When to use reinterpret_cast?


Question

I am little confused with the applicability of reinterpret_cast vs static_cast. From what I have read the general rules are to use static cast when the types can be interpreted at compile time hence the word static. This is the cast the C++ compiler uses internally for implicit casts also.

reinterpret_casts are applicable in two scenarios, convert integer types to pointer types and vice versa or to convert one pointer type to another. The general idea I get is this is unportable and should be avoided.

Where I am a little confused is one usage which I need, I am calling C++ from C and the C code needs to hold on to the C++ object so basically it holds a void*. What cast should be used to convert between the void * and the Class type?

I have seen usage of both static_cast and reinterpret_cast? Though from what I have been reading it appears static is better as the cast can happen at compile time? Though it says to use reinterpret_cast to convert from one pointer type to another?

1
414
3/13/2017 1:22:26 AM

Accepted Answer

The C++ standard guarantees the following:

static_casting a pointer to and from void* preserves the address. That is, in the following, a, b and c all point to the same address:

int* a = new int();
void* b = static_cast<void*>(a);
int* c = static_cast<int*>(b);

reinterpret_cast only guarantees that if you cast a pointer to a different type, and then reinterpret_cast it back to the original type, you get the original value. So in the following:

int* a = new int();
void* b = reinterpret_cast<void*>(a);
int* c = reinterpret_cast<int*>(b);

a and c contain the same value, but the value of b is unspecified. (in practice it will typically contain the same address as a and c, but that's not specified in the standard, and it may not be true on machines with more complex memory systems.)

For casting to and from void*, static_cast should be preferred.

403
8/30/2019 8:57:38 AM

One case when reinterpret_cast is necessary is when interfacing with opaque data types. This occurs frequently in vendor APIs over which the programmer has no control. Here's a contrived example where a vendor provides an API for storing and retrieving arbitrary global data:

// vendor.hpp
typedef struct _Opaque * VendorGlobalUserData;
void VendorSetUserData(VendorGlobalUserData p);
VendorGlobalUserData VendorGetUserData();

To use this API, the programmer must cast their data to VendorGlobalUserData and back again. static_cast won't work, one must use reinterpret_cast:

// main.cpp
#include "vendor.hpp"
#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

struct MyUserData {
    MyUserData() : m(42) {}
    int m;
};

int main() {
    MyUserData u;

        // store global data
    VendorGlobalUserData d1;
//  d1 = &u;                                          // compile error
//  d1 = static_cast<VendorGlobalUserData>(&u);       // compile error
    d1 = reinterpret_cast<VendorGlobalUserData>(&u);  // ok
    VendorSetUserData(d1);

        // do other stuff...

        // retrieve global data
    VendorGlobalUserData d2 = VendorGetUserData();
    MyUserData * p = 0;
//  p = d2;                                           // compile error
//  p = static_cast<MyUserData *>(d2);                // compile error
    p = reinterpret_cast<MyUserData *>(d2);           // ok

    if (p) { cout << p->m << endl; }
    return 0;
}

Below is a contrived implementation of the sample API:

// vendor.cpp
static VendorGlobalUserData g = 0;
void VendorSetUserData(VendorGlobalUserData p) { g = p; }
VendorGlobalUserData VendorGetUserData() { return g; }

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