Alexey Malistov Alexey Malistov - 21 days ago 7
C++ Question

const member and assigment operator. How to avoid the undefined behavior?

I answered the question about std::vector of objects and const-correctness and got undeserved downvote and a comment about undefined behavior. I do not agree and therefore I have a question.

Consider the class with const member:

class A {
public:
const int c; // must not be modified!
A(int c) : c(c) {}
A(const A& copy) : c(copy.c) { }
// No assignment operator
};


I want to have an assignment operator but I does not want to use
const_cast
like in the following code from one of the answers:

A& operator=(const A& assign)
{
*const_cast<int*> (&c)= assign.c; // very very bad, IMHO, it is UB
return *this;
}


My solution is

A& operator=(const A& right)
{
if (this == &right) return *this;
this->~A()
new (this) A(right);
return *this;
}


Do I have undefined behavior?

Please, your solution without UB.

Answer

Your code causes undefined behavior.

Not just "undefined if A is used as a base class and this, that or the other". Actually undefined, always. return *this is already UB, because this is not guaranteed to refer to the new object.

Specifically, consider 3.8/7:

If, after the lifetime of an object has ended and before the storage which the object occupied is reused or released, a new object is created at the storage location which the original object occupied, a pointer that pointed to the original object, a reference that referred to the original object, or the name of the original object will automatically refer to the new object and, once the lifetime of the new object has started, can be used to manipulate the new object, if:

...

— the type of the original object is not const-qualified, and, if a class type, does not contain any non-static data member whose type is const-qualified or a reference type,

Now, "after the lifetime of an object has ended and before the storage which the object occupied is reused or released, a new object is created at the storage location which the original object occupied" is exactly what you are doing.

Your object is of class type, and it does contain a non-static data member whose type is const-qualified. Therefore, after your assignment operator has run, pointers, references and names referring to the old object are not guaranteed to refer to the new object and to be usable to manipulate it.

As a concrete example of what might go wrong, consider:

A x(1);
B y(2);
std::cout << x.c << "\n";
x = y;
std::cout << x.c << "\n";

Expect this output?

1
2

Wrong! It's plausible you might get that output, but the reason const members are an exception to the rule stated in 3.8/7, is so that the compiler can treat x.c as the const object that it claims to be. In other words, the compiler is allowed to treat this code as if it was:

A x(1);
B y(2);
int tmp = x.c
std::cout << tmp << "\n";
x = y;
std::cout << tmp << "\n";

Because (informally) const objects do not change their values. The potential value of this guarantee when optimizing code involving const objects should be obvious. For there to be any way to modify x.c without invoking UB, this guarantee would have to be removed. So, as long as the standard writers have done their job without errors, there is no way to do what you want.

[*] In fact I have my doubts about using this as the argument to placement new - possibly you should have copied it to a void* first, and used that. But I'm not bothered whether that specifically is UB, since it wouldn't save the function as a whole.

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