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This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726. # More Uses for `auto`

August 10, 2011

This post continues last week's discussion of `auto` by showing some more contexts in which it makes programs easier to read.

There are many contexts in which we write expressions without caring about the details of those expressions' types, typically because we use them as parts of other expressions. For example, if `a, b`, and `c` are the coefficients of a quadratic equation, the equation's roots are

```(-b + sqrt(b * b – 4 * a * c)) / (2 * a)
```

and

```(-b - sqrt(b * b – 4 * a * c)) / (2 * a)
```

Suppose we want to print those roots. We might write something like this:

```cout << "Roots: " << (-b + sqrt(b * b – 4 * a * c)) / (2 * a)
<< " and " << (-b - sqrt(b * b – 4 * a * c)) / (2 * a) << endl;
```

However, doing so clearly repeats a lot of code. We can use `auto` to make it easier to factor this code:

```auto d = sqrt(b * b – 4 * a * c), e = 2 * a;
cout << "Roots: " << (-b + d) / e
<< " and " << (-b – d) / e << endl;
```

I can think of no reason for a programmer who wants to refactor code in this way to have to figure out what types to give `d` and `e`. In fact, I think that it is less clear to define `d` and `e` this way:

```double d = sqrt(b * b – 4 * a * c), e = 2 * a;
```

because now the reader must figure out whether the types of `d` and `e` were declared correctly, or whether `sqrt(b * b – 4 * a * c)` yields a type, such as `long double`, that will lose information on being converted to `double`.

We can find another example of using `auto` to simplify code by looking at `make_pair`. If `a` has type `A` and `b` has type `B`, then `make_pair(a, b)` is an object of type `pair<A, B>`. So, for example, we can write

```pair<int, double> p = make_pair(3, 4.5);
```

after which `p.first` is `3` and `p.second` is `4.5`.

I claim that restating the type `pair<int, double>` makes this code harder to read, not easier. Moreover, making the expressions more complicated increases the benefit of `auto`. Why write

```    pair<pair<int, double>, pair<double<int>>> p =
make_pair(make_pair(3, 4.5), make_pair(6, 7.8));
```

when you can write

```auto p1 = make_pair(3, 4.5),
p2 = make_pair(6, 7.8);
auto p = make_pair(p1, p2);
```

In short, I believe that `auto` is like so many programming tools: It can make programs easier or harder to read depending on how you use it.

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