[c++] Relaxed requirements for range-based for loops

In C++, range-based for loops provide a concise and readable way to iterate over a range of elements. However, traditional range-based for loops have some limitations in terms of the types they can iterate over. C++20 introduces relaxed requirements for range-based for loops, expanding the flexibility and usability of this feature.

What are range-based for loops?

Range-based for loops were introduced in C++11 to simplify the process of iterating over a range of elements, such as arrays, containers, or any type that provides the necessary interface. The syntax is straightforward:

for (auto &element : container) {
    // loop body

This loop iterates over each element in the container, and the variable element is bound to each value in the range in turn. This makes the code more readable and less error-prone by eliminating the need for manual indexing or iterator management.

Traditional limitations

In C++11 through C++17, the range-based for loop had strict requirements on the container type. It could only handle iterables with begin() and end() member functions or free functions, and those member functions should return types that could be used in the loop.

These limitations made it difficult to use range-based for loops with existing code that did not conform to these requirements, including third-party libraries or custom types that did not expose the necessary interface.

Relaxed requirements in C++20

In C++20, the requirements for range-based for loops have been relaxed, allowing for more flexibility in the types that can be iterated over. The new rules specify that the begin() and end() functions called during the iteration do not need to be member functions, but can instead be free functions, friend functions, or non-member functions found via argument-dependent lookup (ADL).

For example, a hypothetical MyType with begin() and end() implemented as free functions or as friend functions of MyType can now be used directly in a range-based for loop without modification.


#include <iostream>
#include <vector>

template <typename T>
struct CustomContainer {
    T data[3] = {1, 2, 3};

    T* begin() { return std::begin(data); }
    T* end() { return std::end(data); }

int main() {
    CustomContainer<int> customContainer;
    for (auto& value : customContainer) {
        std::cout << value << " ";
    return 0;

In this example, CustomContainer is a custom type that does not conform to the traditional requirements for range-based for loops. In C++20, using it in a range-based for loop is possible because its begin() and end() functions are defined as member functions.


The relaxed requirements for range-based for loops in C++20 make the language more flexible, allowing for easier integration with existing code and custom types. This enhancement simplifies the process of adopting modern C++ features and provides more intuitive and concise syntax for iterating over different types of containers or ranges.

For more detailed information, refer to the C++20 standard.