C++ Const Correct Function Parameters


Example

In a const-correct function, all passed-by-reference parameters are marked as const unless the function directly or indirectly modifies them, preventing the programmer from inadvertently changing something they didn't mean to change. This allows the function to take both const and non-cv-qualified instances, and in turn, causes the instance's this to be of type const T* when a member function is called, where T is the class' type.

struct Example {
    void func()       { std::cout << 3 << std::endl; }
    void func() const { std::cout << 5 << std::endl; }
};

void const_incorrect_function(Example& one, Example* two) {
    one.func();
    two->func();
}

void const_correct_function(const Example& one, const Example* two) {
    one.func();
    two->func();
}

int main() {
    Example a, b;
    const_incorrect_function(a, &b);
    const_correct_function(a, &b);
}

// Output:
3
3
5
5

While the effects of this are less immediately visible than those of const correct class design (in that const-correct functions and const-incorrect classes will cause compilation errors, while const-correct classes and const-incorrect functions will compile properly), const correct functions will catch a lot of errors that const incorrect functions would let slip through, such as the one below. [Note, however, that a const-incorrect function will cause compilation errors if passed a const instance when it expected a non-const one.]

// Read value from vector, then compute & return a value.
// Caches return values for speed.
template<typename T>
const T& bad_func(std::vector<T>& v, Helper<T>& h) {
    // Cache values, for future use.
    // Once a return value has been calculated, it's cached & its index is registered.
    static std::vector<T> vals = {};

    int v_ind = h.get_index();               // Current working index for v.
    int vals_ind = h.get_cache_index(v_ind); // Will be -1 if cache index isn't registered.

    if (vals.size() && (vals_ind != -1) && (vals_ind < vals.size()) && !(h.needs_recalc())) {
        return vals[h.get_cache_index(v_ind)];
    }

    T temp = v[v_ind];

    temp -= h.poll_device();
    temp *= h.obtain_random();
    temp += h.do_tedious_calculation(temp, v[h.get_last_handled_index()]);

    // We're feeling tired all of a sudden, and this happens.
    if (vals_ind != -1) {
        vals[vals_ind] = temp;
    } else {
        v.push_back(temp);  // Oops.  Should've been accessing vals.
        vals_ind = vals.size() - 1;
        h.register_index(v_ind, vals_ind);
    }

    return vals[vals_ind];
}

// Const correct version.  Is identical to above version, so most of it shall be skipped.
template<typename T>
const T& good_func(const std::vector<T>& v, Helper<T>& h) {
    // ...

    // We're feeling tired all of a sudden, and this happens.
    if (vals_ind != -1) {
        vals[vals_ind] = temp;
    } else {
        v.push_back(temp);  // Error: discards qualifiers.
        vals_ind = vals.size() - 1;
        h.register_index(v_ind, vals_ind);
    }

    return vals[vals_ind];
}