constexpr (C++)

Visual Studio 2015

The latest version of this topic can be found at constexpr (C++).

The keyword constexpr was introduced in C++11 and improved in C++14. It means constant expression. Like const, it can be applied to variables so that a compiler error will be raised if any code attempts to modify the value. Unlike const, constexpr can also be applied to functions and class constructors. constexpr indicates that the value, or return value, is constant and, if possible, will be computed at compile time. A constexpr integral value can be used wherever a const integer is required, such as in template arguments and array declarations. And when a value can be computed at compile time instead of run time, it can help your program can run faster and use less memory.

constexpr  literal-type  identifier = constant-expression;constexpr  literal-type  identifier { constant-expression };constexpr literal-type identifier(params );constexpr ctor (params);  


One or more parameters which must be a literal type (as listed below) and must itself be a constant expression.

A constexpr variable or function must return one of the literal types, as listed below.

To limit the complexity of computing compile time constants, and their potential impacts of compilation time, the C++14 standard requires that the types involved in constant expressions be restricted to literal types. A literal type is one whose layout can be determined at compile time. The following are the literal types:

  1. void

  2. scalar types

  3. references

  4. Arrays of void, scalar types or references

  5. A class that has a trivial destructor, and one or more constexpr constructors that are not move or copy constructors. Additionally, all its non-static data members and base classes must be literal types and not volatile.

The primary difference between const and constexpr variables is that the initialization of a const variable can be deferred until run time whereas a constexpr variable must be initialized at compile time. All constexpr variables are const.

constexpr float x = 42.0;  
constexpr float y{108};  
constexpr float z = exp(5, 3);  
constexpr int i; // Error! Not initialized  
int j = 0;  
constexpr int k = j + 1; //Error! j not a constant expression  

A constexpr function is one whose return value can be computed at compile when consuming code requires it. A constexpr function must accept and return only literal types. When its arguments are constexpr values, and consuming code requires the return value at compile time, for example to initialize a constexpr variable or provide a non-type template argument, it produces a compile-time constant. When called with non-constexpr arguments, or when its value is not required at compile-time, it produces a value at run time like a regular function. (This dual behavior saves you from having to write constexpr and non-constexpr versions of the same function.)

constexpr float exp(float x, int n)  
    return n == 0 ? 1 :  
        n % 2 == 0 ? exp(x * x, n / 2) :  
        exp(x * x, (n - 1) / 2) * x;  

System_CAPS_ICON_tip.jpg Tip

Note: In the Visual Studio debugger, you can tell whether a constexpr function is being evaluated at compile time by putting a breakpoint inside it. If the breakpoint is hit, the function was called at run-time. If not, then the function was called at compile time.

For a function, variable, constructor or static data member to be defined as constexpr, it must meet certain requirements:

  • A constexpr function can be recursive. It cannot be virtual, and its return type and parameter types must all be literal types. The body can be defined as = default or = delete. Otherwise it must follow these rules: it contains no goto statements, try blocks, unitialized variables, or variable definitions that are not literal types, or that are static or thread-local. Additionally, a constructor cannot be defined as constexpr if the enclosing class has any virtual base classes.

  • A variable can be declared with constexpr, if it has a literal type and is initialized. If the initialization is performed by a constructor, the constructor must be declared as constexpr.

  • A reference may be declared as constexpr if the object that it references has been initialized by a constant expression and any implicit conversions that are invoked during initialization are also constant expressions.

  • All declarations of a constexpr variable or function must have the constexpr specifier.

  • An explicit specialization of a non-constexpr template can be declared as constexpr:

  • An explicit specialization of a constexpr template does not have to also be constexpr:

  • A constexpr function or constructor is implicitly inline.

The following example shows constexpr variables, functions and a user-defined type. Note that in the last statement in main(), the constexpr member function GetValue() is a run-time call because the value is not required to be known at compile time.

#include <iostream>  
using namespace std;  
// Pass by value   
constexpr float exp(float x, int n)  
    return n == 0 ? 1 :  
        n % 2 == 0 ? exp(x * x, n / 2) :  
        exp(x * x, (n - 1) / 2) * x;  
// Pass by reference  
constexpr float exp2(const float& x, const int& n)  
    return n == 0 ? 1 :  
        n % 2 == 0 ? exp2(x * x, n / 2) :  
        exp2(x * x, (n - 1) / 2) * x;  
// Compile time computation of array length  
template<typename T, int N>  
constexpr int length(const T(&ary)[N])   
    return N;   
// Recursive constexpr function  
constexpr int fac(int n)  
    return n == 1 ? 1 : n*fac(n - 1);   
// User-defined type  
class Foo  
    constexpr explicit Foo(int i) : _i(i) {}  
    constexpr int GetValue()  
        return _i;  
    int _i;  
int main()  
    //foo is const:  
    constexpr Foo foo(5);   
    // foo = Foo(6); //Error!  
    //Compile time:  
    constexpr float x = exp(5, 3);   
    constexpr float y { exp(2, 5) };  
    constexpr int val = foo.GetValue();   
    constexpr int f5 = fac(5);  
    const int nums[] { 1, 2, 3, 4 };  
    const int nums2[length(nums) * 2] { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 };  
    //Run time:   
    cout << "The value of foo is " << foo.GetValue() << endl;   

Visual Studio 2015

Declarations and Definitions