Using Insertion Operators and Controlling Format

This topic shows how to control format and how to create insertion operators for your own classes. The insertion (<<) operator, which is preprogrammed for all standard C++ data types, sends bytes to an output stream object. Insertion operators work with predefined "manipulators," which are elements that change the default format of integer arguments.

You can control the format with the following options:

Output Width

To align output, you specify the output width for each item by placing the setw manipulator in the stream or by calling the width member function. This example right-aligns the values in a column at least 10 characters wide:

// output_width.cpp
// compile with: /EHsc
#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

int main( )
   double values[] = { 1.23, 35.36, 653.7, 4358.24 };
   for( int i = 0; i < 4; i++ )
      cout << values[i] << '\n';

Leading blanks are added to any value fewer than 10 characters wide.

To pad a field, use the fill member function, which sets the value of the padding character for fields that have a specified width. The default is a blank. To pad the column of numbers with asterisks, modify the previous for loop as follows:

for (int i = 0; i <4; i++)
    cout << values[i] << endl;

The endl manipulator replaces the newline character ('\n'). The output looks like this:


To specify widths for data elements in the same line, use the setw manipulator:

// setw.cpp
// compile with: /EHsc
#include <iostream>
#include <iomanip>
using namespace std;

int main( )
   double values[] = { 1.23, 35.36, 653.7, 4358.24 };
   const char *names[] = { "Zoot", "Jimmy", "Al", "Stan" };
   for( int i = 0; i < 4; i++ )
      cout << setw( 7 )  << names[i]
           << setw( 10 ) << values[i] << endl;

The width member function is declared in <iostream>. If you use setw or any other manipulator with arguments, you must include <iomanip>. In the output, strings print in a field of width 6 and integers in a field of width 10:

   Zoot      1.23
  Jimmy     35.36
     Al     653.7
   Stan   4358.24

setw and width don't truncate values. If formatted output exceeds the width, the entire value prints, subject to the stream's precision setting. Both setw and width affect the following field only. Field width reverts to its default behavior (the necessary width) after one field has been printed. However, the other stream format options remain in effect until changed.


Output streams default to right-aligned text. To left-align the names in the previous example and right-align the numbers, replace the for loop as follows:

for (int i = 0; i <4; i++)
    cout << setiosflags(ios::left)
         << setw(6) << names[i]
         << resetiosflags(ios::left)
         << setw(10) << values[i] << endl;

The output looks like this:

Zoot        1.23
Jimmy      35.36
Al         653.7
Stan     4358.24

The left-align flag is set by using the setiosflags manipulator with the left enumerator. This enumerator is defined in the ios class, so its reference must include the ios:: prefix. The resetiosflags manipulator turns off the left-align flag. Unlike width and setw, the effect of setiosflags and resetiosflags is permanent.


The default value for floating-point precision is six. For example, the number 3466.9768 prints as 3466.98. To change the way this value prints, use the setprecision manipulator. The manipulator has two flags: fixed and scientific. If fixed is set, the number prints as 3466.976800. If scientific is set, it prints as 3.4669773+003.

To display the floating-point numbers shown in Alignment with one significant digit, replace the for loop as follows:

for (int i = 0; i <4; i++)
    cout << setiosflags(ios::left)
         << setw(6)
         << names[i]
         << resetiosflags(ios::left)
         << setw(10)
         << setprecision(1)
         << values[i]
         << endl;

The program prints this list:

Zoot          1
Jimmy     4e+01
Al        7e+02
Stan      4e+03

To eliminate scientific notation, insert this statement before the for loop:

cout << setiosflags(ios::fixed);

With fixed notation, the program prints with one digit after the decimal point.

Zoot         1.2
Jimmy       35.4
Al         653.7
Stan      4358.2

If you change the ios::fixed flag to ios::scientific, the program prints this:

Zoot    1.2e+00
Jimmy   3.5e+01
Al      6.5e+02
Stan    4.4e+03

Again, the program prints one digit after the decimal point. If either ios::fixed or ios::scientific is set, the precision value determines the number of digits after the decimal point. If neither flag is set, the precision value determines the total number of significant digits. The resetiosflags manipulator clears these flags.


The dec, oct, and hex manipulators set the default radix for input and output. For example, if you insert the hex manipulator into the output stream, the object correctly translates the internal data representation of integers into a hexadecimal output format. The numbers are displayed with digits a through f in lower case if the uppercase flag is clear (the default); otherwise, they're displayed in upper case. The default radix is dec (decimal).

Quoted strings (C++14)

When you insert a string into a stream, you can easily retrieve the same string back by calling the stringstream::str() member function. However, if you want to use the extraction operator to insert the stream into a new string at a later point, you may get an unexpected result because the >> operator by default will stop when it finds the first whitespace character.

std::stringstream ss;
std::string inserted = "This is a sentence.";
std::string extracted;

ss << inserted;
ss >> extracted;

std::cout << inserted;     //  This is a sentence.
std::cout << extracted;    //  This

This behavior can be overcome manually, but to make string round-tripping more convenient, C++14 adds the std::quoted stream manipulator in <iomanip>. Upon insertion, quoted() surrounds the string with a delimiter (double quote ' " ' by default) and upon extraction manipulates the stream to extract all characters until the final delimiter is found. Any embedded quotes are escaped with an escape character ('\\' by default).

The delimiters are present only in the stream object; they aren't present in the extracted string but they're present in the string returned by basic_stringstream::str.

The whitespace behavior of the insertion and extraction operations is independent of how a string is represented in code, so the quoted operator is useful regardless of whether the input string is a raw string literal or a regular string. The input string, whatever its format, can have embedded quotes, line breaks, tabs, and so on, and all these will be preserved by the quoted() manipulator.

For more information and full code examples, see quoted.

See also

Output Streams