Debug Iterator Support

The Visual C++ run-time library detects incorrect iterator use, and asserts and displays a dialog box at run time. To enable debug iterator support, you must use debug versions of the C++ Standard Library and C Runtime Library to compile your program. For more information, see CRT Library Features. For information about how to use checked iterators, see Checked Iterators.

The C++ standard describes how member functions might cause iterators to a container to become invalid. Two examples are:

  • Erasing an element from a container causes iterators to the element to become invalid.

  • Increasing the size of a vector by using push or insert causes iterators into the vector to become invalid.

Invalid iterators

If you compile this sample program in debug mode, at run time it asserts and terminates.

// iterator_debugging_0.cpp
// compile by using /EHsc /MDd
#include <vector>
#include <iostream>

int main() {
   std::vector<int> v {10, 15, 20};
   std::vector<int>::iterator i = v.begin();
   ++i;

   std::vector<int>::iterator j = v.end();
   --j;

   std::cout << *j << '\n';

   v.insert(i,25);

   std::cout << *j << '\n'; // Using an old iterator after an insert
}

Using _ITERATOR_DEBUG_LEVEL

You can use the preprocessor macro _ITERATOR_DEBUG_LEVEL to turn off the iterator debugging feature in a debug build. This program does not assert, but still triggers undefined behavior.

// iterator_debugging_1.cpp
// compile by using: /EHsc /MDd
#define _ITERATOR_DEBUG_LEVEL 0
#include <vector>
#include <iostream>

int main() {
    std::vector<int> v {10, 15, 20};

   std::vector<int>::iterator i = v.begin();
   ++i;

   std::vector<int>::iterator j = v.end();
   --j;

   std::cout << *j << '\n';

   v.insert(i,25);

   std::cout << *j << '\n'; // Using an old iterator after an insert
}
20
-572662307

Unitialized iterators

An assert also occurs if you attempt to use an iterator before it is initialized, as shown here:

// iterator_debugging_2.cpp
// compile by using: /EHsc /MDd
#include <string>
using namespace std;

int main() {
   string::iterator i1, i2;
   if (i1 == i2)
      ;
}

Incompatible iterators

The following code example causes an assertion because the two iterators to the for_each algorithm are incompatible. Algorithms check to determine whether the iterators that are supplied to them reference the same container.

// iterator_debugging_3.cpp
// compile by using /EHsc /MDd
#include <algorithm>
#include <vector>
using namespace std;

int main()
{
    vector<int> v1 {10, 20};
    vector<int> v2 {10, 20};

    // The next line asserts because v1 and v2 are
    // incompatible.
    for_each(v1.begin(), v2.end(), [] (int& elem) { elem *= 2; } );
}

Notice that this example uses the lambda expression [] (int& elem) { elem *= 2; } instead of a functor. Although this choice has no bearing on the assert failure—a similar functor would cause the same failure—lambdas are a very useful way to accomplish compact function object tasks. For more information about lambda expressions, see Lambda Expressions.

Iterators going out of scope

Debug iterator checks also cause an iterator variable that's declared in a for loop to be out of scope when the for loop scope ends.

// iterator_debugging_4.cpp
// compile by using: /EHsc /MDd
#include <vector>
#include <iostream>
int main() {
   std::vector<int> v {10, 15, 20};

   for (std::vector<int>::iterator i = v.begin(); i != v.end(); ++i)
      ;   // do nothing
   --i;   // C2065
}

Destructors for debug iterators

Debug iterators have non-trivial destructors. If a destructor does not run but the object's memory is freed, access violations and data corruption might occur. Consider this example:

// iterator_debugging_5.cpp
// compile by using: /EHsc /MDd
#include <vector>
struct base {
   // TO FIX: uncomment the next line
   // virtual ~base() {}
};

struct derived : base {
   std::vector<int>::iterator m_iter;
   derived( std::vector<int>::iterator iter ) : m_iter( iter ) {}
   ~derived() {}
};

int main() {
  auto vect = std::vector<int>(10);
  auto sink = new auto(std::begin(vect));
  ::operator delete(sink); // frees the memory without calling ~iterator()
} // access violation

See also

C++ Standard Library Overview