Use of min and max functions in C++


From C++, are min and max preferable over fmin and fmax? For comparing two integers, do they provide basically the same functionality?

Do you tend to use one of these sets of functions or do you prefer to write your own (perhaps to improve efficiency, portability, flexibility, etc.)?


  1. The C++ Standard Template Library (STL) declares the min and max functions in the standard C++ algorithm header.

  2. The C standard (C99) provides the fmin and fmax function in the standard C math.h header.

Thanks in advance!

10/4/2011 6:18:43 AM

Accepted Answer

fmin and fmax are specifically for use with floating point numbers (hence the "f"). If you use it for ints, you may suffer performance or precision losses due to conversion, function call overhead, etc. depending on your compiler/platform.

std::min and std::max are template functions (defined in header <algorithm>) which work on any type with a less-than (<) operator, so they can operate on any data type that allows such a comparison. You can also provide your own comparison function if you don't want it to work off <.

This is safer since you have to explicitly convert arguments to match when they have different types. The compiler won't let you accidentally convert a 64-bit int into a 64-bit float, for example. This reason alone should make the templates your default choice. (Credit to Matthieu M & bk1e)

Even when used with floats the template may win in performance. A compiler always has the option of inlining calls to template functions since the source code is part of the compilation unit. Sometimes it's impossible to inline a call to a library function, on the other hand (shared libraries, absence of link-time optimization, etc.).

7/20/2016 1:43:32 PM

There is an important difference between std::min, std::max and fmin and fmax.

std::min(-0.0,0.0) = -0.0
std::max(-0.0,0.0) = -0.0


fmin(-0.0, 0.0) = -0.0
fmax(-0.0, 0.0) =  0.0

So std::min is not a 1-1 substitute for fmin. The functions std::min and std::max are not commutative. To get the same result with doubles with fmin and fmax one should swap the arguments

fmin(-0.0, 0.0) = std::min(-0.0,  0.0)
fmax(-0.0, 0.0) = std::max( 0.0, -0.0)

But as far as I can tell all these functions are implementation defined anyway in this case so to be 100% sure you have to test how they are implemented.

There is another important difference. For x ! = NaN:

std::max(Nan,x) = NaN
std::max(x,NaN) = x
std::min(Nan,x) = NaN
std::min(x,NaN) = x


fmax(Nan,x) = x
fmax(x,NaN) = x
fmin(Nan,x) = x
fmin(x,NaN) = x

fmax can be emulated with the following code

double myfmax(double x, double y)
   // z > nan for z != nan is required by C the standard
   int xnan = isnan(x), ynan = isnan(y);
   if(xnan || ynan) {
        if(xnan && !ynan) return y;
        if(!xnan && ynan) return x;
        return x;
   // +0 > -0 is preferred by C the standard 
   if(x==0 && y==0) {
       int xs = signbit(x), ys = signbit(y);
       if(xs && !ys) return y;
       if(!xs && ys) return x;
       return x;
   return std::max(x,y);

This shows that std::max is a subset of fmax.

Looking at the assembly shows that Clang uses builtin code for fmax and fmin whereas GCC calls them from a math library. The assembly for clang for fmax with -O3 is

movapd  xmm2, xmm0
cmpunordsd      xmm2, xmm2
movapd  xmm3, xmm2
andpd   xmm3, xmm1
maxsd   xmm1, xmm0
andnpd  xmm2, xmm1
orpd    xmm2, xmm3
movapd  xmm0, xmm2

whereas for std::max(double, double) it is simply

maxsd   xmm0, xmm1

However, for GCC and Clang using -Ofast fmax becomes simply

maxsd   xmm0, xmm1

So this shows once again that std::max is a subset of fmax and that when you use a looser floating point model which does not have nan or signed zero then fmax and std::max are the same. The same argument obviously applies to fmin and std::min.

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