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The C++ Standard Library: A Tutorial and Reference

The C++ Standard Library: A Tutorial and Reference

4.1 7
by Nicolai M. Josuttis

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The Best-Selling C++ Resource

Now Updated for C++11


The C++ standard library provides a set of common classes and interfaces that greatly extend the core C++ language. The library, however, is not self-explanatory. To make full use of its components–and to benefit from their power–you need a resource that does far


The Best-Selling C++ Resource

Now Updated for C++11


The C++ standard library provides a set of common classes and interfaces that greatly extend the core C++ language. The library, however, is not self-explanatory. To make full use of its components–and to benefit from their power–you need a resource that does far more than list the classes and their functions.


The C++ Standard Library: A Tutorial and Reference, Second Edition, describes this library as now incorporated into the new ANSI/ISO C++ language standard (C++11). The book provides comprehensive documentation of each library component, including an introduction to its purpose and design; clearly written explanations of complex concepts; the practical programming details needed for effective use; traps and pitfalls; the exact signature and definition of the most important classes and functions; and numerous examples of working code. The book focuses in particular on the Standard Template Library (STL), examining containers, iterators, function objects, and STL algorithms.


The book covers all the new C++11 library components, including


  • Concurrency
  • Fractional arithmetic
  • Clocks and timers
  • Tuples
  • New STL containers
  • New STL algorithms
  • New smart pointers
  • New locale facets
  • Random numbers and distributions
  • Type traits and utilities
  • Regular expressions


The book also examines the new C++ programming style and its effect on the standard library, including lambdas, range-based for  loops, move semantics, and variadic templates.


An accompanying Web site, including source code, can be found at www.cppstdlib.com.


Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
The C++ Standard Library enables programmers to use general components and a higher level of abstraction, enhancing efficiency and reliability without compromising portability. The library is not self-explanatory or fully consistent, and there are still some traps for the unwary. But the advantages far outweigh the problems, especially if you've got an expert book like Nicolai Josuttis' C++ Standard Library to help you.

Josuttis starts with an overview of the standard library, and its key interrelationships with the core language. He presents detailed coverage of the STL, the most powerful, complex, and exciting part of the library; then covers special containers, strings, numeric classes, and internationalization; and helps you get more out of a component you're probably already using: the IOStream library. Every component description includes purpose, design, code examples, practical scenarios, pitfalls, and in most cases, reference sources. Whether you need a tutorial or reference, this book delivers the goods.— (Bill Camarda, bn.com, editor)

Jack Woehr

To comprehend the meaning and usage of the standard library classes mandated in the ANS/ISO C++ Standard of 1997, there are two ways to go:

  • You can start from familiarity with the theory of collections, streams, and algorithms and then read the source code of an extant library implementation.
  • Or you can read a book like Nicolai Josuttis's The C++ Standard Library.
The C++ Standard Library is the best overview of its topic in the popular technical press that I've seen so far. A few years ago I was looking for this book, but it hadn't been written yet, so I opted for course 1 above. It's really more orderly to read the book.

The C++ Standard Library is essentially a perfect book. It's so good that it can't be great. The author knows his field so well that there's no sense of striving in his explanations. (Josuttis is a member of the C++ Standard Committee library working group.)

The C++ Standard Library is organized in the Gnu Texinfo manual style, which evolved on the MIT-Stanford Free Software axis in the 1980s. No surprises, we know how to read this one without the author lecturing us on conventions employed in the text.

What's covered? The whole C++ standard libraries. Well-phrased, accurate, authoritative, and scientific, Josuttis has authored the quintessential user's guide on this subject. Let others focus on patterns of usage -- the community of intermediate C++ programmers pursuing standard class expertise now has its classic.
Electronic Review of Computer Books

Introduces the C++ standard library and all its components from a conceptual point of view, then describes the details for programming with the standard template library (STL), special containers, strings, numeric classes, and the IOStream library. Each component description features its purpose and design, examples and suggested uses, traps and pitfalls, and the exact signature and definition of its classes and their functions. The book concludes with discussions of internationalization and allocators. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

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Read an Excerpt

In the beginning, I only planned to write a small German book (400 pages or so) about the C++ Standard Library. That was in 1993. Now, in 1999 you see the result--an English book with more than 800 pages of facts, figures, and examples. My goal is to describe the C++ Standard Library so that all (or almost all) your programming questions are answered before you think of the question. Note, however, that this is not a complete description of all aspects of the C++ Standard Library. Instead, I present the most important topics necessary for learning and programming in C++by using its standard library.

Each topic is described based on the general concepts;this discussion then leads to the specific details needed to support everyday programming tasks. Specific code examples are provided to help you understand the concepts and the details.

That's it--in a nutshell. I hope you get as much pleasure from reading this book as I did from writing it. Enjoy!


This book presents ideas, concepts,solutions, and examples from many sources. In a way it does not seem fair that my name is the only name on the cover. Thus, I'd like to thank all the people and companies who helped and supported me during the past few years.

First, I'd like to thank Dietmar Kuhl. Dietmar is an expert on C++, especially on input/output streams and internationalization (he implemented an I/O stream library just for fun). He not only translated major parts of this book from German to English, he also wrote sections of this book using his expertise. In addition, he provided me with invaluable feedback over the years.

Second, I'd like to thank all the reviewers and everyone else who gave me their opinion. These people endow the book with a quality it would never have had without their input. (Because the list is extensive, please forgive me for any oversight.) The reviewers for the English version of this book included Chuck Allison, Greg Comeau, James A. Crotinger, Gabriel Dos Reis, Alan Ezust, Nathan Meyers, Werner Mossner, Todd Veldhuizen, Chichiang Wan, Judy Ward, and Thomas Wikehult. The German reviewers included Ralf Boecker, Dirk Herrmann, Dietmar Kuhl, Edda Lorke, Herbert Scheubner, Dominik Strasser, and Martin Weitzel. Additional input was provided by Matt Austern, Valentin Bonnard, Greg Colvin, Beman Dawes, Bill Gibbons, Lois Goldthwaite, Andrew Koenig, Steve Rumbsby, Bjarne Stroustrup, and David Vandevoorde.

Special thanks to Dave Abrahams, Janet Cocker, Catherine Ohala, and Maureen Willard who reviewed and edited the whole book very carefully. Their feedback was an incredible contribution to the quality of this book.

A special thanks goes to my "personal living dictionary"--Herb Sutter--the author of the famous "Guru of the Week" (a regular series of C++ programming problems that is published on the comp.std.c++.moderated Internet newsgroup).

I'd also like to thank all the people and companies who gave me the opportunity to test my examples on different platforms with different compilers. Many thanks to Steve Adamczyk, Mike Anderson, and John Spicer from EDG for their great compiler and their support. It was a big help during the standardization process and the writing of this book. Many thanks to P. J. Plauger and Dinkumware, Ltd, for their early standard-conforming implementation of the C++ Standard Library. Many thanks to Andreas Hommel and Metrowerks for an evaluative version of their CodeWarrior Programming Environment. Many thanks to all the developers of the free GNU and egcs compilers. Many thanks to Microsoft for an evaluative version of Visual C++. Many thanks to Roland Hartinger from Siemens Nixdorf Informations Systems AG for a test version of their C++ compiler. Many thanks to Topjects GmbH for an evaluative version of the ObjectSpace library implementation.

And, of course many thanks for those who invented, designed, or implemented C++ or parts of the library. Among others are Bjarne Stroustrup, Alexander Stepanov, Meng Lee, Matt Austern, Boris P. Fomichev, and all the other guys who wrote the SGI STL and the STLport.

Many thanks to everyone from Addison Wesley Longman who worked with me. Among others this includes Janet Cocker, Mike Hendrickson, Debbie Lafferty, Marina Lang, Chanda Leary, Catherine Ohala, Marty Rabinowitz, Susanne Spitzer, and Maureen Willard. It was fun.

In addition, I'd like to thank the people at BREDEX GmbH and all the people in the C++ community, particularly those involved with the standardization process, for their support and patience (sometimes I ask really silly questions).

Last but not least, many thanks and kisses for my family: Ulli, Lucas, Anica, and Frederic. I definitely did not have enough time for them due to the writing of this book.

Have fun and be human!

About this Book

Soon after its introduction, C++ became a de facto standard in object-oriented programming. This led to the goal of standardization. Only by having a standard, could programs be written that would run on different platforms--from PCs to mainframes. Furthermore, a standard C++ library would enable programmers to use general components and a higher level of abstraction without losing portability, rather than having to develop all code from scratch.

The standardization process was started in 1989 by an international ANSI/ISO committee. It developed the standard based on Bjarne Stroustrup's books (The C++ Programming Language) and (The Annotated C++ Reference Manual). After the standard was completed in 1997,several formal motions by different countries made it an international ISO and ANSI standard in 1998. The standardization process included the development of a C++ Standard Library. The library extends the core language to provide some general components. By using C++'s ability to program new abstract and generic types, the library provides a set of common classes and interfaces. This gives programmers a higher level of abstraction. The library provides the ability to use string types, different data structures (such as dynamic arrays, linked lists, and binary trees), different algorithms (such as different sorting algorithms), numeric classes, input/output (I/O) classes, and classes for internationalization support.

All of these are supported by a fairly simple programming interface. These components are very important for many programs. These days, data processing often means inputting, computing, processing, and outputting large amounts of data, which are often strings.

The library is not self-explanatory. To use these components and to benefit from their power,you need a good introduction that explains the concepts and the important details instead of simply listing the classes and their functions. This book is written exactly for that purpose. First, it introduces the library and all of its components from a conceptional point of view. Next, it describes the details needed for practical programming. Examples are included to demonstrate the exact usage of the components. Thus, this book is a detailed introduction to the C++ library for both the beginner and the practical programmer. Armed with the data provided herein, you should be able to take full advantage of the C++ Standard Library.


I don't promise that everything described is easy and self-explanatory. The library provides a lot of flexibility,but flexibility for nontrivial purposes has a price. Beware that the library has traps and pitfalls,which I point out when we encounter them and suggest ways of avoiding them.

What You Should Know Before Reading this Book

To get the most from this book you should already know C++. (The book describes the standard components of C++, but not the language itself.) You should be familiar with the concepts of classes, inheritance, templates, and exception handling. However, you don't have to know all of the minor details about the language. The important details are described in the book (the minor details about the language are more important for people who want to implement the library rather than use it). Note that the language has changed during the standardization process,so your knowledge might not be up to date.

The section on newlang features provides a brief overview and introduction of the latest language features that are important for using the library. You should read this section if you are not sure whether you know all the new features of C++ (such as the keyword {\tt typename} and the concept of namespaces).

Style and Structure of the Book

The C++ Standard Library provides different components that are somewhat but not totally independent of each other,so there is no easy way to describe each part without mentioning others. I considered several different approaches for presenting the contents of this book. One was on the order of the C++ standard. However, this is not the best way to explain the components of the C++ Standard Library from scratch. Another was to start with an overview of all components followed by chapters that provided more details. Alternatively, I could have sorted the components, trying to find an order that had a minimum of cross-references to other sections. My solution was to use a mixture of all three approaches.

I start with a brief introduction of the general concepts and the utilities that are used by the library. Then, I describe all the components, each in one or more chapters. The first component is the standard template library (STL). There is no doubt that the STL is the most powerful, most complex, and most exciting part of the library. Its design influences other components heavily. Then I describe the more self-explanatory components, such as special containers, strings,and numeric classes. The next component discussed is one you probably know and use already: the iostreamlib{}. It is followed by a discussion of internationalization, which had some influence on the iostreamlib{}.

Each component description begins with the component's purpose, design, and some examples. Next, a detailed description follows that begins with different ways to use the component, as well as any traps and pitfalls associated with it. The description usually ends with a reference section, in which you can find the exact signature and definition of a component's classes and its functions.

How to Read this Book

This book is a mix of introductory user's guide and structured reference manual regarding the C++ Standard Library. The individual components of the C++ Standard Library are independent of each other, to some extent, so after reading Chapters 2 through 4 you could read the chapters that discuss the individual components in any order. Bear in mind,that Chapters 5 through 9 all describe the same component. To understand the other STL chapters, you should start with the introduction to the STL in chapter 5.

If you are a C++ programmer who wants to know, in general, the concepts and all parts of the library, you could simply read the book from the beginning to the end. However, you should skip the reference sections (which usually are named something like "...{} in detail}"). To program with certain components of the C++ Standard Library, the best way to find something is to use the index. I have tried to make the index very comprehensive to save you time when you are looking for something.

I can't explain all aspects at the same time, so you will find many cross references. It is always a problem to decide whether to follow them. If the cross reference refers to a section that will follow soon, take it as hint that I return to an aspect later. You should follow the cross reference only if you are searching for certain aspects or details and the cross reference seems to lead to details concerning your problem or its solution.

In my experience, the best way to learn something new is to look at examples. Therefore, you'll find a lot of examples throughout the book. They may be a few lines of code or complete programs. In the latter case, you'll find the name of the file containing the program's first comment line. You can find the files on the Internet at my Web site.

State of the Art

While I was writing this book,the C++ standard was completed. Please bear in mind that some compilers might not yet confirm to it. This will most likely change in the near future. As a consequence, you might discover that not all things covered in this book work as described on your system,and you may have to change example programs to fit your specific environment. I can compile almost all example programs with version 2.8 or higher of the EGCS compiler, which is free for almost all platforms and available on the Internet and on several software CDs.

Example Code and Additional Information

You can access all example programs and acquire more informations about this book and the C++ Standard Library from my Web site. Please read the {\tt README} file for further details. Also, you can find a lot of additional information about this topic on the Internet. See Internet Resources on page 743 for details.


I welcome your feedback (good and bad) on this book. I tried to prepare it carefully; however, I'm human, and at some time I have to stop writing and tweaking. So, you may find some errors, inconsistencies, or subjects that could be described better. Your feedback will give me the chance to improve later editions. The best way to reach me is by Email: libbook@josuttis.

You can also reach me by phone, fax, or "snail" mail:
Nicolai M. Josuttis
Berggarten 9
Phone: +49 5309 5747
Fax: +49 5309 5774

Many thanks.

Meet the Author

Nicolai M. Josuttis is an independent technical consultant who designs mid-sized and large software systems for the telecommunication, traffic, finance, and manufacturing industries. A former member of the C++ Standard Committee library working group, he is well known in the programming community for his authoritative books. In addition to The C++ Standard Library, a worldwide best-seller since its first publication in 1999, his books include C++ Templates: The Complete Guide (with David Vandevoorde, Addison-Wesley, 2003) and SOA in Practice: The Art of Distributed System Design (O’Reilly Media, 2007).


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The C++ Standard Library: A Tutorial and Reference 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
sad_but_true More than 1 year ago
I ordered this book in January. Unfortunately I did not notice that because this book would not be shipped until April and none of my order would be shipped until April I tried to cancel the order. I needed my order immediately due to my job requirements. Barnes and Nobles refuse to cancel the order. I have to accept the order in April, endure the cost of returning the books and wait several weeks after that for a refund. In the meantime, I ordered my books from a competitor and receive it in 2 days regular shipping time. In the days of computer technology, it is ridiculous that an order can not be cancelled or modified months before the shipping date. I am NOT a happy camper!!!!