A Summary of “const”, Part One

Over the last two weeks, I have mentioned const a couple of times.

const is an often used keyword in C++ (though I would like to see people use it even more), and the different uses can be confusing. In this post I will try to summarize the most common uses:

Constant variables

Constant variables are simple, they cannot be changed after initialization:

const int answer = 43; //Cannot be changed  (even though I know you want to)
answer = 42; //Nope, not today.

Constant pointers

Constant pointers are a bit more involved, as the pointer can either be constant itself, point to something constant, or both, or none:

int x = 1;
const int c = 43;

const int * p1 = &c; //Non-const pointer to something const
p1 = &x; //So we can change what it points to
         //(Also note that a pointer to const can point to something non-const).

int * const p2 = &x; //Const pointer to something non-const.
p2 = c; //Not allowed, cannot change what it points to
*p2 = 2; //But can change the thing it points to

int * p3 = &c; //Cannot point to something const with a pointer to non-const
int * const p4 = &c; //Not even with a const pointer

const int * const p5 = &x; //Const ponter to something const
p5 = &c; //Cannot change what it points to
*p5 = 2; //Cannot change the thing it points to either

//And just to confuse things, it doesn't matter on which side of the type you put const, so the following are both a non-const pointer to a const int:

const int * d = &c;
int const * e = &c;
*d = 42; //Not allowed
*e = 42; //Not allowed

Const and functions

const can also be used with functions:

//Passing arguments as reference to const is a best practice, since this allows
//you to avoid copying, and still promise the caller that his object won't
//be modified.
void f(const string& s);

But there is one more use with const and functions, that is const member functions. Here, const applies to the method itself, not the parameters. A const member function promises to not modify the object on which it is called:

struct Foo {
    int getFoo() const; //Will not modify the object on which it is called
    int getMore(); //Might change the object on which it is called

int doFoo(const Foo& foo) {
    foo.getFoo(); //Ok
    foo.getMore(); //Not ok, cannot call non-const methods on const objects

Functions can also return const variables and pointers, but I’ll cover that in a follow-up where I’ll also cover operators. (Operators are in essence functions, but there is more to say about them.)

2 thoughts on “A Summary of “const”, Part One

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