How to use a private member from outside the class

Yesterday I asked:

Am I missing some subtle mechanism by which “unused” private members might actually be referenced from other TUs?

Indeed, I was! Check this out (Godbolt):

struct S {
    static int private_static_data;
int S::private_static_data = 42;  // Optimize this away?

// Meanwhile, in some other TU...
static int *f();

template<int *x>
struct F {
    friend int *f() { return x; }
template struct F<&S::private_static_data>;

int steal_private_data() {
    return *f();

According to [temp.spec]/6, the template arguments of explicit instantiation declarations are permitted to name “private types or objects that would normally not be accessible” — such as S::private_static_data in this case.

So we can instantiate F<&S::private_static_data>, even though we cannot actually refer to that instantiation by name afterwards. This “leaks” the private data of S into F. F leaks it out again via the global function f(). And then anyone can call f() to obtain a pointer to S’s private data.

Therefore, although the compiler of TU #1 can see that none of S’s members and friends use S::private_static_data, it cannot conclude that the definition of S::private_static_data is unused. Other object files may indeed refer to that linker symbol. So the compiler must generate code for it.

Posted 2020-12-03