PSA: ADL requires that unqualified lookup has found a function

As seen on the cpplang Slack (hat tip to Jody Hagins). Recall my post “What is the std::swap two-step?” (2020-07-11), where I said:

A qualified call like base::frotz(t) indicates, “I’m sure I know how to frotz whatever this thing may be. No type T will ever know better than me how to frotz.”

An unqualified call using the two-step, like using my::xyzzy; xyzzy(t), indicates, “I know one way to xyzzy whatever this thing may be, but T itself might know a better way. If T has an opinion, you should trust T over me.”

An unqualified call not using the two-step, like plugh(t), indicates, “Not only should you trust T over me, but I myself have no idea how to plugh anything. Type T must come up with a solution; I offer no guidance here.”

Several places in the C++20 STL use that third approach. For example, std::ranges::begin tries an unqualified call to begin(t); if begin(t) is ill-formed, std::ranges::begin does not fall back to std::begin. Likewise, std::strong_order tries an unqualified call to strong_order(t, t), without keeping any_other::strong_order as a fallback. And it’s not just C++20’s CPOs that use this pattern; the constructor of C++11’s std::error_code relies on an unqualified call to make_error_code(t).

But if you’re expecting your library’s unqualified call to f(t) to trigger ADL, you must contend with [basic.lookup.argdep]/1, which says that if your initial unqualified lookup of f finds a non-function (or a function declaration in a block scope) then ADL doesn’t take place. If unqualified lookup finds a function, or a function template, or nothing at all, then you get ADL; if it finds a non-function, you get nothing!

As of this writing, libc++ (but not libstdc++ or MSVC) can be tricked into stumbling on make_error_code (Godbolt):

int make_error_code;  // ha ha!

#include <system_error>

namespace N {
    enum E { RED, YELLOW, BLUE };
    std::error_code make_error_code(E);
struct std::is_error_code_enum<N::E> : std::true_type {};

int main() {
    std::error_code e = N::E();

The compiler complains:

include/c++/v1/system_error:330:22: error: called object type 'int'
is not a function or function pointer
        {*this = make_error_code(__e);}
note: in instantiation of function template specialization
'std::error_code::error_code<N::E>' requested here
    std::error_code e = N::E();

Also as of this writing, libc++ and libstdc++ (but not MSVC) can be tricked into stumbling on strong_order (Godbolt):

int strong_order;  // ha ha!

#include <compare>

namespace N {
    struct S {
        friend auto strong_order(S, S) { ~~~ }

auto x = std::strong_order(N::S(), N::S());

The compiler complains:

error: no matching function for call to object of type
'const __strong_order::__fn'
auto x = std::strong_order(N::S(), N::S());
__compare/strong_order.h:120:56: note: candidate template ignored:
constraints not satisfied [with _Tp = N::S, _Up = N::S]
    decltype(auto) operator()(_Tp&& __t, _Up&& __u) const
__compare/strong_order.h:124:44: note: because
'std::forward<_Tp>(__t) <=> std::forward<_Up>(__u)' would be invalid:
invalid operands to binary expression ('N::S' and 'N::S')
        std::forward<_Tp>(__t) <=> std::forward<_Up>(__u);
__compare/strong_order.h:131:21: note: and
'strong_order(std::forward<_Tp>(__t), std::forward<_Up>(__u))' would be invalid:
called object type 'int' is not a function or function pointer
        strong_order(std::forward<_Tp>(__t), std::forward<_Up>(__u));

The strong_order found by unqualified lookup is the evil user’s int strong_order variable, so Clang is quite right: strong_order is not callable, and no ADL takes place.

Hui Xie points out that you can break things even harder by making the evil declaration a namespace declaration:

namespace strong_order {}
namespace make_error_code {}
#include <system_error>

and that Boost.Graph is a non-STL library containing at least one example of this problem (Godbolt):

namespace target {}
#include <boost/graph/graph_concepts.hpp>

Most Ranges CPOs, such as ranges::begin, specify that the ADL lookup is “performed in a context in which unqualified lookup for begin finds…” some specific function declarations. In the case of ranges::begin, those are:

void begin(auto&) = delete;
void begin(const auto&) = delete;

The primary motivation for these “poison pill” declarations (as I understand it) is to prevent overload resolution from considering std::begin as a candidate via ordinary unqualified lookup (even though we would ordinarily expect a lookup starting in namespace std::ranges to find std::begin). A secondary effect (and the only reason, as far as I know, that motivates the exact signature void begin(auto&)) is to prevent overload resolution from considering “insufficiently constrained” user-defined templates such as Bad’s friend below (Godbolt):

struct OK {
    friend int *begin(OK&);
} ok;
auto x = std::ranges::begin(ok); // OK

struct Bad {
    friend int *begin(auto&);
} bad;
auto y = std::ranges::begin(bad); // ERROR!

But for this blog post’s purposes, the third and most important effect of a “poison pill” declaration is to make sure that unqualified lookup finds a function declaration — instead of searching all the way out to the global scope where an evil user might have declared a non-function with that name, thus preventing ADL.

Library implementors take note: bare unqualified ADL is probably a bad idea! If you’re not using the std::swap two-step, then use a “poison pill” declaration to ensure that your unqualified lookup never finds a non-function.

See also:

Posted 2022-04-14