RFC 68: C++11 Compilation Mode

Author: Kurt Schwehr
Contact: schwehr@… / schwehr@…
Started: 2017-Apr-11
Passed: 2017-Sep-11
Status: Adopted, implemented in GDAL 2.3

This RFC is based on GEOS RFC 5 by Mateusz Łoskot.


The document proposes to switch to C++11 compilation mode as default throughout the whole C++ source code of GDAL.

The goal of the document is to request and achieve agreement on using C++11 as the minimum required version of the C++ programming language standard.


C++11 is the first major update of the C++ standard since 1998. (C++03 was a bug fix release.)

Having fewer versions of C++ to support will reduce the load on developers and testing systems.

C++11 features aim to promote writing clean, compact, type-safe and fast code. It also delivers better feature-wise compatibility with the C language (C99).

The Wikipedia article at does a great job describing all changes in C++11 extensively.

The std::auto_ptr smart pointer, together with a bunch of other features, were deprecated and will be removed from C++17. Features like std::unique_ptr provide much stronger replacements.

Enabling C++11 compilation mode will improve the programming environment making it much friendlier than C++98.

A social factor: since (many) C++ programmers no longer enjoy C++98, allowing C++11 mode may increase potential for new contributions.

Compilers Landscape

Summary of compilers supported by GDAL with their minimal versions required to compile source code based on C++11 features.


GCC 4.8.1+ C++11 status Debian 8 (stable), Ubuntu 15.04+, Ubuntu 14.04 ppa:ubuntu-toolchain-r/test, Fedora 19+, RHEL7
Clang3.3+ C++11 status Debian 8 (stable), Ubuntu 14.04+, Fedora 19+, CentOS 6(?)
MSVC 14.0+ (2015)C++11 statusn/a


The C++14 compilers are listed for comparison only:

GCC 4.9+
MSVC 14.0+ (2015)


This proposal only requests agreement for the C++11 compilation mode switch in the current trunk branch only.

This proposal does not suggest any detailed roadmap of large refactoring of the GDAL C++ codebase.

The GDAL codebase is > 1.3M LOC and given the available man-power to LOCs ratio, such one-step refactoring would not be feasible.

Instead, the task will be tackled with the baby step approach gradually transforming the codebase according to priorities set along the way. Any disruptive refactoring, changes in interfaces of C++ classes, breaking changes in C++ API must be announced and discussed on the mailing list or the bug tracker.

IMPORTANT: C++11 refactoring must not change the C API or break C API compatibility, unless agreed upon based on prior RFC proposed.

However, if the proposal is accepted, any new C++ code written for GDAL must be C++11-compliant.

Prior acceptance of this proposal is necessary in order to start any source code refactoring using C++11 features.

Once accepted, first step will be to update the build configurations to require C++11-compliant compiler.


This section outlines issues potentially caused by upgrade to C++11 language.

  • C++11 destructors, by default, have now the new exception specification of nothrow(true). Destructors of GDAL classes should be reviewed and any that are allowed/expected to throw exceptions must be marked with nothrow(false). Otherwise, any user of the existing GDAL codebase would find the program terminating whenever GDAL destructor throws an exception. Such review would be beneficial anyway.


First release of GDAL with C++11 compiler requirement could be 2.3.0.


This section clarifies status of C++14 support in GDAL.

  • Once C++11 is adopted as default compilation mode, GDAL developers and maintainers must ensure it also successfully compiles in C++14 and C++17 modes.
  • Are contributors allowed to add ifdef's for C++14 and C++17? No. Not at this time.
  • Is there a plan to upgrade to C++14 or C++17 to allow use of the C++ latest features? No, there is no plan. It is, however, recognized, such motion may be put to the vote around 2020.


Self-assigned development constraints

The changes should have moderate impact on the existing GDAL/OGR code base, and particularly on most of its code, that lies in drivers. Existing users of the GDAL/OGR API should also be moderately impacted by the changes, if they do not need to use the new offered capabilities.

GDAL has been working well with C++11 builds for a number of years now, so there should be no externally visible changes for the initial removal of C++03 support.

Core changes: summary

  1. Change to remove with_cpp11 flag, always use C++11, and fail if AX_CXX_COMPILE_STDCXX_11 does not find C++11
  2. Remove @CXX11_SUPPORT@ in and anywhere else it occurs
  3. Remove continuous build targets that do not support C++11 from Travis-CI and AppVeyor?
  4. Remove #if HAVE_CXX11 and leave only the C++11 code
    • find . -name \*.h -o -name \*.cpp | xargs egrep 'HAVE_CXX11'
  5. CPL_STATIC_ASSERT -> static_assert
  6. NULL -> nullptr (Only for C++ code)
  7. CPL_OVERRIDE -> override and remove redundant virtual
  8. - MAX or -max() -> std::numeric_limits<T>::lowest()

Changes in SWIG bindings

The switch does not impact the C API used by the SWIG bindings. However, there may be some code that can be removed.

Potential changes that are *NOT* included in this RFC

There are many C++11 features not address in this RFC. See

  • attributes
  • auto
  • consexpr
  • cstdint
  • delete and default for member functions
  • enum classes
  • initializer lists and std::initializer_list
  • lambda
  • range based for loops
  • std::regex
  • rvalue references
  • smart pointers std::unique_ptr and std::shared_ptr
  • New string literals: u8"An UTF-8 string", u"An UTF-16 str", U"An UTF-32 str", R"xml(raw content)xml"
  • std::thread, thread_local and related
  • tuples
  • And more...

Backward compatibility

Any code using the C++ API must use C++11 or newer.

The C API should not be impacted.

GDAL 2.2.x and older will continue to have C++03 support.


The existing autotest suite should continue to pass.

Version numbering

Although the above describes changes should have very few impact on existing applications of the C API, some behavior changes, C++ level changes and the conceptual changes are thought to deserve a 2.3 version number.


Implementation will be done by Kurt Schwehr. Others are welcome to pitch in.

Related RFCs

Related RFCs:

Voting history

  • EvenR +1
  • JukkaR +1
  • DanielM +0
  • HowardB +1
  • KurtS +1
Last modified 5 months ago Last modified on Dec 8, 2017 9:20:21 AM