C++ – Overload a C++ function according to the return value

c++functionoverloadingpuzzle

We all know that you can overload a function according to the parameters:

int mul(int i, int j) { return i*j; }
std::string mul(char c, int n) { return std::string(n, c); } 

Can you overload a function according to the return value? Define a function that returns different things according to how the return value is used:

int n = mul(6, 3); // n = 18
std::string s = mul(6, 3); // s = "666"
// Note that both invocations take the exact same parameters (same types)

You can assume the first parameter is between 0-9, no need to verify the input or have any error handling.

Best Solution

You have to tell the compiler which version to use. In C++, you can do it three ways.

Explicitly differentiate the calls by typing

You somewhat cheated because you sent an integer to a function waiting for a char, and wrongly sent the number six when the char value of '6' is not 6 but 54 (in ASCII):

std::string mul(char c, int n) { return std::string(n, c); }

std::string s = mul(6, 3); // s = "666"

The right solution would be, of course,

std::string s = mul(static_cast<char>(54), 3); // s = "666"

This was worth mentioning, I guess, even if you did not want the solution.

Explicitly differentiate the calls by dummy pointer

You can add a dummy parameter to each functions, thus forcing the compiler to choose the right functions. The easiest way is to send a NULL dummy pointer of the type desired for the return:

int mul(int *, int i, int j) { return i*j; }
std::string mul(std::string *, char c, int n) { return std::string(n, c); }

Which can be used with the code:

int n = mul((int *) NULL, 6, 3); // n = 18
std::string s = mul((std::string *) NULL, 54, 3); // s = "666"

Explicitly differentiate the calls by templating the return value

With this solution, we create a "dummy" function with code that won't compile if instantiated:

template<typename T>
T mul(int i, int j)
{
   // If you get a compile error, it's because you did not use
   // one of the authorized template specializations
   const int k = 25 ; k = 36 ;
}

You'll note this function won't compile, which is a good thing because we want only to use some limited functions through template specialization:

template<>
int mul<int>(int i, int j)
{
   return i * j ;
}

template<>
std::string mul<std::string>(int i, int j)
{
   return std::string(j, static_cast<char>(i)) ;
}

Thus, the following code will compile:

int n = mul<int>(6, 3); // n = 18
std::string s = mul<std::string>(54, 3); // s = "666"

But this one won't:

short n2 = mul<short>(6, 3); // error: assignment of read-only variable ‘k’

Explicitly differentiate the calls by templating the return value, 2

Hey, you cheated, too!

Right, I did use the same parameters for the two "overloaded" functions. But you did start the cheating (see above)...

^_^

More seriously, if you need to have different parameters, then you will to write more code, and then have to explicitly use the right types when calling the functions to avoid ambiguities:

// For "int, int" calls
template<typename T>
T mul(int i, int j)
{
   // If you get a compile error, it's because you did not use
   // one of the authorized template specializations
   const int k = 25 ; k = 36 ;
}

template<>
int mul<int>(int i, int j)
{
   return i * j ;
}

// For "char, int" calls
template<typename T>
T mul(char i, int j)
{
   // If you get a compile error, it's because you did not use
   // one of the authorized template specializations
   const int k = 25 ; k = 36 ;
}

template<>
std::string mul<std::string>(char i, int j)
{
   return std::string(j, (char) i) ;
}

And this code would be used as such:

int n = mul<int>(6, 3); // n = 18
std::string s = mul<std::string>('6', 3); // s = "666"

And the following line:

short n2 = mul<short>(6, 3); // n = 18

Would still not compile.

Conclusion

I love C++...

:-p