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String concatenation

Warning: before you read this, remember the rule #1 we mentioned at the beginning.

Optimize your code only if you can observe a visible overhead with you profiling tools. Said that...

As we said, strings are a little more than vectors of characters, therefore they may need heap allocations to store all their elements.

Concatenating strings in C++ is very easy, but there is something we should be aware of.

"Default" concatenation

Look at this familiar line of code.

std:string big_string = first + " " + second + " " + third;

// Where...
// std::string first("This is my first string.");
// std::string second("This is the second string I want to append.");
// std::string third("This is the third and last string to append."); 

Noticing anything suspicious? Think about heap allocations...

Let me rewrite it like this:

std:string big_string = (((first + " ") + second) + " ") + third;

Hopefully you got it. To concatenate strings of this length, you will need multiple heap allocations and copies from the old memory block to the new one.

If only std::string had a method similar to std::vector::reserve() :(

Hey, wait... what is this?

"Manual" concatenation

Let's use reserve to reduce the amount of heap allocations to exactly one.

We can calculate the total amount of characters needed by big_string in advance and reserve it like this:

    std::string big_one;
    big_one.reserve(first_str.size() + 
                    second_str.size() + 
                    third_str.size() + 
                    strlen(" ")*2 );

    big_one += first;
    big_one += " ";
    big_one += second;
    big_one += " ";
    big_one += third;

I know what you are thinking and you are 100% right.

That is a horrible piece of code... that is 2.5 times faster than the default string concatenation!

Variadic concatenation

Can we create a string concatenation function that is fast, reusable and readable?

We do, but we need to use some heavy weapons of Modern C++: variadic templates.

There is a very nice article about variadic templates here, that you should probably read if you are not familiar with them.

//--- functions to calculate the total size ---
size_t StrSize(const char* str) {
  return strlen(str);

size_t StrSize(const std::string& str) {
  return str.size();

template <class Head, class... Tail>
size_t StrSize(const Head& head, Tail const&... tail) {
  return StrSize(head) + StrSize(tail...);

//--- functions to append strings together ---
template <class Head>
void StrAppend(std::string& out, const Head& head) {
  out = head;

template <class Head, class... Args>
void StrAppend(std::string& out, const Head& head, Args const&... args) {
  out += head;
  StrAppend(out, args...);

//--- Finally, the function to concatenate strings ---
template <class... Args> 
std::string StrCat(Args const&... args) {
  size_t tot_size = StrSize(args...);
  std::string out;

  StrAppend(out, args...);
  return out;

That was a lot of complex code, even for a trained eye. But the good news are that it is very easy to use:

std:string big_string = StrCat(first, " ", second, " ", third );

So, how fast is that?

The reason why the version with variadic templates is slightly slower than the "ugly" manual concatenation is...

I have no idea!

What I do know is that it is twice as fast as the default one and it is not an unreadable mess.

Before you copy and paste my code...

My implementation of StrCat is very limited and I just wanted to make a point: beware of string concatenations in C++.

Nevertheless, don't think it twice and use {fmt} instead.

Not only it is an easy to integrate, well documented and very fast library to format strings.

It is also an implementation of C++20 std::format.

This means that you can write code that is readable, performant and future proof!