C++ iterator that performs the cartesian product of many containers.
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Latest commit a322852 Jan 12, 2016


Product Iterator

C++ iterator that performs the cartesian product of many containers. Requires C++11 and boost.

All places I could find code to perform the cartesian product had at least one of the following issues:

  1. Assumes that all containers are of a certain type (most usually vector), although they could be modified to handle other types easily, but only for fixed types;
  2. Provides code that collects a vector of tuples with each combination of values from the containers, which requires O(N*M^N) memory, where M is the size of each container and N is the number of containers;
  3. The user could only apply a function to each combination or would have to wrap its code with other code to perform the combinations.

The iterator provided requires only O(N) memory and builds the combinations of references iteratively, implementing the "forward iterator" concept and allowing it to be used with other code that requires iterators. The iterator's value is a tuple, so its values can be accessed as std::get<N>(*it). However, due to some details to support range-based for, getting the whole tuple is more expensive and an alternative (and more preferable) method it.get<N>() is provided.

The iterator also provides a method get_end(), which returns the end iterator associated with the containers used during construction.

A helper function make_product_iterator is provided to create the iterator.

Example of use:

vector<int> c1({1,2});
vector<char> c2({'a','b'});
auto it = make_product_iterator(c1, c2);
auto end = it.get_end();
for (; it != end; ++it) {
  // Provides a std::tuple<int,char> with the values from the constructor
  // Access to a single element of the tuple is optimized and the following
  // comparison always holds
  it.get<0>() == std::get<0>(*it);

Iterator Proxy

The product_iterator is only able to accept containers to simplify the building process, as it would be necessary to detect if a given argument is a container or an iterator. However, since only containers are allowed, iterator-only sequences, such as those defined by boost::couting_iterator couldn't be used. Hence a fake container for these iterators needed to be defined.

The iterator_proxy is defined only by its begin and end iterators and isn't able to distinguish between iterator and const_iterator, so it's up to the user to know wether the iterator from begin() or end() is actually a const_iterator.


vector<int> c1({1,2});
auto c2 = make_iterator_proxy(c1.begin(), c2.end());
for (auto v : c2)
  // do stuff