Postfix Expressions

Postfix expressions consist of primary expressions or expressions in which postfix operators follow a primary expression. The postfix operators are listed in the following table.

Postfix Operators

Operator Name Operator Notation
Subscript operator [ ]
Function call operator ( )
Explicit type conversion operator type-name ( )
Member access operator . or ->
Postfix increment operator ++
Postfix decrement operator --

The following syntax describes possible postfix expressions:

postfix-expression[expression]postfix-expression(expression-list)simple-type-name(expression-list)postfix-expression.namepostfix-expression->namepostfix-expression++postfix-expression--cast-keyword < typename > (expression )typeid ( typename )

The postfix-expression above may be a primary expression or another postfix expression. Postfix expressions group left to right, thus allowing the expressions to be chained together as follows:


In the above expression, func is a primary expression, func(1) is a function postfix expression, func(1)->GetValue is a postfix expression specifying a member of the class, func(1)->GetValue() is another function postfix expression, and the entire expression is a postfix expression incrementing the return value of GetValue. The meaning of the expression as a whole is "call func passing 1 as an argument and get a pointer to a class as a return value. Then call GetValue() on that class, then increment the value returned.

The expressions listed above are assignment expressions, meaning that the result of these expressions must be an r-value.

The postfix expression form

simple-type-name ( expression-list )

indicates the invocation of the constructor. If the simple-type-name is a fundamental type, the expression list must be a single expression, and this expression indicates a cast of the expression's value to the fundamental type. This type of cast expression mimics a constructor. Because this form allows fundamental types and classes to be constructed using the same syntax, this form is especially useful when defining template classes.

The cast-keyword is one of dynamic_cast, static_cast or reinterpret_cast. More information may be found in dynamic_cast, static_cast and reinterpet_cast.

The typeid operator is considered a postfix expression. See typeid operator.

Formal and actual arguments

Calling programs pass information to called functions in "actual arguments." The called functions access the information using corresponding "formal arguments."

When a function is called, the following tasks are performed:

  • All actual arguments (those supplied by the caller) are evaluated. There is no implied order in which these arguments are evaluated, but all arguments are evaluated and all side effects completed prior to entry to the function.

  • Each formal argument is initialized with its corresponding actual argument in the expression list. (A formal argument is an argument that is declared in the function header and used in the body of a function.) Conversions are done as if by initialization — both standard and user-defined conversions are performed in converting an actual argument to the correct type. The initialization performed is illustrated conceptually by the following code:

    void Func( int i ); // Function prototype
    Func( 7 );          // Execute function call

    The conceptual initializations prior to the call are:

    int Temp_i = 7;
    Func( Temp_i );

    Note that the initialization is performed as if using the equal-sign syntax instead of the parentheses syntax. A copy of i is made prior to passing the value to the function. (For more information, see Initializers and Conversions).

    Therefore, if the function prototype (declaration) calls for an argument of type long, and if the calling program supplies an actual argument of type int, the actual argument is promoted using a standard type conversion to type long (see Standard Conversions).

    It is an error to supply an actual argument for which there is no standard or user-defined conversion to the type of the formal argument.

    For actual arguments of class type, the formal argument is initialized by calling the class's constructor. (See Constructors for more about these special class member functions.)

  • The function call is executed.

The following program fragment demonstrates a function call:

// expre_Formal_and_Actual_Arguments.cpp
void func( long param1, double param2 );

int main()
    long i = 1;
    double j = 2;

    // Call func with actual arguments i and j.
    func( i, j );

// Define func with formal parameters param1 and param2.
void func( long param1, double param2 )

When func is called from main, the formal parameter param1 is initialized with the value of i (i is converted to type long to correspond to the correct type using a standard conversion), and the formal parameter param2 is initialized with the value of j (j is converted to type double using a standard conversion).

Treatment of argument types

Formal arguments declared as const types cannot be changed within the body of a function. Functions can change any argument that is not of type const. However, the change is local to the function and does not affect the actual argument's value unless the actual argument was a reference to an object not of type const.

The following functions illustrate some of these concepts:

// expre_Treatment_of_Argument_Types.cpp
int func1( const int i, int j, char *c ) {
   i = 7;   // C3892 i is const.
   j = i;   // value of j is lost at return
   *c = 'a' + j;   // changes value of c in calling function
   return i;

double& func2( double& d, const char *c ) {
   d = 14.387;   // changes value of d in calling function.
   *c = 'a';   // C3892 c is a pointer to a const object.
    return d;

Ellipsis and default arguments

Functions can be declared to accept fewer arguments than specified in the function definition, using one of two methods: ellipsis (...) or default arguments.

Ellipsis denotes that arguments may be required but that the number and types are not specified in the declaration. This is normally poor C++ programming practice because it defeats one of the benefits of C++: type safety. Different conversions are applied to functions declared with ellipsis than to those functions for which the formal and actual argument types are known:

  • If the actual argument is of type float, it is promoted to type double prior to the function call.

  • Any signed char or unsigned char, signed short or unsigned short, enumerated type, or bit field is converted to either a signed int or an unsigned int using integral promotion.

  • Any argument of class type is passed by value as a data structure; the copy is created by binary copying instead of by invoking the class's copy constructor (if one exists).

Ellipsis, if used, must be declared last in the argument list. For more information about passing a variable number of arguments, see the discussion of va_arg, va_start, and va_list in the Run-Time Library Reference.

For information on default arguments in CLR programming, see Variable Argument Lists (...) (C++/CLI).

Default arguments enable you to specify the value an argument should assume if none is supplied in the function call. The following code fragment shows how default arguments work. For more information about restrictions on specifying default arguments, see Default Arguments.

// expre_Ellipsis_and_Default_Arguments.cpp
// compile with: /EHsc
#include <iostream>

// Declare the function print that prints a string,
// then a terminator.
void print( const char *string,
            const char *terminator = "\n" );

int main()
    print( "hello," );
    print( "world!" );

    print( "good morning", ", " );
    print( "sunshine." );

using namespace std;
// Define print.
void print( const char *string, const char *terminator )
    if( string != NULL )
        cout << string;

    if( terminator != NULL )
        cout << terminator;

The preceding program declares a function, print, that takes two arguments. However, the second argument, terminator, has a default value, "\n". In main, the first two calls to print allow the default second argument to supply a new line to terminate the printed string. The third call specifies an explicit value for the second argument. The output from the program is

good morning, sunshine.

See also

Types of Expressions