Why use static_cast(x) instead of (int)x?


Question

I've heard that the static_cast function should be preferred to C-style or simple function-style casting. Is this true? Why?

1
611
3/14/2017 6:31:47 PM

Accepted Answer

The main reason is that classic C casts make no distinction between what we call static_cast<>(), reinterpret_cast<>(), const_cast<>(), and dynamic_cast<>(). These four things are completely different.

A static_cast<>() is usually safe. There is a valid conversion in the language, or an appropriate constructor that makes it possible. The only time it's a bit risky is when you cast down to an inherited class; you must make sure that the object is actually the descendant that you claim it is, by means external to the language (like a flag in the object). A dynamic_cast<>() is safe as long as the result is checked (pointer) or a possible exception is taken into account (reference).

A reinterpret_cast<>() (or a const_cast<>()) on the other hand is always dangerous. You tell the compiler: "trust me: I know this doesn't look like a foo (this looks as if it isn't mutable), but it is".

The first problem is that it's almost impossible to tell which one will occur in a C-style cast without looking at large and disperse pieces of code and knowing all the rules.

Let's assume these:

class CDerivedClass : public CMyBase {...};
class CMyOtherStuff {...} ;

CMyBase  *pSomething; // filled somewhere

Now, these two are compiled the same way:

CDerivedClass *pMyObject;
pMyObject = static_cast<CDerivedClass*>(pSomething); // Safe; as long as we checked

pMyObject = (CDerivedClass*)(pSomething); // Same as static_cast<>
                                     // Safe; as long as we checked
                                     // but harder to read

However, let's see this almost identical code:

CMyOtherStuff *pOther;
pOther = static_cast<CMyOtherStuff*>(pSomething); // Compiler error: Can't convert

pOther = (CMyOtherStuff*)(pSomething);            // No compiler error.
                                                  // Same as reinterpret_cast<>
                                                  // and it's wrong!!!

As you can see, there is no easy way to distinguish between the two situations without knowing a lot about all the classes involved.

The second problem is that the C-style casts are too hard to locate. In complex expressions it can be very hard to see C-style casts. It is virtually impossible to write an automated tool that needs to locate C-style casts (for example a search tool) without a full blown C++ compiler front-end. On the other hand, it's easy to search for "static_cast<" or "reinterpret_cast<".

pOther = reinterpret_cast<CMyOtherStuff*>(pSomething);
      // No compiler error.
      // but the presence of a reinterpret_cast<> is 
      // like a Siren with Red Flashing Lights in your code.
      // The mere typing of it should cause you to feel VERY uncomfortable.

That means that, not only are C-style casts more dangerous, but it's a lot harder to find them all to make sure that they are correct.

593
6/13/2019 10:38:27 AM

One pragmatic tip: you can search easily for the static_cast keyword in your source code if you plan to tidy up the project.


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