C++ Tokenize


Listed from least expensive to most expensive at run-time:

  1. str::strtok is the cheapest standard provided tokenization method, it also allows the delimiter to be modified between tokens, but it incurs 3 difficulties with modern C++:

    • std::strtok cannot be used on multiple strings at the same time (though some implementations do extend to support this, such as: strtok_s)
    • For the same reason std::strtok cannot be used on multiple threads simultaneously (this may however be implementation defined, for example: Visual Studio's implementation is thread safe)
    • Calling std::strtok modifies the std::string it is operating on, so it cannot be used on const strings, const char*s, or literal strings, to tokenize any of these with std::strtok or to operate on a std::string who's contents need to be preserved, the input would have to be copied, then the copy could be operated on

    Generally any of these options cost will be hidden in the allocation cost of the tokens, but if the cheapest algorithm is required and std::strtok's difficulties are not overcomable consider a hand-spun solution.

// String to tokenize
std::string str{ "The quick brown fox" };
// Vector to store tokens
vector<std::string> tokens;

for (auto i = strtok(&str[0], " "); i != NULL; i = strtok(NULL, " "))

Live Example

  1. The std::istream_iterator uses the stream's extraction operator iteratively. If the input std::string is white-space delimited this is able to expand on the std::strtok option by eliminating its difficulties, allowing inline tokenization thereby supporting the generation of a const vector<string>, and by adding support for multiple delimiting white-space character:
// String to tokenize
const std::string str("The  quick \tbrown \nfox");
std::istringstream is(str);
// Vector to store tokens
const std::vector<std::string> tokens = std::vector<std::string>(

Live Example

  1. The std::regex_token_iterator uses a std::regex to iteratively tokenize. It provides for a more flexible delimiter definition. For example, non-delimited commas and white-space:
// String to tokenize
const std::string str{ "The ,qu\\,ick ,\tbrown, fox" };
const std::regex re{ "\\s*((?:[^\\\\,]|\\\\.)*?)\\s*(?:,|$)" };
// Vector to store tokens
const std::vector<std::string> tokens{ 
    std::sregex_token_iterator(str.begin(), str.end(), re, 1), 

Live Example

See the regex_token_iterator Example for more details.