C++: Generic Containers

Yao Yao on April 24, 2015

整理自:Thinking in C++, Volume 2 & C++ Primer, 5th Edition

1. Categories

The containers and their categories are summarized in the following table:

Category Containers
Sequence Containers vector, list, deque, forward_list, array
Container Adaptors queue, stack, priority_queue
Associative Containers set, map, multiset, multimap, unordered_x

2. The basic sequences: vector, list, deque

  • A vector is a linear sequence that allows rapid random access to its elements. However, it’s expensive to insert an element in the middle.
    • 应该可以类比成 java 的 ArrayList
  • A deque (double-ended-queue, pronounced “deck”) also allows random access that’s nearly as fast as vector, but it’s significantly faster when it needs to allocate new storage, and you can easily add new elements at the front as well as the back of the sequence.
    • Does not keep everything in a single sequential block of memory like vectors. Instead, a typical implementation of deque uses multiple blocks of sequential storage (keeping track of all the blocks and their order in a mapping structure). For this reason, the overhead for a deque to add or remove elements at either end is low.
    • In addition, it never needs to copy and destroy contained objects during a new storage allocation (like vector does), so it is far more efficient than vector if you are adding an unknown quantity of objects at either end. This means that vector is the best choice only if you have a good idea of how many objects you need.
  • A list is a doubly linked list, so it’s expensive to move around randomly but cheap to insert an element anywhere.
    • With a vector or deque, it is possible to use the indexing operator[], but that doesn’t work with list.
  • A forward_list is a singly linked list.
    • Introducced by C++11.
    • Does not have the size operation.
  • An array is a safer, easier-to-use alternative to built-in arrays.
    • Introducced by C++11.
    • Like built-in arrays, library arrays have fixed size. As a result, array does not support operations to add and remove elements or to resize the container.
    • array<string, 10> is an array that holds 10 strings.
    • Although we cannot copy or assign objects of built-in array types, there is no such restriction on array.
typedef std::vector<Shape*> Container;
typedef Container::iterator Iter;

Container shapes;
shapes.push_back(new Circle);
shapes.push_back(new Square);
shapes.push_back(new Triangle);

// DO NOT use "i < shapes.end()" or "i <= shapes.end()"
for(Iter i = shapes.begin(); i != shapes.end(); i++) 
	(*i)->draw(); // 注意 *i 得到的是 pointer
for(Iter j = shapes.begin(); j != shapes.end(); j++)
	delete *j;

Digress: Holding bits

bitset and vector<bool> are both designed to manipulate a group of on-off (0-1) values. The primary differences between these types are:

  • Each bitset holds a fixed number of bits. The vector<bool> can, like a regular vector, expand dynamically to hold any number of bool values.
    • bitset is not a STL container. It has no iterators.
    • The number of bits, being a template parameter, is known at compile time. 比如 bitset<16>
  • The bitset template is explicitly designed for performance when manipulating bits.

Digress: valarray

  • valarray template class is a vector-like container that is optimized for efficient numeric computation.
  • It has no iterators.
  • Although you can instantiate a valarray with nonnumeric types, it has mathematical functions that are intended to operate with numeric data, such as sin, cos, tan, and so on.
  • A slice object can be used to fetch subsets of a valarray.
    • A slice object takes three arguments: the starting index, the number of elements to extract, and the “stride,” which is the gap between elements of interest.

Rules of thumb

  • Unless you have a reason to use another container, use a vector.
  • If your program has lots of small elements and space overhead matters, don’t use list or forward_list.
  • If the program requires random access to elements, use a vector or a deque.
  • If the program needs to insert or delete elements in the middle of the container, use a list or forward_list.
  • If the program needs to insert or delete elements at the front and the back, but not in the middle, use a deque.
  • If the program needs to insert elements in the middle of the container only while reading input, and subsequently needs random access to the elements:
    • First, decide whether you actually need to add elements in the middle of a container. It is often easier to append to a vector and then call the library sort function to reorder the container when you’re done with input.
    • If you must insert into the middle, consider using a list for the input phase. Once the input is complete, copy the list into a vector.

3. Container adaptors: queue, stack, priority_queue

Container adaptors adapt one of the basic sequence containers to store their data. In most cases you won’t need to concern yourself with the underlying implementation.

3.1 Stack

stack<string> strStack1; 					// Default implementation with deque<string>
stack<string, vector<string>> strStack2;	// implementation with vector<string>
stack<string, list<string>> strStack3;		// implementation with list<string>

while(!strStack1.empty()) {
	cout << strStack1.top();
	// top 与 pop 操作分工明确;pop 并不返回 top 值

You cannot iterate through a stack; this emphasizes that you only want to perform stack operations when you create a stack because actually you can get equivalent “stack” functionality using a vector and its back(), push_back(), and pop_back() member functions.

3.2 Queue

A queue uses a first-in, first-out (FIFO) storage and retrieval policy. Objects entering the queue are placed in the back and objects leaving the queue are removed from the front.

The queue container is a restricted form of a deque. Functionally, you could use a deque anywhere you need a queue.

3.3 Priority queues

When you push() an object onto a priority_queue, that object is sorted into the queue according to a comparison function or function object. (You can allow the default less template to supply this, or you can provide one of your own.) The priority_queue ensures that when you look at the top() element, it will be the one with the highest priority.

#include <cstdlib>
#include <ctime>
#include <iostream>
#include <queue>
using namespace std;

int main() {
    priority_queue<int> pqi;
	srand(time(0)); // Seed the random number generator
    for(int i = 0; i < 10; i++)
        pqi.push(rand() % 7);
	while(!pqi.empty()) {
        cout << pqi.top() << ' ';
    // output: 6 5 4 3 3 3 2 1 1 0
// implementation with vector<int>
// use greater<int> to sort
priority_queue<int, vector<int>, greater<int>> pqi;

You cannot iterate through a priority_queue, but it’s possible to simulate the behavior of a priority_queue using a vector.

The implementation of priority_queue uses make_heap(), push_heap(), and pop_heap(). In fact you could say that priority_queue is just a wrapper around heap.

4. Associative containers

The set, map, multiset, and multimap are called associative containers because they associate keys with values.

Set’s primary job description is to hold only unique elements in sorted order

  • 自带排序效果,无需手动操作。
  • Its find() member function has logarithmic complexity and so is much faster than the generic find() algorithm. (联系 hashset)
#include <iostream>
#include <set>
using namespace std;

int main() {
    set<int> iset;
    for(set<int>::iterator i = iset.begin(); i != iset.end(); ++i) {
    	cout << *i << endl;
	for(const int& i : iset) { // C++11 syntax
		cout << i << endl;

A multimap is a map that can contain duplicate keys.

A multiset allows more than one object of each value to be inserted.

  • Like any STL container that must order its elements, the multiset template uses the less function object by default to determine element ordering. This uses the contained class’s operator<, but you can always substitute your own comparison function.
  • 因为 multiset 也是自动排序的,所以 A multiset requires that all duplicate elements be adjacent to each other.

unordered_set, unordered_map, unordered_multiset, and unordered_multimap 全部是基于 hash 的,unordered_map 应该就等同于 java 的 HashMap。但是有时候需要你自己提供一个 hash 函数。

5. Memorandum

  • All the containers in the standard library hold copies of the objects you place in them, so your objects must be copy-constructible (have an accessible copy constructor) and assignable (have an accessible assignment operator).
  • If the container is const, begin() and end() produce const iterators, which disallow changing the elements pointed to (because the appropriate operators are const).
  • All standard containers support bidirectional iteration.
  • A reversible container has the member functions rbegin() (to produce a reverse_iterator selecting the end) and rend() (to produce a reverse_iterator indicating “one past the beginning”).
  • All the containers except the unordered associative containers also support the relational operators (>, >=, <, <=). The right- and left-hand operands must be the same kind of container and must hold elements of the same type.
    • Appropriate comparison operatos must be defined for the element type.
vector<int> v1 = { 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 };
vector<int> v2 = { 1, 3, 9 };
vector<int> v3 = { 1, 3, 5, 7 };
vector<int> v4 = { 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12 };

v1 < v2 // true; v1 and v2 differ at element [2]: v1[2] is less than v2[2]
v1 < v3 // false; all elements are equal, but v3 has fewer of them;
v1 == v4 // true; each element is equal and v1 and v4 have the same size()
v1 == v2 // false; v2 has fewer elements than v1

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