What are some uses of template template parameters?


I've seen some examples of C++ using template template parameters (that is templates which take templates as parameters) to do policy-based class design. What other uses does this technique have?

8/8/2018 7:06:24 PM

Accepted Answer

I think you need to use template template syntax to pass a parameter whose type is a template dependent on another template like this:

template <template<class> class H, class S>
void f(const H<S> &value) {

Here, H is a template, but I wanted this function to deal with all specializations of H.

NOTE: I've been programming c++ for many years and have only needed this once. I find that it is a rarely needed feature (of course handy when you need it!).

I've been trying to think of good examples, and to be honest, most of the time this isn't necessary, but let's contrive an example. Let's pretend that std::vector doesn't have a typedef value_type.

So how would you write a function which can create variables of the right type for the vectors elements? This would work.

template <template<class, class> class V, class T, class A>
void f(V<T, A> &v) {
    // This can be "typename V<T, A>::value_type",
    // but we are pretending we don't have it

    T temp = v.back();
    // Do some work on temp

    std::cout << temp << std::endl;

NOTE: we std::vector has two template parameters, type and allocator, so we had to accept both of them. Fortunately, because of type deduction, we won't need to write out the exact type explicitly.

which you can use like this:

f<std::vector, int>(v); // v is of type std::vector<int> using any allocator

or better yet, we can just use:

f(v); // everything is deduced, f can deal with a vector of any type!

UPDATE: Even this contrived example, while illustrative, is no longer an amazing example due to c++11 introducing auto. Now the same function can be written as:

template <class Cont>
void f(Cont &v) {

    auto temp = v.back();
    // Do some work on temp

    std::cout << temp << std::endl;

which is how I'd prefer to write this type of code.

3/29/2016 11:03:40 PM

Actually, usecase for template template parameters is rather obvious. Once you learn that C++ stdlib has gaping hole of not defining stream output operators for standard container types, you would proceed to write something like:

template<typename T>
static inline std::ostream& operator<<(std::ostream& out, std::list<T> const& v)
    out << '[';
    if (!v.empty()) {
        for (typename std::list<T>::const_iterator i = v.begin(); ;) {
            out << *i;
            if (++i == v.end())
            out << ", ";
    out << ']';
    return out;

Then you'd figure out that code for vector is just the same, for forward_list is the same, actually, even for multitude of map types it's still just the same. Those template classes don't have anything in common except for meta-interface/protocol, and using template template parameter allows to capture the commonality in all of them. Before proceeding to write a template though, it's worth to check a reference to recall that sequence containers accept 2 template arguments - for value type and allocator. While allocator is defaulted, we still should account for its existence in our template operator<<:

template<template <typename, typename> class Container, class V, class A>
std::ostream& operator<<(std::ostream& out, Container<V, A> const& v)

Voila, that will work automagically for all present and future sequence containers adhering to the standard protocol. To add maps to the mix, it would take a peek at reference to note that they accept 4 template params, so we'd need another version of the operator<< above with 4-arg template template param. We'd also see that std:pair tries to be rendered with 2-arg operator<< for sequence types we defined previously, so we would provide a specialization just for std::pair.

Btw, with C+11 which allows variadic templates (and thus should allow variadic template template args), it would be possible to have single operator<< to rule them all. For example:

#include <iostream>
#include <vector>
#include <deque>
#include <list>

template<typename T, template<class,class...> class C, class... Args>
std::ostream& operator <<(std::ostream& os, const C<T,Args...>& objs)
    os << __PRETTY_FUNCTION__ << '\n';
    for (auto const& obj : objs)
        os << obj << ' ';
    return os;

int main()
    std::vector<float> vf { 1.1, 2.2, 3.3, 4.4 };
    std::cout << vf << '\n';

    std::list<char> lc { 'a', 'b', 'c', 'd' };
    std::cout << lc << '\n';

    std::deque<int> di { 1, 2, 3, 4 };
    std::cout << di << '\n';

    return 0;


std::ostream &operator<<(std::ostream &, const C<T, Args...> &) [T = float, C = vector, Args = <std::__1::allocator<float>>]
1.1 2.2 3.3 4.4 
std::ostream &operator<<(std::ostream &, const C<T, Args...> &) [T = char, C = list, Args = <std::__1::allocator<char>>]
a b c d 
std::ostream &operator<<(std::ostream &, const C<T, Args...> &) [T = int, C = deque, Args = <std::__1::allocator<int>>]
1 2 3 4 

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