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a function which returns a vector

Hello,

First off, I'm a C++ newbie, so please turn your flame guns off. ;)

I'm wondering if this is the correct way to have a function return a
vector:

vector<int> GetVecData()
{
vector<int> ret;

ret.push_back(2); // enter data
ret.push_back(5);
ret.push_back(8);
ret.push_back(3);

return ret;
}
Can anyone tell me what exactly is happening in the above code? (Are
the vector data points copied? Or is something else happening?)

I'm guessing (hoping) it isn't doing something like the following:

int *GetArrayData()
{
int data[10];

data[0] = 2; // enter data
data[1] = 5;
data[2] = 8;
data[3] = 3;
return &data[0];
}

The above code should fail, since the data array is destroyed once the
function finishes. (Right?)
Thanks!

Mike Darrett
Jul 22 '05 #1
6 3834
Mike Darrett posted:
Hello,

First off, I'm a C++ newbie, so please turn your flame guns off. ;)

I'm wondering if this is the correct way to have a function return a
vector:
Well, it's *one* way!
vector<int> GetVecData()
{
vector<int> ret;

ret.push_back(2); // enter data
ret.push_back(5);
ret.push_back(8);
ret.push_back(3);

return ret;
}
Can anyone tell me what exactly is happening in the above code?
Some-one calls your function.
The object "ret" is created.
You do "push_back" on it 4 times.

Now here's the sticky part:

You return a vector object by value. What happens? well...

Scenario 1: No optimization, or what I like to call "a shit compiler":

The return statement is reached.
A new name-less object is created, copy-constructed from "ret".
"ret" is destroyed.
This new name-less object is returned to the calling function.

Scenario 2: Optimization, (it shouldn't be called "optimization" in this
case - if a compiler doesn't do this then it isn't just simply a "non-
optimizing" compiler, it's a pesimizing shit compiler):

The return statement is reached.
"ret" is returned to the calling function.
Okay, now moving on...

What can you do with the returned object?

A) Bind it to a const reference:

vector const& blah = GetVec();

Downside: The object is const.
Upside: You're guaranteed that no copy is made, even with a shit
compiler.

B) Copy-construct an object from it:

vector blah( GetVec() );
//or
vector blah = GetVec();

Upside: The object is non-const, it's yours to keep!

Downside: A shit compiler will actually make a copy of the returned
object, instead of just hanging on to it.
Overall, if you do the following:

vector blah = GetVec();

An average compiler (by which I mean "not shit") will only create ONE
vector, which will be "ret". "ret" will be returned from the function and
that blah object will *be* ret.

A shit compiler could create 3 objects: "ret", the object returned from the
function, the blah object.
NOTE: Even though some people may refer to the compiler which creates only
one vector as an "optimizing" compiler, don't be fooled! There's nothing
"optimizing" about it - that's the bog standard, just like a 10 year old
should be able to tie their shoe laces.

A compiler that makes 2 or 3 objects in the above is tantamount to a 10 year
old unable to tie their shoe laces.
Hope that helps.

int *GetArrayData()
{
int data[10];

data[0] = 2; // enter data
data[1] = 5;
data[2] = 8;
data[3] = 3;
return &data[0];
}

The above code should fail, since the data array is destroyed once the
function finishes. (Right?)

Absolutely correct. It looks like you already know this, but just in case
you don't, note that you can't pass an array as an argument to a function,
nor can you return one from a function. You can try all right! but all it
will get is a pointer to the array (which may be about to be destroyed, as
in your above example).
-JKop
Jul 22 '05 #2
* Mike Darrett:
Hello,

First off, I'm a C++ newbie, so please turn your flame guns off. ;)

I'm wondering if this is the correct way to have a function return a
vector:

vector<int> GetVecData()
{
vector<int> ret;

ret.push_back(2); // enter data
ret.push_back(5);
ret.push_back(8);
ret.push_back(3);

return ret;
}
Can anyone tell me what exactly is happening in the above code? (Are
the vector data points copied? Or is something else happening?)
The standard specifies that the above code should work _as if_ the
vector is copied.

So it's perfectly safe.

Your compiler may optimize it a bit, e.g. the compiler may translate
it to something like
vector<int>& GetVecData( vector<int>& ret )
{
ret.push_back( 2 );
...
return ret;
}
to avoid unnecessary copying while preserving the effect; this is called
a Return Value Optmization (RVO), and whether it's performed depends
entirely on the compiler and on the options specified to the compiler.

I'm guessing (hoping) it isn't doing something like the following:

int *GetArrayData()
{
int data[10];

data[0] = 2; // enter data
data[1] = 5;
data[2] = 8;
data[3] = 3;
return &data[0];
}
No.

The above code should fail, since the data array is destroyed once the
function finishes. (Right?)
Yes.
Thanks!


You're welcome.

--
A: Because it messes up the order in which people normally read text.
Q: Why is it such a bad thing?
A: Top-posting.
Q: What is the most annoying thing on usenet and in e-mail?
Jul 22 '05 #3
Mike Darrett wrote:
Hello,

First off, I'm a C++ newbie, so please turn your flame guns off. ;)
Never! BWAHAHAHAHA
I'm wondering if this is the correct way to have a function return a
vector:

vector<int> GetVecData()
{
vector<int> ret;

ret.push_back(2); // enter data
ret.push_back(5);
ret.push_back(8);
ret.push_back(3);

return ret;
}


Yep, that is fine and dandy. Unfortunatly the entire vector will (almost
certainly) get copied during the return, but at least at first that kind
of thing shouldn't bother you.

You could avoid that by writing something like:

vector<int>* GetVecData() {
vector<int>* ret=new vector<int>;
....
return ret;
}

However of course, then you'll have to remember to delete it later.

or

void GetVecData(vector<int> & in) {
....
}

and get passed a vector "in".

However unless this is a critical path of your code, the vectors are
REALLY big, or you need every bit of speed, I would personally just use
what you had originally. It's correct and it's the easiest way to go
about things :)

An alternative would be to use so called "smart pointers". Unfortunatly
I don't really know much about these (I really should). You can either
go look them up, or wait for someone to post about them :)

Chris
Jul 22 '05 #4
mi*********@darrettenterprises.com (Mike Darrett) writes:
Hello,

First off, I'm a C++ newbie, so please turn your flame guns off. ;)
:-)
I'm wondering if this is the correct way to have a function return a
vector:
There where many answers given here my two cents:
vector<int> GetVecData()
{
vector<int> ret;

ret.push_back(2); // enter data
ret.push_back(5);
ret.push_back(8);
ret.push_back(3);

return ret;
}
By returning the vector and all it's elements are copied, which means
that the copy consttrucor will be called for the vector and each of its
elements (if they would be objects there would be one for the elements
:-) )
I'm guessing (hoping) it isn't doing something like the following:

int *GetArrayData()
{
int data[10];

data[0] = 2; // enter data
data[1] = 5;
data[2] = 8;
data[3] = 3;
return &data[0];
} The above code should fail, since the data array is destroyed once the
function finishes. (Right?)


Yeah, you're right, with a little dirty trick you can make it working,
by setting the array static, but thats very dirty :-).

Kind regrads,Nicolas

--
| Nicolas Pavlidis | Elvis Presly: |\ |__ |
| Student of SE & KM | "Into the goto" | \|__| |
| pa****@sbox.tugraz.at | ICQ #320057056 | |
|-------------------University of Technology, Graz----------------|
Jul 22 '05 #5
"Mike Darrett" <mi*********@darrettenterprises.com> wrote in message
news:d9**************************@posting.google.c om...
Hello,

First off, I'm a C++ newbie, so please turn your flame guns off. ;)

I'm wondering if this is the correct way to have a function return a
vector:

vector<int> GetVecData()
{
vector<int> ret;

ret.push_back(2); // enter data
ret.push_back(5);
ret.push_back(8);
ret.push_back(3);

return ret;
}
Can anyone tell me what exactly is happening in the above code? (Are
the vector data points copied? Or is something else happening?)

I'm guessing (hoping) it isn't doing something like the following:

int *GetArrayData()
{
int data[10];

data[0] = 2; // enter data
data[1] = 5;
data[2] = 8;
data[3] = 3;
return &data[0];
}

The above code should fail, since the data array is destroyed once the
function finishes. (Right?)
Thanks!

Mike Darrett


As the others have said, you can return a std::vector just like any other
object. However, when I have a function which returns a sequence of values I
usually write it as follows:

template <typename OUT_ITER>
void SendData(OUT_ITER oi)
{
*oi++ = 2;
*oi++ = 5;
*oi++ = 8;
*oi++ = 3;
}

Now if the client wants a std::vector for output he can call this as
follows:

std::vector<int> answer;
answer.reserve(4); // optional -- may be a little faster
SendData(std::back_inserter(answer));

However, if he wants a C array:
int answer2[4];
SendData(answer2); // dangerous in general -- prone to overflow errors

There are lots of other options (list, deque, output stream, etc.) for
output iterators. For most of my functions I don't care how the client
stores the output data, so why make him do it my way?

--
Cy
http://home.rochester.rr.com/cyhome/
Jul 22 '05 #6

Just to give a little example:

I'm currenting writing a Win32 program that'll deal with
renaming certain files. I have a loop that goes through the
files and then I have a function called "ProcessFile" that
will decide whether the file should be renamed, and if so,
what it's new name should be. So what I need is to return
two things from the function, a bool, and an std::string.

Here's what I did:

struct BoolAndString
{
bool proceed;
std::string str;
};

BoolAndString ProcessFile(const char* const old_name);

The calling function, once it receives this new filename,
doesn't have to change it at all, so a const object will
suffice, that's why I do:

BoolAndString const& blah = ProcessFile(...

If I'd needed a non-const object, I would've done:

BoolAndString blah = ProcessFile(...

Which shouldn't be any less efficent... unless ofcourse
you're dealing with a shit compiler.
-JKop
Jul 22 '05 #7

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