To enable ADL, add a using-declaration

This is yet another followup to “What is the std::swap two-step?” (2020-07-11) and “PSA: ADL requires that unqualified lookup has found a function” (2022-04-14), as my mental model continues to evolve. (Mainly due to pressure from Jody Hagins. :))

Consider this reduced version of the plf::hive::iterator::distance function, as I actually encountered it in the wild last week. (Godbolt.)

struct ctr {
    void swap(ctr&) noexcept;
    friend void swap(ctr& a, ctr& b) noexcept { a.swap(b); }

    struct iterator;

struct ctr::iterator {
    int m_;

    friend auto operator<=>(iterator, iterator) = default;

    friend void swap(iterator& a, iterator& b) noexcept {
        std::swap(a.m_, b.m_); // A

    int distance(iterator last) {
        iterator first = *this;
        bool should_swap = (first > last);
        if (should_swap) {
            swap(first, last); // B
        return 42;

On the line marked B, we get a compiler error: GCC says

error: no matching function for call to 'ctr::swap(ctr::iterator&, ctr::iterator&)'
   25 |             swap(first, last);
      |             ~~~~^~~~~~~~~~~~~
note: candidate: 'void ctr::swap(ctr&)'
    5 |     void swap(ctr&) noexcept;
      |          ^~~~

while Clang says

error: call to non-static member function 'swap' of 'ctr' from nested type 'iterator'
            swap(first, last);

Of course we expected our call to swap(first, last) to find the swap that is a friend of ctr::iterator (line A). We’re in the context of ctr::iterator, and that’s ctr::iterator’s swap function — why wouldn’t it be found?

But in fact hidden friends are found only by ADL, and ADL does not happen on line B. ADL is always conditional ([basic.lookup.argdep]/1): it happens only if the initial unqualified lookup of f finds a non-block-scope, non-member function declaration. And in this specific case, an unqualified lookup of the identifier swap in the scope of ctr::iterator::distance actually finds… member function ctr::swap! Because ctr::swap is a member function, ADL is not performed.

The way to fix this code is to add a using-declaration:

    if (should_swap) {
        using std::swap;
        swap(first, last); // B, now OK

My previous mental model would be utterly confused by this construction. Notice that there is no situation in which line B will ever actually call std::swap; line B always, invariably, calls the swap which is a friend of ctr::iterator, a specific concrete class type. This code features no templates at all; it is completely non-generic. So why are we mentioning std::swap, a function we’ll never call?

In my previous post (“PSA: ADL requires that unqualified lookup has found a function” (2022-04-14)) I wrote:

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.

Jody Hagins tells me he’s always phrased it stronger, and I’m coming to agree with him: I’m now more than 50% certain that your mental model should be

A using-declaration for a function, like using std::swap;, enables ADL for that name. If you intend a specific call-site to use ADL, you must add a using-declaration in the scope of that call-site. That using-declaration might still name a “fallback” to use when ADL fails, but the primary effect of such a declaration is always to enable ADL.

Conversely, if you are reading through a codebase and you see a using-declaration, that should be a pretty good sign that the original author intended ADL to happen on that name, somewhere in that scope.

Posted 2022-04-30