16.4 — STL algorithms overview

In addition to container classes and iterators, STL also provides a number of generic algorithms for working with the elements of the container classes. These allow you to do things like search, sort, insert, reorder, remove, and copy elements of the container class.

Note that algorithms are implemented as global functions that operate using iterators. This means that each algorithm only needs to be implemented once, and it will generally automatically work for all containers that provides a set of iterators (including your custom container classes). While this is very powerful and can lead to the ability to write complex code very quickly, it’s also got a dark side: some combination of algorithms and container types may not work, may cause infinite loops, or may work but be extremely poor performing. So use these at your risk.

STL provides quite a few algorithms -- we will only touch on some of the more common and easy to use ones here. The rest (and the full details) will be saved for a chapter on STL algorithms.

To use any of the STL algorithms, simply include the algorithm header file.

min_element and max_element

The min_element and max_element algorithms find the min and max element in a container class:


0 5

find (and list::insert)

In this example, we’ll use the find() algorithm to find a value in the list class, and then use the list::insert() function to add a new value into the list at that point.

This prints the value

0 1 2 8 3 4 5

sort and reverse

In this example, we’ll sort a vector and then reverse it.

This produces the result:

-5 -3 0 2 4 6 7
7 6 4 2 0 -3 -5

Note that sort() doesn’t work on list container classes -- the list class provides it’s own sort() member function, which is much more efficient than the generic version would be.


Although this is just a taste of the algorithms that STL provides, it should suffice to show how easy these are to use in conjunction with iterators and the basic container classes. There are enough other algorithms to fill up a whole chapter!

17.1 -- std::string and std::wstring
16.3 -- STL iterators overview

7 comments to 16.4 — STL algorithms overview

  • Jason Li

    Dear Alex,

    I have read through all your tutorials twice already and I still come back frequently for references, just because this is so good for someone who does not have a CS background like me. Now I am really looking forward to your STL algorithm chapters that you mentioned earlier as well as any other materials. However it looks like this site is not updated since about 2 years ago, so I am kinda wondering if you are still going to add in more materials as you said.
    Thank you again and best wishes.

  • Parpwhick

    Just a minor typo, you wrote "provides it’s own sort() member function" instead of "its"

  • vamsi krishna

    Dear Alex,

    Also there is much left in STL.
    Please do provide tutorials on STL in C++ in more detail

  • vamsi krishna

    Dear Alex,

    When are you starting with Data Structures in C++?
    Please provide us tutorials for data structures in c++

  • hylepo

    Hi, man, when I was trying to compile the find code. g++ said "find.cpp: In function ‘int main()’:
    find.cpp:15:20: error: no matching function for call to ‘std::list::insert(std::list::const_iterator&, int)’
    find.cpp:15:20: note: candidates are:
    /usr/include/c++/4.6/bits/list.tcc:99:5: note: std::list::iterator std::list::insert(std::list::iterator, const value_type&) [with _Tp = int, _Alloc = std::allocator, std::list::iterator = std::_List_iterator, std::list::value_type = int]
    /usr/include/c++/4.6/bits/list.tcc:99:5: note: no known conversion for argument 1 from ‘std::list::const_iterator {aka std::_List_const_iterator}’ to ‘std::_List_iterator’
    /usr/include/c++/4.6/bits/stl_list.h:1095:7: note: void std::list::insert(std::list::iterator, std::list::size_type, const value_type&) [with _Tp = int, _Alloc = std::allocator, std::list::iterator = std::_List_iterator, std::list::size_type = unsigned int, std::list::value_type = int]
    /usr/include/c++/4.6/bits/stl_list.h:1095:7: note: candidate expects 3 arguments, 2 provided
    /usr/include/c++/4.6/bits/stl_list.h:1116:9: note: template void std::list::insert(std::list::iterator, _InputIterator, _InputIterator) [with _InputIterator = _InputIterator, _Tp = int, _Alloc = std::allocator, std::list::iterator = std::_List_iterator]

    and I need to


    int main()
    using namespace std;

    list li;
    for (int nCount=0; nCount < 6; nCount++)

    //list::const_iterator it; // declare an iterator
    _List_iterator it; // declare an iterator
    it = find(li.begin(), li.end(), 3); // find the value 3 in the list
    li.insert(it, 8); // use list::insert to insert the value 8 before it

    for (it = li.begin(); it != li.end(); it++) // for loop with iterators
    cout << *it << " ";

    cout << endl;
    "find.cpp" 22L, 572C 1,1 All


    to satisfy the compiler,

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