Guidelines for applying [[nodiscard]] in libc++

Libc++ adds [[nodiscard]] to functions in a lot of places. The standards committee has decided to not have a recommended practice where to put them, so this document lists where [[nodiscard]] should be applied in libc++.

When should [[nodiscard]] be added to functions?

[[nodiscard]] should be applied to functions

  • where discarding the return value is most likely a correctness issue. For example a locking constructor in unique_lock.

  • where discarding the return value likely points to the user wanting to do something different. For example vector::empty(), which probably should have been vector::clear().

    This can help spotting bugs easily which otherwise may take a very long time to find.

  • which return a constant. For example numeric_limits::min().

  • which only observe a value. For example string::size().

    Code that discards values from these kinds of functions is dead code. It can either be removed, or the programmer meant to do something different.

  • where discarding the value is most likely a misuse of the function. For example find.

    This protects programmers from assuming too much about how the internals of a function work, making code more robust in the presence of future optimizations.

What should be done when adding [[nodiscard]] to a function?

Applications of [[nodiscard]] are code like any other code, so we aim to test them. This can be done with a .verify.cpp test. Many examples are available. Just look for tests with the suffix .nodiscard.verify.cpp.