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<chapter xmlns="" version="5.0"
xml:id="std.strings" xreflabel="Strings">
<?dbhtml filename="strings.html"?>
<keyword>ISO C++</keyword>
<!-- Sect1 01 : Character Traits -->
<!-- Sect1 02 : String Classes -->
<section xml:id="std.strings.string" xreflabel="string"><info><title>String Classes</title></info>
<section xml:id="strings.string.simple" xreflabel="Simple Transformations"><info><title>Simple Transformations</title></info>
Here are Standard, simple, and portable ways to perform common
transformations on a <code>string</code> instance, such as
"convert to all upper case." The word transformations
is especially apt, because the standard template function
<code>transform&lt;&gt;</code> is used.
This code will go through some iterations. Here's a simple
#include &lt;string&gt;
#include &lt;algorithm&gt;
#include &lt;cctype&gt; // old &lt;ctype.h&gt;
struct ToLower
char operator() (char c) const { return std::tolower(c); }
struct ToUpper
char operator() (char c) const { return std::toupper(c); }
int main()
std::string s ("Some Kind Of Initial Input Goes Here");
// Change everything into upper case
std::transform (s.begin(), s.end(), s.begin(), ToUpper());
// Change everything into lower case
std::transform (s.begin(), s.end(), s.begin(), ToLower());
// Change everything back into upper case, but store the
// result in a different string
std::string capital_s;
std::transform (s.begin(), s.end(), capital_s.begin(), ToUpper());
<emphasis>Note</emphasis> that these calls all
involve the global C locale through the use of the C functions
<code>toupper/tolower</code>. This is absolutely guaranteed to work --
but <emphasis>only</emphasis> if the string contains <emphasis>only</emphasis> characters
from the basic source character set, and there are <emphasis>only</emphasis>
96 of those. Which means that not even all English text can be
represented (certain British spellings, proper names, and so forth).
So, if all your input forevermore consists of only those 96
characters (hahahahahaha), then you're done.
<para><emphasis>Note</emphasis> that the
<code>ToUpper</code> and <code>ToLower</code> function objects
are needed because <code>toupper</code> and <code>tolower</code>
are overloaded names (declared in <code>&lt;cctype&gt;</code> and
<code>&lt;locale&gt;</code>) so the template-arguments for
<code>transform&lt;&gt;</code> cannot be deduced, as explained in
<link xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href="">this
<!-- section clause 16 in ISO 14882:1998 -->
At minimum, you can write short wrappers like
char toLower (char c)
// std::tolower(c) is undefined if c &lt; 0 so cast to unsigned char.
return std::tolower((unsigned char)c);
} </programlisting>
<para>(Thanks to James Kanze for assistance and suggestions on all of this.)
<para>Another common operation is trimming off excess whitespace. Much
like transformations, this task is trivial with the use of string's
<code>find</code> family. These examples are broken into multiple
statements for readability:
std::string str (" \t blah blah blah \n ");
// trim leading whitespace
string::size_type notwhite = str.find_first_not_of(" \t\n");
// trim trailing whitespace
notwhite = str.find_last_not_of(" \t\n");
str.erase(notwhite+1); </programlisting>
<para>Obviously, the calls to <code>find</code> could be inserted directly
into the calls to <code>erase</code>, in case your compiler does not
optimize named temporaries out of existence.
<section xml:id="" xreflabel="Case Sensitivity"><info><title>Case Sensitivity</title></info>
<para>The well-known-and-if-it-isn't-well-known-it-ought-to-be
<link xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href="">Guru of the Week</link>
discussions held on Usenet covered this topic in January of 1998.
Briefly, the challenge was, <quote>write a 'ci_string' class which
is identical to the standard 'string' class, but is
case-insensitive in the same way as the (common but nonstandard)
C function stricmp()</quote>.
ci_string s( "AbCdE" );
// case insensitive
assert( s == "abcde" );
assert( s == "ABCDE" );
// still case-preserving, of course
assert( strcmp( s.c_str(), "AbCdE" ) == 0 );
assert( strcmp( s.c_str(), "abcde" ) != 0 ); </programlisting>
<para>The solution is surprisingly easy. The original answer was
posted on Usenet, and a revised version appears in Herb Sutter's
book <emphasis>Exceptional C++</emphasis> and on his website as <link xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href="">GotW 29</link>.
<para>See? Told you it was easy!</para>
<emphasis>Added June 2000:</emphasis> The May 2000 issue of C++
Report contains a fascinating <link xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href=""> article</link> by
Matt Austern (yes, <emphasis>the</emphasis> Matt Austern) on why
case-insensitive comparisons are not as easy as they seem, and
why creating a class is the <emphasis>wrong</emphasis> way to go
about it in production code. (The GotW answer mentions one of
the principle difficulties; his article mentions more.)
<para>Basically, this is "easy" only if you ignore some things,
things which may be too important to your program to ignore. (I chose
to ignore them when originally writing this entry, and am surprised
that nobody ever called me on it...) The GotW question and answer
remain useful instructional tools, however.
<para><emphasis>Added September 2000:</emphasis> James Kanze provided a link to a
<link xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href="">Unicode
Technical Report discussing case handling</link>, which provides some
very good information.
<section xml:id="strings.string.character_types" xreflabel="Arbitrary Characters"><info><title>Arbitrary Character Types</title></info>
<para>The <code>std::basic_string</code> is tantalizingly general, in that
it is parameterized on the type of the characters which it holds.
In theory, you could whip up a Unicode character class and instantiate
<code>std::basic_string&lt;my_unicode_char&gt;</code>, or assuming
that integers are wider than characters on your platform, maybe just
declare variables of type <code>std::basic_string&lt;int&gt;</code>.
<para>That's the theory. Remember however that basic_string has additional
type parameters, which take default arguments based on the character
type (called <code>CharT</code> here):
template &lt;typename CharT,
typename Traits = char_traits&lt;CharT&gt;,
typename Alloc = allocator&lt;CharT&gt; &gt;
class basic_string { .... };</programlisting>
<para>Now, <code>allocator&lt;CharT&gt;</code> will probably Do The Right
Thing by default, unless you need to implement your own allocator
for your characters.
<para>But <code>char_traits</code> takes more work. The char_traits
template is <emphasis>declared</emphasis> but not <emphasis>defined</emphasis>.
That means there is only
template &lt;typename CharT&gt;
struct char_traits
static void foo (type1 x, type2 y);
<para>and functions such as char_traits&lt;CharT&gt;::foo() are not
actually defined anywhere for the general case. The C++ standard
permits this, because writing such a definition to fit all possible
CharT's cannot be done.
<para>The C++ standard also requires that char_traits be specialized for
instantiations of <code>char</code> and <code>wchar_t</code>, and it
is these template specializations that permit entities like
<code>basic_string&lt;char,char_traits&lt;char&gt;&gt;</code> to work.
<para>If you want to use character types other than char and wchar_t,
such as <code>unsigned char</code> and <code>int</code>, you will
need suitable specializations for them. For a time, in earlier
versions of GCC, there was a mostly-correct implementation that
let programmers be lazy but it broke under many situations, so it
was removed. GCC 3.4 introduced a new implementation that mostly
works and can be specialized even for <code>int</code> and other
built-in types.
<para>If you want to use your own special character class, then you have
<link xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href="">a lot
of work to do</link>, especially if you with to use i18n features
(facets require traits information but don't have a traits argument).
<para>Another example of how to specialize char_traits was given <link xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href="">on the
mailing list</link> and at a later date was put into the file <code>
include/ext/pod_char_traits.h</code>. We agree
that the way it's used with basic_string (scroll down to main())
doesn't look nice, but that's because <link xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href="">the
nice-looking first attempt</link> turned out to <link xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href="">not
be conforming C++</link>, due to the rule that CharT must be a POD.
(See how tricky this is?)
<section xml:id="strings.string.token" xreflabel="Tokenizing"><info><title>Tokenizing</title></info>
<para>The Standard C (and C++) function <code>strtok()</code> leaves a lot to
be desired in terms of user-friendliness. It's unintuitive, it
destroys the character string on which it operates, and it requires
you to handle all the memory problems. But it does let the client
code decide what to use to break the string into pieces; it allows
you to choose the "whitespace," so to speak.
<para>A C++ implementation lets us keep the good things and fix those
annoyances. The implementation here is more intuitive (you only
call it once, not in a loop with varying argument), it does not
affect the original string at all, and all the memory allocation
is handled for you.
<para>It's called stringtok, and it's a template function. Sources are
as below, in a less-portable form than it could be, to keep this
example simple (for example, see the comments on what kind of
string it will accept).
#include &lt;string&gt;
template &lt;typename Container&gt;
stringtok(Container &amp;container, string const &amp;in,
const char * const delimiters = " \t\n")
const string::size_type len = in.length();
string::size_type i = 0;
while (i &lt; len)
// Eat leading whitespace
i = in.find_first_not_of(delimiters, i);
if (i == string::npos)
return; // Nothing left but white space
// Find the end of the token
string::size_type j = in.find_first_of(delimiters, i);
// Push token
if (j == string::npos)
container.push_back(in.substr(i, j-i));
// Set up for next loop
i = j + 1;
The author uses a more general (but less readable) form of it for
parsing command strings and the like. If you compiled and ran this
code using it:
std::list&lt;string&gt; ls;
stringtok (ls, " this \t is\t\n a test ");
for (std::list&lt;string&gt;const_iterator i = ls.begin();
i != ls.end(); ++i)
std::cerr &lt;&lt; ':' &lt;&lt; (*i) &lt;&lt; ":\n";
} </programlisting>
<para>You would see this as output:
:test: </programlisting>
<para>with all the whitespace removed. The original <code>s</code> is still
available for use, <code>ls</code> will clean up after itself, and
<code>ls.size()</code> will return how many tokens there were.
<para>As always, there is a price paid here, in that stringtok is not
as fast as strtok. The other benefits usually outweigh that, however.
<para><emphasis>Added February 2001:</emphasis> Mark Wilden pointed out that the
standard <code>std::getline()</code> function can be used with standard
<code>istringstreams</code> to perform
tokenizing as well. Build an istringstream from the input text,
and then use std::getline with varying delimiters (the three-argument
signature) to extract tokens into a string.
<section xml:id="strings.string.shrink" xreflabel="Shrink to Fit"><info><title>Shrink to Fit</title></info>
<para>From GCC 3.4 calling <code>s.reserve(res)</code> on a
<code>string s</code> with <code>res &lt; s.capacity()</code> will
reduce the string's capacity to <code>std::max(s.size(), res)</code>.
<para>This behaviour is suggested, but not required by the standard. Prior
to GCC 3.4 the following alternative can be used instead
std::string(, str.size()).swap(str);
<para>This is similar to the idiom for reducing
a <code>vector</code>'s memory usage
(see <link linkend="faq.size_equals_capacity">this FAQ
entry</link>) but the regular copy constructor cannot be used
because libstdc++'s <code>string</code> is Copy-On-Write in GCC 3.
<para>In <link linkend="status.iso.2011">C++11</link> mode you can call
<code>s.shrink_to_fit()</code> to achieve the same effect as
<section xml:id="strings.string.Cstring" xreflabel="CString (MFC)"><info><title>CString (MFC)</title></info>
<para>A common lament seen in various newsgroups deals with the Standard
string class as opposed to the Microsoft Foundation Class called
CString. Often programmers realize that a standard portable
answer is better than a proprietary nonportable one, but in porting
their application from a Win32 platform, they discover that they
are relying on special functions offered by the CString class.
<para>Things are not as bad as they seem. In
<link xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href="">this
message</link>, Joe Buck points out a few very important things:
<listitem><para>The Standard <code>string</code> supports all the operations
that CString does, with three exceptions.
<listitem><para>Two of those exceptions (whitespace trimming and case
conversion) are trivial to implement. In fact, we do so
on this page.
<listitem><para>The third is <code>CString::Format</code>, which allows formatting
in the style of <code>sprintf</code>. This deserves some mention:
The old libg++ library had a function called form(), which did much
the same thing. But for a Standard solution, you should use the
stringstream classes. These are the bridge between the iostream
hierarchy and the string class, and they operate with regular
streams seamlessly because they inherit from the iostream
hierarchy. An quick example:
#include &lt;iostream&gt;
#include &lt;string&gt;
#include &lt;sstream&gt;
string f (string&amp; incoming) // incoming is "foo N"
istringstream incoming_stream(incoming);
string the_word;
int the_number;
incoming_stream &gt;&gt; the_word // extract "foo"
&gt;&gt; the_number; // extract N
ostringstream output_stream;
output_stream &lt;&lt; "The word was " &lt;&lt; the_word
&lt;&lt; " and 3*N was " &lt;&lt; (3*the_number);
return output_stream.str();
} </programlisting>
<para>A serious problem with CString is a design bug in its memory
allocation. Specifically, quoting from that same message:
CString suffers from a common programming error that results in
poor performance. Consider the following code:
CString n_copies_of (const CString&amp; foo, unsigned n)
CString tmp;
for (unsigned i = 0; i &lt; n; i++)
tmp += foo;
return tmp;
This function is O(n^2), not O(n). The reason is that each +=
causes a reallocation and copy of the existing string. Microsoft
applications are full of this kind of thing (quadratic performance
on tasks that can be done in linear time) -- on the other hand,
we should be thankful, as it's created such a big market for high-end
ix86 hardware. :-)
If you replace CString with string in the above function, the
performance is O(n).
<para>Joe Buck also pointed out some other things to keep in mind when
comparing CString and the Standard string class:
<listitem><para>CString permits access to its internal representation; coders
who exploited that may have problems moving to <code>string</code>.
<listitem><para>Microsoft ships the source to CString (in the files
MFC\SRC\Str{core,ex}.cpp), so you could fix the allocation
bug and rebuild your MFC libraries.
<emphasis><emphasis>Note:</emphasis> It looks like the CString shipped
with VC++6.0 has fixed this, although it may in fact have been
one of the VC++ SPs that did it.</emphasis>
<listitem><para><code>string</code> operations like this have O(n) complexity
<emphasis>if the implementors do it correctly</emphasis>. The libstdc++
implementors did it correctly. Other vendors might not.
<listitem><para>While parts of the SGI STL are used in libstdc++, their
string class is not. The SGI <code>string</code> is essentially
<code>vector&lt;char&gt;</code> and does not do any reference
counting like libstdc++'s does. (It is O(n), though.)
So if you're thinking about SGI's string or rope classes,
you're now looking at four possibilities: CString, the
libstdc++ string, the SGI string, and the SGI rope, and this
is all before any allocator or traits customizations! (More
choices than you can shake a stick at -- want fries with that?)
<!-- Sect1 03 : Interacting with C -->