Dependent Names

A dependent name is essentially a name that depends on a template parameter. A dependent name can be a type, a non-type, or a template parameter. To express that a dependent name stands for a type or a template, you have to use the keywords typename or template.


Before I write about dependent names, I should write about template parameters.

Template Parameter

Template parameters can be types, non-types, and templates.


Types are the most often used template parameters. Here are a few examples:

std::vector<int> myVec;
std::map<std::string, int> myMap;
std::lock_guard<std::mutex> myLockGuard;


Non-types can be a

  • lvalue reference
  • nullptr
  • pointer
  • enumerator
  • integral types
  • floating-point types (C++20)
  • literal types (C++20)

Non-type template parameters are often just called NTTP.

Integrals are the most used non-types. std::array is the typical example because you have to specify at compile time the size of a std::array:

std::array<int, 3> myArray{1, 2, 3};



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    With C++20, you can also use two new non-types: floating-point types and literal types.

    Literal Types must have the following two properties, essentially:

    • All base classes and non-static data members are public and non-mutable
    • The types of all base classes and non-static data members are structural types or arrays of these

    A literal type must have a constexpr constructor.

    The following program uses floating-point types and literal types as template parameters.


    // nonTypeTemplateParameter.cpp
    struct ClassType {
        constexpr ClassType(int) {}  // (1)
    template <ClassType cl>          // (2)
    auto getClassType() {
        return cl;
    template <double d>              // (3)
    auto getDouble() {
        return d;
    int main() {
        auto c1 = getClassType<ClassType(2020)>();
        auto d1 = getDouble<5.5>();  // (4)
        auto d2 = getDouble<6.5>();  // (4)


    ClassType has a constexpr constructor (1) and can be used as a template argument (2). The function template getDouble (3) accepts only doubles. I want to emphasize it explicitly that each call of the function template getDouble (4) with a new argument triggers the instantiation of a new function template specialization of getDouble.  This means that two instantiations for the doubles 5.5 and 6.5 are created.


    Templates can be template parameters; in this case, they are called template template parameters.


    // templateTemplateParameters.cpp
    #include <iostream>
    #include <list>
    #include <vector>
    #include <string>
    template <typename T, template <typename, typename> class Cont >   // (1)
    class Matrix{
      explicit Matrix(std::initializer_list<T> inList): data(inList) { // (2)
        for (auto d: data) std::cout << d << " ";
      int getSize() const{
        return data.size();
      Cont<T, std::allocator<T>> data;                                 // (3)                               
    int main() {
      std::cout << '\n';
                                                                        // (4)
      Matrix<int, std::vector> myIntVec{1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10}; 
      std::cout << std::endl;
      std::cout << "myIntVec.getSize(): " << myIntVec.getSize() << '\n';
      std::cout << std::endl;
      Matrix<double, std::vector> myDoubleVec{1.1, 2.2, 3.3, 4.4, 5.5}; // (5)
      std::cout << std::endl;
      std::cout << "myDoubleVec.getSize(): "  << myDoubleVec.getSize() << '\n';
      std::cout << std::endl;
                                                                        // (6)
      Matrix<std::string, std::list> myStringList{"one", "two", "three", "four"};  
      std::cout << std::endl;
      std::cout << "myStringList.getSize(): " << myStringList.getSize() << '\n';
      std::cout << '\n';


    Matrix is a simple class template that can be initialized by a std::initializer_list (line 2). A Matrix can be used with a std::vector (line 4 and line 5) or a std::list (line 6) to hold its values. So far, nothing special. 


    Line 1 declares a class template that has two template parameters. The first parameter is the type of the elements, and the second parameter stands for the container. Look at the second parameter: template <typename, typename> class Cont>. This means the second template argument should be a template requiring two template parameters. The first template parameter is the type of elements the container stores, and the second is the defaulted allocator a container of the standard template library has. The allocator has a default value, such as in the case of a std::vector. The allocator depends on the type of elements.

        typename T,
        typename Allocator = std::allocator<T>
    > class vector;


    Line 3 shows the usage of the allocator in this internally used container. The matrix can be instantiated with all containers of the kind: container< type of the elements, allocator of the elements>. This is true for the sequence containers such as std::vector, std::deque, or std::liststd::array and std::forward_list would fail because std::array needs an additional non-type for specifying its size at compile-time, and std::forward_list does not support the size method.

    Now, I can write about dependent names.

    Dependent Names

    What is a dependent name? A dependent name is essentially a name that depends on a template parameter. Here are a few examples based on cppreference.com:


    template<typename T>
    struct X : B<T>                 // "B<T>" is dependent on T
        typename T::A* pa;          // "T::A" is dependent on T
        void f(B<T>* pb) {
            static int i = B<T>::i; // "B<T>::i" is dependent on T
            pb->j++;                // "pb->j" is dependent on T


    Now, the fun starts. A dependent name can be a type, a non-type, or a template parameter. The name lookup is the big difference between non-dependent and dependent names.

    • Non-dependent names are looked up at the point of the template definition.
    • Dependent names are looked up at the point of the template instantiation.

    When you use a dependent name in a template declaration, the compiler has no idea whether this name refers to a type, a non-type, or a template parameter. In this case, the compiler assumes that the dependent name refers to a non-type, which may be wrong. This is when you have to give the compiler a hint.

    Before I show you two examples, I must write about an exception to this rule. You can skip my next few words if you want to get a general idea and jump directly to the next section. The exception is: if the name refers in the template definition to the current instantiation, the compiler can deduce the name at the point of the template definition. Here are a few examples:


    template <typename T> 
    class A { A* p1; // A is the current instantiation A<T>* p2; // A<T> is the current instantiation ::A<T>* p4; // ::A<T> is the current instantiation A<T*> p3; // A<T*> is not the current instantiation }; template <typename T>
    class A<T*> { A<T*>* p1; // A<T*> is the current instantiation A<T>* p2; // A<T> is not the current instantiation }; template <int I>
    struct B { static const int my_I = I; static const int my_I2 = I + 0; static const int my_I3 = my_I; B<my_I>* b3; // B<my_I> is the current instantiation B<my_I2>* b4; // B<my_I2> is not the current instantiation B<my_I3>* b5; // B<my_I3> is the current instantiation };


    Finally, I come to the critical idea of my post. If a dependent name could be a type, a non-type, or a template, you have to give the compiler a hint.

    Use typename if the Dependent Name is a Type

    After such a long introduction, the following program snippet makes it pretty clear.


    template <typename T>
    void test(){
        std::vector<T>::const_iterator* p1;          // (1)
        typename std::vector<T>::const_iterator* p2; // (2)


    Without the typename keyword in line 2, the name std::vector<T>::const_iterator in line 2 would be interpreted as a non-type and, consequently, the * stands for multiplication and not for a pointer declaration. Exactly this is happening in line (1).

    Similarly, if your dependent name should be a template, you must give the compiler a hint.

    Use .template if the Dependent Name is a Template

    Honestly, this syntax looks a bit weird.


    template<typename T>
    struct S {
        template <typename U> void func(){}
    template<typename T>
    void func2(){
        S<T> s;
        s.func<T>();             // (1)
        s.template func<T>();    // (2)


    Same story as before. Compare lines 1 and 2. When the compiler reads the name s.func (line 1), it interprets it as non-type. This means the < sign stands for the comparison operator, but not opening the square bracket of the template argument of the generic method func. In this case, you must specify that s.func is a template, such as in line 2: s.template func

    Here is the essence of this post in one sentence: When you have a dependent name, use typename to specify that the dependent name is a type or use .template to specify that the dependent name is a template.

    What’s next?

     In my next post, I will present automatic return types. They are often a lifesaver when it comes to function templates.



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