# while (auto x=y; z)

This question has come up at least twice on the cpplang Slack now. C++ keeps adding more and more knobs to if and for and switch; why hasn’t it messed with while? Specifically, why isn’t there a “two-part while loop”?

C++ offers the following control structures (where “init” represents the choice of either a declaration or an expression-statement):

if (z)                     // '98
if (auto z=w)              // '98
if (init; z)               // C++17
if (init; auto z=w)        // C++17

if constexpr (z)           // all C++17
if constexpr (auto z=w)
if constexpr (init; z)
if constexpr (init; auto z=w)

for (init; z; ++x)         // '98
for (init; auto z=w; ++x)  // '98
for (auto e : r)           // C++11
for (init; auto e : r)     // C++20

while (z)                  // '98
while (auto z=w)           // '98
do { ... } while (z)       // '98

switch (z)                 // '98
switch (auto z=w)          // '98
switch (init; z)           // C++17
switch (init; auto z=w)    // C++17


Notably missing from the middle of this list: while (init; z) and while (init; auto z=w).

The reason while (init; cond) is missing is that there are two reasonable interpretations of what it might mean. The Committee could pick one behavior to be “correct”; but if they did that, programmers would inevitably write the construct expecting the other behavior, and then they’d have bugs.

## Option 1: Evaluate the init only once

Kirit Sælensminde offered the following use-case:

auto cursor = getCursor();
while (auto item = cursor.next()) {
use(item);
}


If this is your use-case, then it might seem unfortunate that you can’t combine the declaration of cursor into the while-loop; it has to “leak” into the outer scope. You might want to write

while (auto c = getCursor(); auto item = c.next()) {
use(item);
}


It turns out that you can actually write this loop in a way that’s just as short, and arguably clearer (since it uses only C++98 features): just use a for loop instead!

for (auto c = getCursor(); auto item = c.next(); ) {
use(item);
}


## Option 2: Evaluate the init every time

The other use-case for which you might want a two-part while loop is:

int ch;
while ((ch = getchar()) != EOF) {
use(ch);
}


If this is your use-case, then it might seem unfortunate that you can’t combine the declaration of ch into the while-loop; it has to “leak” into the outer scope. (And go uninitialized, too!) You might want to write

while (int ch = getchar(); ch != EOF) {
use(ch);
}


I’m not aware of any clean way to write this loop that avoids leaking ch into the outer scope. I mean, I don’t consider any of these “clean”:

for (int ch; (ch = getchar()) != EOF; ) {
use(ch);
}

for (int ch = getchar(); ch != EOF; ch = getchar()) {
use(ch);
}

while (true) {
if (int ch = getchar(); ch != EOF) {  // C++17
use(ch);
} else {
break;
}
}


So, given that there’s a clean way to write Option 1 already, and no equally clean way to write Option 2, shouldn’t the Committee simply add Option 2 to the language? No.

We can’t give programmers the ability to write

while (int ch = getchar(); ch != EOF) { ... }


without also giving them the ability to shoot themselves in the foot with

while (auto c = getCursor(); auto item = c.next()) {
// repeatedly fetch the list and process just its first item,
// over and over, forever
}


I’m happy to keep programming without a complicated “two-part while loop,” if it means that other programmers are happily prevented from shooting themselves in the foot.

Posted 2020-10-28