push_heap(ia, ia + 20);
        show(ia, "Adding 20 (at the end) to the heap again");

        sort_heap(ia, ia + 20);
        show(ia, "Sorting the elements in the heap");

        make_heap(ia, ia + 20, greater<int>());
        show(ia, "The values 1-20 in a heap, using > (and beyond too)");

        pop_heap(ia, ia + 20, greater<int>());
        show(ia, "Removing the first element (now at the end)");

        push_heap(ia, ia + 20, greater<int>());
        show(ia, "Re-adding the removed element");

        sort_heap(ia, ia + 20, greater<int>());
        show(ia, "Sorting the elements in the heap");
            The values 1-20 in a max-heap:
            20 19 15 18 11 13 14 17 9 10 2 12 6 3 7 16 8 4 1 5
            Removing the first element (now at the end):
            19 18 15 17 11 13 14 16 9 10 2 12 6 3 7 5 8 4 1 20
            Adding 20 (at the end) to the heap again:
            20 19 15 17 18 13 14 16 9 11 2 12 6 3 7 5 8 4 1 10
            Sorting the elements in the heap:
            1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
            The values 1-20 in a heap, using > (and beyond too):
            1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
            Removing the first element (now at the end):
            2 4 3 8 5 6 7 16 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 20 17 18 19 1
            Re-adding the removed element:
            1 2 3 8 4 6 7 16 9 5 11 12 13 14 15 20 17 18 19 10
            Sorting the elements in the heap:
            20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

19.2: STL: More function adaptors

Before using the function adaptors presented in these (sub)sections the <functional> header file must be included.

Member function adaptors are part of the Standard Template Library (STL). They are most useful in combination with the generic algorithms, which is why they are discussed in this chapter instead of the previous chapter which was devoted to the STL.

The member function adaptors defined in the STL allow us to call (parameterless) member functions of class objects as though they were non-member functions and to compose unary or binary argument functions into single function objects so that they can jointly be used with generic algorithms.

In the next section calling member functions as non-member functions is discussed; adaptable functions are covered thereafter.

19.2.1: Member function adaptors

The member function adaptors introduced in this section allow the use of generic algorithms when the function to call is a member function of a class. They are, however, deprecated in the upcoming C++17 standard, as their use can easily be replaced by bind (cf. section(BIND)). The member function adaptors are briefly mentioned, followed by an illustration of how bind can be used instead.

Consider the following class:

    class Data
            void display();
Obviously, the display member is used to display the information stored in Data objects.

When storing Data objects in a vector the for_each generic algorithm cannot easily be used to call the display member for each of the objects stored in the vector, as for_each accepts either a (non-member) function or a function object as its third argument, but does not accept a member function.

The member function adaptor mem_fun_ref and bind can be used to solve this problem. Mem_fun_ref expects the address of a member function not defining any parameters, and mem_fun_ref's function call operator calls that function for the object that is passed as argument to its function call operator. The example shows its use, as well as an alternative using bind (using namespaces std and placeholders is assumed):

    int main()
        vector<Data> data;
                                            // deprecated in C++17
        for_each(data.begin(), data.end(), mem_fun_ref(&Data::display));

                                            // alternative, using bind
        for_each(data.begin(), data.end(), bind(&Data::display, _1));

A second member function adaptor is mem_fun, which is used to call a member function from a pointer to an object. Here bind can also be used, as it detects the pointers (as well as shared_ptr objects, if used) in the vector data:

    int main()
        vector<Data *> data { new Data };

                                            // deprecated in C++17
        for_each(data.begin(), data.end(), mem_fun(&Data::display));

                                            // alternative, using bind
        for_each(data.begin(), data.end(), bind(&Data::display, _1));

        delete data[0];

19.2.2: Adaptable functions

Within the context of the STL an adaptable function is a function object defining and defining result_type as the type of the return value of its function call operator.

The STL defines pointer_to_unary_function and pointer_to_binary_function as adaptors accepting pointers to, respectively, unary and binary functions, converting them into adaptable functions.

When ptr_fun is provided with a unary function it uses pointer_to_unary_function to create an adaptable unary function and it uses pointer_to_binary_function when provided with a binary function to create an adaptable binary function.

These adaptors, as well as ptr_fun are, however, deprecated in the upcoming C++17 standard, as their use can easily be replaced by lambda expressions.

Here is an example showing the use of ptr_fun, creating an adaptable binary function. In main, the word to search for is extracted from the standard input stream as well as additional words that are stored in a vector of string objects. If the target word is found the program displays the word following the target word in the vector of string objects. Searching is performed case insensitively, for which the POSIX function strcasecmp is used. Following the use of ptr_fun an equivalent statement using a lambda expression is shown:

#include <vector>
#include <algorithm>
#include <functional>
#include <cstring>
#include <string>
#include <iterator>
#include <iostream>

using namespace std;

inline int stringcasecmp(string lhs, string rhs)
    return strcasecmp(lhs.c_str(), rhs.c_str());

int main()
    string target;
    cin >> target;

    vector<string> v1;
    copy(istream_iterator<string>(cin), istream_iterator<string>(),

    auto pos = find_if(                         // deprecated in C++17
                    v1.begin(), v1.end(),
                    not1( bind2nd(ptr_fun(stringcasecmp), target) )

                                                // preferred alternative:
    auto pos = find_if(v1.begin(), v1.end(),    // use a lambda expression
            [&](auto const &str)
                return not stringcasecmp(str, target);


    if ( pos != v1.end())
       cout <<   "The search for `" << target << "' was successful.\n"
                 "The next string is: `" << pos[1] << "'.\n";

    // on input:
    //  VERY   I have existed for years, but very little has changed
    // the program displays:
    //  The search for `VERY' was successful.
    //  The next string is: `little'.

The observant reader may have noticed that this is not a very efficient program. The function stringcasecmp defines value type parameters forcing the construction of copies of the arguments passed to stringcasecmp every time it is called. But after changing the parameter definitions into

    inline int stringcasecmp(string const &lhs, string const &rhs)
the compiler generates an error message like:
In instantiation of 'std::binder2nd<std::pointer_to_binary_function<
        const std::string&, const std::string&, int> >':

    typename _Operation::result_type std::binder2nd<_Operation>::operator()(
            typename _Operation::first_argument_type&) const
cannot be overloaded with:
    typename _Operation::result_type std::binder2nd<_Operation>::operator()(
            const typename _Operation::first_argument_type&) const
The second find_if statement, however, compiles flawlessly after changing stringcasecmp's value parameters into const & parameters, which is an additional reason for preferring the use of the lambda expression in this example.