Templates / Generics

C++ offers templates as a way to write generic code using an abstract type and then specialize it by substituting one or more types into a concrete class.

template <typename T>
inline void debug(const T &v) {
  cout << "The value of object is " << v << endl;

This template uses the type of the parameter (int this case 10) to create an inline function that prints out the value of that type:

The value of object is 10

Classes can also be made from templates:

template <class T>
class Stack {
  vector<T> elements;
  void push(const T &v) {
    // ...
  T pop() {
    // ...
Stack<double> doubleStack;

This class implements a simple stack using a template to indicate the type of object it contains.

This is a very powerful mechanism and the C++ library makes extensive use of it.

Where templates can become a bit of a mess is that the templates are inline and the compiler will expand out anything you call before attempting to compile it.

An innocuous error such as using a type that has no default copy constructor in a collection can cause the compiler to go nuts and output a wall of indecipherable errors.

Generic Functions

Rust's equivalent to a template is called a generic. A generic generalizes a function or a trait so it works with different types that match the criteria.

So the Rust equivalent of the debug() function in C++ would be this.

use std::fmt;

fn debug<T>(data: T) where T: fmt::Display {
  println!("The value of object is {}", data);

Here we describe a function that takes a generic type T where the constraint is that T must implement the trait std::fmt::Display. Any struct that implements this trait can passed into the call. Since integer types implement the trait, we can just call it directly as debug(10) and the compiler is happy.

Generic structs

Similarly we can use generics on a struct. So the equivalent in Rust of the C++ template class Stack is this:

struct Stack<T> {
  elements: Vec<T>

impl<T> Stack<T> {
  fn new() -> Stack<T> { Stack { elements: Vec::new() } }

  fn push(v: T) {

  fn pop() -> Option<T> {
let double_stack: Stack<f64> = Stack::new();

Where clause

The where clause can be added to impose constraints on what generic type must do to be allowed to be supplied to the generic function or struct.

For example we might have a function that takes a closure as an argument. A closure is a function and so we want to define the shape that the closure will take.


fn compare<T, F>(a: T, b: T, f: F) -> bool 
  where F: FnOnce(T, T) -> bool 
  f(a, b)

let comparer = |a, b| a < b;
let result = compare(10, 20, comparer);

Here we have defined a compare() function that takes a couple of values of the same type. The where clause states that the function must take two values of the same type and return a boolean. The compiler will ensure any closure we pass in matches that criteria, as indeed our comparer closure does.

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