Chapter 30 Standard C++ data structures and algorithms

30.1 Standard C++ data structure

Standard C++ provides various data structures (containers), such as std::vector std::list std::map std::set. They differ in their efficiency in accessing, adding, and deleting elements. Thus, you are able to implement the process more efficiently by choosing appropriate data structures.

For example, consider the situation that you want to add an element to a vector, both Rcpp’s Rcpp::Vector and standard C++’s std::vector provides a member function push_back() which adds an element to the end of a vector. However, there is a big difference in efficiency between these. This is because each time Rcpp::Vector executes a member function push_back() the whole value of the vector is copied to another place in memory, whereas std::vector allows you to add an element to the end without copying the whole value in many cases.

Standard C++ classes and functions are defined in the std:: namespace, so they are specified with std:: for example, std::vector. You can also omit writing std:: by adding using namespace std; in your code.

Below is an example of using std::vector to get the row and column numbers of non-zero matrix elements.

// [[Rcpp::export]]
DataFrame matix_rows_cols(NumericMatrix m){
    // Returns the column and row numbers of non-zero elements from the matrix.
    // For simplicity, we assume that the matrix does not contain NA.

    // Tolal number of rows and cols
    int I = m.rows();
    int J = m.cols();

    // variables to store row and column numbers
    // store the result in a std::vector
    std::vector<int> rows, cols;

    // The number of elements can be up to the number of elements in matrix m,
    // so we allocate memory for that in advance.

    // Accesses all elements of matrix M
    // and stores the row and column numbers of elements whose values are not zero.
    for(int i=0; i<I; ++i){
        for(int j=0; j<J; ++j){

    // Returns the result as a data.frame.
    return DataFrame::create(Named("rows", rows),
                             Named("cols", cols));

Below is an overview of some of the major standard C++ data structures.

Standard C++ Data Structure Outline
std::vector Variable length array: each element is arranged continuously in memory.
std::list Variable length array: each element is distributed in memory.
std::map, std::unordered_map Associative array: Holds data in key-value format.
std::set, std::unordered_set Set: Keeps a set of unduplicated values.

std::vector has faster access to elements than std::list. On the other hand, std::list is faster at adding elements.

std::map holds elements in the order sorted by their keys. On the other hand, std::unordered_map does not guarantee the order of its elements, but is faster to insert and access elements.

Similarly, std::set holds elements in the order sorted by element values. On the other hand, the order is not guaranteed with std::unordered_set, but it is faster to insert and access elements.

30.2 Conversion between standard C++ data structures and Rcpp data structures

The as<T>() and wrap() functions are used to convert the data structures between Rcpp and standard C++.

  • as<CPP>(RCPP) : Converts the Rcpp data structure (RCPP) to the standard C++ data structure (CPP)
  • wrap(CPP) : Converts the standard C++ data structure (CPP) to the Rcpp data structure (RCPP)

The following table shows the correspondence between Rcpp and C++ the data structures that can be converted each other.

(+ indicates compatible, - indicates not compatible)

Rcpp C++ as wrap
Vector vector, list, deque + +
List, DataFrame vector<vector>, list<vector> etc. + +
Named Vector map, unordered_map - +
Vector set, unordered_set - +

The following example shows how to convert Rcpp::Vector to a standard C++ sequence container (a container which can be treated as a series of values such as std::vector, std::list, std::deque, etc.).

NumericVector   rcpp_vector = {1,2,3,4,5};

// Conversion from Rcpp::Vector to std::vector  
std::vector<double>  cpp_vector = as< std::vector<double> >(rcpp_vector);

// Conversion from std::vector to Rcpp::Vector  
NumericVector v1 = wrap(cpp_vector);

The following code example shows how to convert a 2-dimensional container, which is nested C++ sequence containers, into a DataFrame or List.

using namespace std;

// A two-dimensional vector with all element vectors of equal length
// can be converted to a DataFrame

vector<vector<double>> cpp_vector_2d_01 = {{1,2},{3,4}};
DataFrame df = wrap(cpp_vector_2d_01);

// A two-dimensional vector with different length of element vectors
// can be converted to a list

vector<vector<double>> cpp_vector_2d_02 = {{1,2},{3,4,5}};
List li = wrap(cpp_vector_2d_02);

The following code example shows that standard C++ std::map<key, value> and std::unordered_map<key, value> are converted to named Rcpp::Vector with key as the name of the element and value as the type of the element.

// [[Rcpp::export]]
List std_map(){
  std::map<std::string, double> map_str_dbl;
  map_str_dbl["E"] = 5;    
  map_str_dbl["A"] = 1;
  map_str_dbl["C"] = 3;    
  map_str_dbl["D"] = 4;
  map_str_dbl["B"] = 2;
  std::unordered_map<std::string, double> umap_str_dbl;

  umap_str_dbl["E"] = 5;    
  umap_str_dbl["A"] = 1;
  umap_str_dbl["C"] = 3;    
  umap_str_dbl["D"] = 4;
  umap_str_dbl["B"] = 2;
  List li = List::create(Named("std::map", map_str_dbl),
                         Named("std::unordered_map", umap_str_dbl)

execution result

You can see that std::map is sorted by key value, whereas std::unordered_map is not guaranteed to be ordered.

> std_map()
A B C D E 
1 2 3 4 5 

D B C A E 
4 2 3 1 5 

30.3 Use standard C++ data structures as arguments and return values of Rcpp functions

Standard C++ data structures that can be converted by the as() and wrap() functions can also be used as arguments or return values of Rcpp functions. The as() and wrap() is callded implicitly when you use C++ data structures as Rcpp function’s arguments or return values. Thus, you need not to write as() and wrap() explicitly in your Rcpp functions.

// [[Rcpp::plugins("cpp11")]]
// [[Rcpp::export]]
vector<double> times_two_std_vector(vector<double> v){ // as() is called implicitly
    for(double &x : v){
        x *= 2;
    return v; // wrap() is called implicitly

30.4 Standard C++ Algorithms

The standard C++ <algorithm> and <numeric> header files provide various generic algorithms. As mentioned in the chapter on iterators, many of C++ algorithm use iterators to specify the location and extent to which the algorithm is applied.

The following example shows how to use the std::count() function of the <algorithm> to count the number of elements equal to the specified value.

#include <algorithm>
// [[Rcpp::export]]
int rcpp_count(){
    // create a string vector
    CharacterVector v =
        CharacterVector::create("A", "B", "A", "C", NA_STRING);

    // count the number of elements whose value is "A" from the string vector v
    return std::count(v.begin(), v.end(), "A"); // 2

For many other algorithms included in standard C++, please refer to other C++ resources.