Iterator Invalidation

You might be fooled into thinking by using std::vector and avoiding bare arrays created with new T[] that you’ll be avoiding all possible old-fashioned pointer-misuse bugs from the C era for that variable, for instance, null pointer dereferences, out of bounds access, memory corruption, etc. Not so – if you keep iterators  and references around to elements of a vector and then do anything to change its size, the standard says that those iterators and references may be invalidated by that operation(*). More importantly, you don’t get a warning about this and static analysis tools like cppcheck might not detect it in all cases (for instance, collection is modified by a function further down the call stack).

At least for operations like push_back which only affect the end of a group of iterators – there’s a simple trick you can do to save and restore a group of iterators after such an operation.

namespace detail
{
    /* Main implementation of KeepIteratorsAlive -
     * counts down through all the iterators through
     * a recursive call until we get to N = 0, at which
     * point call the function in question */
    template <typename Function,
              typename Collection,
              typename IteratorTuple,
              size_t   N>
    struct PreserveIterator
    {
        IteratorTuple
        operator () (Function      const &function,
                     Collection          &collection,
                     IteratorTuple const &tuple)
        {
            /* We need to call std::begin twice as the value of it
             * may change after we've called our iterator-modifying
             * function */
            auto distance = std::distance (std::begin (collection),
                                           std::get <N - 1> (tuple));
            auto result (PreserveIterator <Function,
                                           Collection,
                                           IteratorTuple,
                                           N - 1> () (function,
                                                      collection,
                                                      tuple));
            std::get <N - 1> (result) = std::begin (collection) +
                                        distance;
            return result;
        }
    };

    /* Specialisation for N == 0, at this point
     * we call the function and return an empty tuple
     * to fill up with the correct iterators again */
    template <typename Function,
              typename Collection,
              typename IteratorTuple>
    struct PreserveIterator <Function, Collection, IteratorTuple, 0>
    {
        IteratorTuple
        operator () (Function      const &function,
                     Collection          &collection,
                     IteratorTuple const &tuple)
        {
            function ();
            return IteratorTuple ();
        }
    };
}

template <typename Function,
          typename Collection,
          typename IteratorTuple>
IteratorTuple
KeepIteratorsAlive (Function      const &function,
                    Collection          &collection,
                    IteratorTuple const &tuple)
{
    typedef Function F;
    typedef Collection C;
    typedef IteratorTuple T;
    constexpr size_t const S = std::tuple_size <IteratorTuple>::value;

    return detail::PreserveIterator <F, C, T, S> () (function,
                                                     collection,
                                                     tuple);
}

You can use it like

std::vector <MyType> vector;
vector.push_back (MyType ());
auto it = vector.begin ();
std::tie (it) = KeepIteratorsAlive ([&vector]() {
                    vector.push_back (MyType ());
                },
                vector,
                std::make_tuple (it));

As for reference and pointer stability – this is more difficult. You can either wrap the object type in std::unique_ptr (and take a reference to it) or std::shared_ptr (and make a copy of the std::shared_ptr), which means you’ll pay the cost of another allocation and indirection costs on access, or you can assign each object a unique identifier by which you can use to look it up in the std::vector later.

If you want to avoid messing around with iterators, additional allocation or identifiers and in general iterator, reference and pointer stability is more important than performance then you can use boost::stable_vector

The main difference between the two is that boost::stable_vector is not contiguous, so if you have a lot of internal fragmentation (for instance, in these tests, 2 random erases for every three insertions) it can be a lot slower than std::vector. If array access performance is more important than insert/delete, then iterator adjustment and identifier tracking above can be used.

[smspillaz@平和猫とケーキ build (work)] $ ./src/benchmark 2000
2000 of boost::stable_vector (cold)
 0.000143s wall, 0.000000s user + 0.000000s system = 0.000000s CPU (n/a%)
2000 of boost::stable_vector (warm)
 0.000111s wall, 0.000000s user + 0.000000s system = 0.000000s CPU (n/a%)
2000 of std::vector (cold)
 0.000048s wall, 0.000000s user + 0.000000s system = 0.000000s CPU (n/a%)
2000 of std::vector (warm)
 0.000040s wall, 0.000000s user + 0.000000s system = 0.000000s CPU (n/a%)
2000 of std::list (cold)
 0.000104s wall, 0.000000s user + 0.000000s system = 0.000000s CPU (n/a%)
2000 of std::list (warm)
 0.000069s wall, 0.000000s user + 0.000000s system = 0.000000s CPU (n/a%)

(*) Detailed by Louis Feng here.

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