Post: C++ reference binding rules

2 minute read

There are not a lot of materials covering the rules on what types of arguments can bind to the various types of parameters. If found the blog post on “What are const rvalue references good for?” and Reference declaration page on C++ reference very useful in helping me understand the binding rules.

Binding Rules

const <-> non-const

Rule: const and non-const arguments can be bind to const ref parameters but const arguments cannot bind to non-const parameters.

My reasoning: This makes sense as converting an object to const on the callee side will not change anything on the caller side even if the object is non-const. However, the converse will not be true as converting a const object on the caller side to non-const object on the callee side can allow the callee to modify the object even though the caller expects the object to be const.


void cfoo(const int& x) {}
void foo(int& x) {}
int main() {
    int x = 1;
    const int cx = 1;

    // error: binding reference of type 'int&' 
    // to 'const int' discards qualifiers

lvalue -> rvalue

Rule:lvalue arguments cannot bind to const and non-const rvalue parameters.

Explanation: As rvalue parameters indicate that the object is temporary and can be moved away, allowing lvalue to bind to rvalue will be catastrophic as the callee can move the caller’s object. Even though, const rvalue ref does not make sense it actually acts like a const lvalue ref and I am not sure why the standard does not allow it.


void rfoo(int&& x) {}
void crfoo(const int&& x) {}
int main() {
    int x = 1;

    // error: cannot bind rvalue reference of type 
    // 'int&&' to lvalue of type 'int'

    // error: cannot bind rvalue reference of type
    // 'const int&&' to lvalue of type 'int'

rvalue -> lvalue

Rule: rvalue arguments cannot bind to non-const lvalue parameters.

Explanation: I don’t know what is the reason for this rule. If a caller pass a temporary object (rvalue) to the callee, it should not matter what type of object the callee sees it as? The only explanation I can think of is that some functions utilise out-parameters and it does not make sense if the argument provided is a temporary object (rvalue).


void lfoo(int& x) {}
int main() {
    // error: cannot bind non-const lvalue
    // reference of type 'int&' to an rvalue of type 'int'

All (lvalue, rvalue, const, non-const) -> const lvalue

Rule: lvalue, rvalue, const or non-const objects can bind to const lvalue parameters.

Explanation: const lvalue indicates that the callee wants a read-only view of the object and it does not matter what type of object the caller pass as the argument. Thus, the standard allows all types of arguments to bind to const lvalue. (klement: But why does this not apply for const rvalue parameters?)


void clfoo(const int& x) {}

int main() {
    int x = 1;