The constructor of the std::thread is able to accept different number of arguments. It accepts a function and additionally all the arguments for this function. If the function f has n arguments, then the constructor looks like

std::thread thread(f, arg1, arg2, ..., argn);

If we would like to write concurrent code, we need to know how to handle functions (constructors) with variadic number of arguments. We need to know how to write such functions and we also need to know how to pass the arguments around. Let’s see how this is done.

Functions with variadic number of arguments

We would like to write a function which prints all of its arguments. The function should be able to handle any number of arguments. With the C++11 standard, this is not so hard to do.

template <typename T>
void print(T value)
    std::cout << value << " ";

template <typename T, typename... Args>
void print(T first, Args... args)
    std::cout << first << " ";

First function is simple. It receives a value of arbitrary type and then prints the value.

Second function is more interesting. It receives two arguments first and args. The first argument of type T represents the first argument of the function. The args argument of the type Args... represents all of the other arguments. The function prints the first argument and calls the function print with all the other arguments.

The main function contains some examples.

int main()
    std::cout << std::endl;
    print(1, 2, 3, 4, 5);
    std::cout << std::endl;
    print("one", 2, "three", 4, "five");
    std::cout << std::endl;

    return 0;

Running the program gives us the following output.

$ ./variadicTemplates 
1 2 3 4 5 
one 2 three 4 five 

Let’s examine the main() function.

The print(1) calls the print(T value). It prints 1 and then returns.

The print(1, 2, 3, 4, 5) calls the print(T first, Args... arg) function. The first then equals to 1 and the args... equals to 2, 3, 4, 5. The function prints 1 and calls print(2, 3, 4, 5). The procedure continues until print(5) is called. After this call the print(1, 2, 3, 4, 5) returns and the main function proceeds with the next line.

You can visualize the print(1, 2, 3, 4, 5) like this:

print(1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

The print("one", 2, "three", 4, "five") demonstrates that we can also pass arguments of different types.

Programming the functions with variadic number of arguments feels like programming the recursive functions. Basically this is what we did: If the number of arguments is equal to one, we print the argument. If the number of arguments is greater than 1, we print the first argument and invoke print with the other arguments.

Technically, it is not a recursion, because every time different compiler generated function is called. But conceptually, I would call it a recursion.

The code does not look very clean. We recognize some repeating patterns. The main function calls print and then prints a new line. Our objective is to write such function which will print arbitrary number of arguments followed by a new line.

Forwarding variadic number of arguments

Let’s write a function println which will forward the arguments to print and then it will additionally print a new line. The println should also accept variadic number of arguments.

template <typename... Args>
void println(Args&&... args)
    std::cout << std::endl;

The Args&&... and std::forward<Args>... are necessary for perfect forwarding of the arguments. Roughly speaking, the code ensures the following behavior: If the arguments support the move semantics they will be moved. If the arguments does not support the move semantics they will be passed by reference. For additional details about forwarding and move semantics I recommend the series of articles by Thomas Becker.

The main function now simplifies to

int main()
    println(1, 2, 3, 4, 5);
    println("one", 2, "three", 4, "five");

    return 0;

and it produces the same output as before.


We learned how to handle a variadic number of arguments. This is specially important in concurrent programming, because we might want to write a code which could handle arbitrary number of arguments.


  • Source code
  • Eli Bendersky wrote a nice article about handling arbitrary number of arguments. He also covers variadic data structures.
  • Thomas Becker’s series of articles in depth covers moving semantics and forwarding.