Why isn't argument deduction allowed in function return type?

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The most obvious answer could be - because the standard says so. That's fine, but I'm wrapping my head around it to understand the reasons behind this choice.

Consider the following example:

template<typename T>
struct S { S(T) {} };

S f() { return 0; }

int main() {
    auto s = f();

It fails to compile with errors like:

error: use of class template 'S' requires template arguments; argument deduction not allowed in function return type

Quite easy to fix, it isn't a problem, something like this works just fine:

auto f() { return S{0}; }

However, I'd like to understand what were the drawbacks of allowing class template arguments deduction also in function return types. At a first glance, it looks just like a silly limitation, but I'm pretty sure I'm missing something important here.

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Why isn't argument deduction allowed in function return type?

Because the standard says so.

You could ask the question: why is there a difference between these lines of code:

S s = 0;            // OK
S s() { return 0; } // error - even though this is also copy-initializing an "S" from 0

You could come up with a handwavy explanation of why the first one should be okay and why the second one should not be - but fundamentally class template argument deduction was proposed to only address the first case and not the second. The first one is okay because the standard says so, and the second one is an error because the standard says so.

There is an extension proposed (P1021, under "Return type deduction for functions") that would address the second case. Whether or not you think this is a good idea... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Just my hand-wavy two cents that summarize my understanding:


S f() { return 0; }

the S is no type that could be deduced, its just a template. You could write

template<typename T>
S<T> f() { return 0;}

but now it is obvious that for a call

auto s = f();

there is no way to deduce what type T is supposed to be.

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  • I feel that it is not in standard because code of this kind is easy to write, but very difficult to read and understand (what type is actually used). Standard writers include mostly features based on best practices, while your example seems to be as something which makes writing code harder.
  • but you can do that now almost - with lambdas.
  • @BhavinChirag I agree. Almost. Usingauto as return type isn't more explicit after all.
  • I think you found the best example to make it clear. Thank you very much. It was easy indeed, but I failed in finding the key point.
  • Technically speaking, the standard doesn't say that it's not allowed. It just doesn't say that it is. :-D