C++ – Difference between std::function<> and a standard function pointer?

c++c++11

Whats the difference between std::function<> and a standard function pointer?

that is:

typedef std::function<int(int)> FUNCTION;
typedef int (*fn)(int);

Are they effectively the same thing?

Best Solution

A function pointer is the address of an actual function defined in C++. An std::function is a wrapper that can hold any type of callable object (objects that can be used like functions).

struct FooFunctor
{
    void operator()(int i) {
        std::cout << i;
    }
};

// Since `FooFunctor` defines `operator()`, it can be used as a function
FooFunctor func;
std::function<void (int)> f(func);

Here, std::function allows you to abstract away exactly what kind of callable object it is you are dealing with — you don't know it's FooFunctor, you just know that it returns void and has one int parameter.

A real-world example where this abstraction is useful is when you are using C++ together with another scripting language. You might want to design an interface that can deal with both functions defined in C++, as well as functions defined in the scripting language, in a generic way.

Edit: Binding

Alongside std::function, you will also find std::bind. These two are very powerful tools when used together.

void func(int a, int b) {
    // Do something important
}

// Consider the case when you want one of the parameters of `func` to be fixed
// You can used `std::bind` to set a fixed value for a parameter; `bind` will
// return a function-like object that you can place inside of `std::function`.

std::function<void (int)> f = std::bind(func, _1, 5); 

In that example, the function object returned by bind takes the first parameter, _1, and passes it to func as the a parameter, and sets b to be the constant 5.