The Boost.TypeErasure library provides runtime polymorphism in C++ that is
more flexible than that provided by the core language.
C++ has two distinct kinds of polymorphism, virtual functions and templates,
each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Virtual functions are not resolved until runtime, while templates are always
resolved at compile time. If your types can vary at runtime (for example,
if they depend on user input), then static polymorphism with templates
doesn't help much.
Virtual functions can be used with separate compilation. The body of a
template has to be available in every translation unit in which it is used,
slowing down compiles and increasing rebuilds.
Virtual functions automatically make the requirements on the arguments
explicit. Templates are only checked when they're instantiated, requiring
extra work in testing, assertions, and documentation.
The compiler creates a new copy of each function template every time it
is instantiated. This allows better optimization, because the compiler
knows everything statically, but it also causes a significant increase
of binary sizes.
Templates support Value semantics. Objects that "behave like an int"
and are not shared are easier to reason about. To use virtual functions,
on the other hand, you have to use (smart) pointers or references.
Template libraries can allow third-party types to be adapted non-intrusively
for seamless interoperability. With virtual functions, you have to create
a wrapper that inherits from the base class.
Templates can handle constraints involving multiple types. For example,
std::for_each takes an iterator range and a function that can be called
on the elements of the range. Virtual functions aren't really able to express
The Boost.TypeErasure library combines the superior abstraction capabilities
of templates, with the runtime flexibility of virtual functions.
Boost includes several special cases of this kind of polymorphism:
boost::any for CopyConstructible types.
boost::function for objects that can be called
Boost.TypeErasure generalizes this to support arbitrary requirements and provides
a predefined set of common concepts