Aggregate initialization

Initializes an aggregate from an initializer list. It is a form of list-initialization. (since C++11).


T object = { arg1, arg2, ... }; (1)
T object { arg1, arg2, ... }; (2) (since C++11)
T object = { .des1 = arg1 , .des2 { arg2 } ... }; (3) (since C++20)
T object { .des1 = arg1 , .des2 { arg2 } ... }; (4) (since C++20)
1,2) Initializing an aggregate with an ordinary initializer list.
3,4) Initializing an aggregate with designated initializers (aggregate class only).



An aggregate is one of the following types:

  • array type
  • class type (typically, struct or union), that has
  • no user-declared constructors
(until C++11)
(since C++11)
(until C++20)
  • no user-declared or inherited constructors
(since C++20)
  • no private or protected direct (since C++17) non-static data members
(until C++17)
(since C++17)
  • no virtual member functions
(since C++11)
(until C++14)

The elements of an aggregate are:

  • for an array, the array elements in increasing subscript order, or
  • for a class, the non-static data members that are not anonymous bit-fields, in declaration order.
(until C++17)
  • for a class, the direct base classes in declaration order, followed by the direct non-static data members that are neither anonymous bit-fields nor members of an anonymous union, in declaration order.
(since C++17)


The effects of aggregate initialization are:

1) Reject the following ill-formed cases:
  • the number of initializer clauses in the initializer list exceeds the number of elements of the aggregate, or
  • initialize an array of unknown bound with an empty initializer list ({}).
char cv[4] = {'a', 's', 'd', 'f', 0}; // error
int x[] = {}                          // error
2) Determine the explicitly initialized elements of the aggregate as follows:
  • If the initializer list is a designated initializer list (the aggregate can only be of class type), the identifier in each designator shall name a direct non-static data member of the class, and the explicitly initialized elements of the aggregate are the elements that are, or contain, those members.
(since C++20)
  • Otherwise, if the initializer list is non-empty, the explicitly initialized elements of the aggregate are the first n elements of the aggregate, where n is the number of elements in the initializer list.
  • Otherwise, the initializer list must be empty ({}), and there are no explicitly initialized elements.
The program is ill-formed if the aggregate is a union and there are two or more explicitly initialized elements:
union u { int a; const char* b; };
u a = {1};                   // OK: explicitly initializes member `a`
u b = {0, "asdf"};           // error: explicitly initializes two members
u c = {"asdf"};              // error: int cannot be initialized by "asdf"
// C++20 designated initializer lists
u d = {.b = "asdf"};         // OK: can explicitly initialize a non-initial member
u e = {.a = 1, .b = "asdf"}; // error: explicitly initializes two members
3) Initialize each element of the aggregate in the element order. That is, all value computations and side effects associated with a given element are sequenced before those of any element that follows it in order (since C++11).

Initializing Elements

For each explicitly initialized element:

  • If the element is an anonymous union member and the initializer list is a designated initializer list, the element is initialized by the designated initializer list {D}, where D is the designated initializer clause naming a member of the anonymous union member. There shall be only one such designated initializer clause.
struct C
        int a;
        const char* p;
    int x;
} c = {.a = 1, .x = 3}; // initializes c.a with 1 and c.x with 3
(since C++20)
  • Otherwise, the element is copy-initialized from the corresponding initializer clause of the initializer list:
(until C++20)
  • Otherwise, the element is initialized from the corresponding initializer clause of the initializer list. The initialization is direct-initialization if the initializer list is a designated initializer list and the initializer begins with =, otherwise the initialization is copy-initialization:
(since C++20)
  • If the initializer clause is an expression, implicit conversions are allowed as per copy-initialization, except that narrowing conversions are prohibited (since C++11).
  • If the initializer clause is a nested braced-init-list (which is not an expression), list-initialize the corresponding element from that clause, which will (since C++11) recursively apply the rule if the corresponding element is a subaggregate.
struct A
    int x;
    struct B
        int i;
        int j;
    } b;
} a = {1, {2, 3}}; // initializes a.x with 1, a.b.i with 2, a.b.j with 3
struct base1 { int b1, b2 = 42; };
struct base2
        b3 = 42;
    int b3;
struct derived : base1, base2
    int d;
derived d1{{1, 2}, {}, 4}; // initializes d1.b1 with 1, d1.b2 with 2,
                           //             d1.b3 with 42, d1.d with 4
derived d2{{}, {}, 4};     // initializes d2.b1 with 0, d2.b2 with 42,
                           //             d2.b3 with 42, d2.d with 4

For a non-union aggregate, each element that is not an explicitly initialized element is initialized as follows:

(since C++11)
  • Otherwise, if the element is not a reference, the element is copy-initialized from an empty initializer list.
  • Otherwise, the program is ill-formed.
struct S
    int a;
    const char* b;
    int c;
    int d = b[a];
// initializes ss.a with 1,
//             ss.b with "asdf",
//             ss.c with the value of an expression of the form int{} (that is, 0),
//         and ss.d with the value of ss.b[ss.a] (that is, 's')
S ss = {1, "asdf"};

If the aggregate is a union and the initializer list is empty, then.

  • If any variant member has a default member initializer, that member is initialized from its default member initializer.
(since C++11)
  • Otherwise, the first member of the union (if any) is copy-initialized from an empty initializer list.

Brace elision

The braces around the nested initializer lists may be elided (omitted), in which case as many initializer clauses as necessary are used to initialize every member or element of the corresponding subaggregate, and the subsequent initializer clauses are used to initialize the following members of the object. However, if the object has a sub-aggregate without any members (an empty struct, or a struct holding only static members), brace elision is not allowed, and an empty nested list {} must be used.

Designated initializers

The syntax forms (3,4) are known as designated initializers: each designator must name a direct non-static data member of T, and all designator s used in the expression must appear in the same order as the data members of T.

struct A { int x; int y; int z; };
A a{.y = 2, .x = 1}; // error; designator order does not match declaration order
A b{.x = 1, .z = 2}; // ok, b.y initialized to 0

Each direct non-static data member named by the designated initializer is initialized from the corresponding brace-or-equals initializer that follows the designator. Narrowing conversions are prohibited.

Designated initializer can be used to initialize a union into the state other than the first. Only one initializer may be provided for a union.

union u { int a; const char* b; };
u f = {.b = "asdf"};         // OK, active member of the union is b
u g = {.a = 1, .b = "asdf"}; // Error, only one initializer may be provided

For a non-union aggregate, elements for which a designated initializer is not provided are initialized the same as described above for when the number of initializer clauses is less than the number of members (default member initializers where provided, empty list-initialization otherwise):

struct A
    string str;
    int n = 42;
    int m = -1;
A{.m = 21} // Initializes str with {}, which calls the default constructor
           // then initializes n with = 42
           // then initializes m with = 21

If the aggregate that is initialized with a designated initializer clause has an anonymous union member, the corresponding designated initializer must name one of the members of that anonymous union.

Note: out-of-order designated initialization, nested designated initialization, mixing of designated initializers and regular initializers, and designated initialization of arrays are all supported in the C programming language, but are not allowed in C++.

struct A { int x, y; };
struct B { struct A a; };
struct A a = {.y = 1, .x = 2}; // valid C, invalid C++ (out of order)
int arr[3] = {[1] = 5};        // valid C, invalid C++ (array)
struct B b = {.a.x = 0};       // valid C, invalid C++ (nested)
struct A a = {.x = 1, 2};      // valid C, invalid C++ (mixed)
(since C++20)

Character arrays

Arrays of ordinary character types (char, signed char, unsigned char), char8_t (since C++20), char16_t, char32_t (since C++11), or wchar_t can be initialized from ordinary string literals, UTF-8 string literals (since C++20), UTF-16 string literals, UTF-32 string literals (since C++11), or wide string literals, respectively, optionally enclosed in braces. Additionally, an array of char or unsigned char may be initialized by a UTF-8 string literal, optionally enclosed in braces. (since C++20) Successive characters of the string literal (which includes the implicit terminating null character) initialize the elements of the array, with an integral conversion if necessary for the source and destination value (since C++20). If the size of the array is specified and it is larger than the number of characters in the string literal, the remaining characters are zero-initialized.

char a[] = "abc";
// equivalent to char a[4] = {'a', 'b', 'c', '\0'};
//  unsigned char b[3] = "abc"; // Error: initializer string too long
unsigned char b[5]{"abc"};
// equivalent to unsigned char b[5] = {'a', 'b', 'c', '\0', '\0'};
wchar_t c[] = {L"кошка"}; // optional braces
// equivalent to wchar_t c[6] = {L'к', L'о', L'ш', L'к', L'а', L'\0'};


An aggregate class or array may include non-aggregate public bases (since C++17), members, or elements, which are initialized as described above (e.g. copy-initialization from the corresponding initializer clause).

Until C++11, narrowing conversions were permitted in aggregate initialization, but they are no longer allowed.

Until C++11, aggregate initialization could only be used in variable definition, and could not be used in a constructor initializer list, a new-expression, or temporary object creation due to syntax restrictions.

In C, character array of size one less than the size of the string literal may be initialized from a string literal; the resulting array is not null-terminated. This is not allowed in C++.

Feature-test macro Value Std Comment
__cpp_aggregate_bases 201603L (C++17) Aggregate classes with base classes
__cpp_aggregate_nsdmi 201304L (C++14) Aggregate classes with default member initializers
__cpp_aggregate_paren_init 201902L (C++20) Aggregate initialization in the form of direct initialization
__cpp_char8_t 202207L (C++20)
char8_t compatibility and portability fix (allow initialization of (unsigned) char arrays from UTF-8 string literals)
__cpp_designated_initializers 201707L (C++20) Designated initializer


#include <array>
#include <cstdio>
#include <string>
struct S
    int x;
    struct Foo
        int i;
        int j;
        int a[3];
    } b;
int main()
    S s1 = {1, {2, 3, {4, 5, 6}}};
    S s2 = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6};  // same, but with brace elision
    S s3{1, {2, 3, {4, 5, 6}}}; // same, using direct-list-initialization syntax
    S s4{1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6}; // error until CWG 1270:
                            // brace elision only allowed with equals sign
    int ar[] = {1, 2, 3}; // ar is int[3]
//  char cr[3] = {'a', 'b', 'c', 'd'}; // too many initializer clauses
    char cr[3] = {'a'}; // array initialized as {'a', '\0', '\0'}
    int ar2d1[2][2] = {{1, 2}, {3, 4}}; // fully-braced 2D array: {1, 2}
                                        //                        {3, 4}
    int ar2d2[2][2] = {1, 2, 3, 4}; // brace elision: {1, 2}
                                    //                {3, 4}
    int ar2d3[2][2] = {{1}, {2}};   // only first column: {1, 0}
                                    //                    {2, 0}
    std::array<int, 3> std_ar2{{1, 2, 3}};  // std::array is an aggregate
    std::array<int, 3> std_ar1 = {1, 2, 3}; // brace-elision okay
//  int ai[] = {1, 2.0}; // narrowing conversion from double to int:
                         // error in C++11, okay in C++03
    std::string ars[] = {std::string("one"), // copy-initialization
                         "two",              // conversion, then copy-initialization
                         {'t', 'h', 'r', 'e', 'e'}}; // list-initialization
    union U
        int a;
        const char* b;
    U u1 = {1};         // OK, first member of the union
//  U u2 = {0, "asdf"}; // error: too many initializers for union
//  U u3 = {"asdf"};    // error: invalid conversion to int
    [](...) { std::puts("Garbage unused variables... Done."); }
        s1, s2, s3, s4, ar, cr, ar2d1, ar2d2, ar2d3, std_ar2, std_ar1, u1
// aggregate
struct base1 { int b1, b2 = 42; };
// non-aggregate
struct base2
    base2() : b3(42) {}
    int b3;
// aggregate in C++17
struct derived : base1, base2 { int d; };
derived d1{{1, 2}, {}, 4}; // d1.b1 = 1, d1.b2 = 2,  d1.b3 = 42, d1.d = 4
derived d2{{}, {}, 4};     // d2.b1 = 0, d2.b2 = 42, d2.b3 = 42, d2.d = 4


Garbage unused variables... Done.

Defect reports

The following behavior-changing defect reports were applied retroactively to previously published C++ standards.

DR Applied to Behavior as published Correct behavior
CWG 413 C++98 anonymous bit-fields were initialized in aggregate initialization they are ignored
CWG 737 C++98 when a character array is initialized with a string literal
having fewer characters than the array size, the character
elements after the trailing '\0' was uninitialized
they are zero-initialized
CWG 1270 C++11 brace elision was only allowed to be used in copy-list-initialization allowed elsewhere
CWG 1518 C++11 a class that declares an explicit default constructor or
has inherited constructors should could be an aggregate
it is not an aggregate
CWG 1622 C++98 a union could not be initialized with {} allowed
CWG 2272 C++98 a non-static reference member that is not explicitly
initialized was copy-initialized from an empty initializer list
the program is ill-
formed in this case
CWG 2610 C++17 aggregate types could not have private or protected indirect base classes allowed
CWG 2619 C++20 the kind of the initialization from designated initializers was unclear it depends on the kind of the initializer
P2513R4 C++20 a UTF-8 string literal could not initialize an array of char
or unsigned char, which was incompatible with C or C++17
such initialization is valid

See also

C documentation for Struct and union initialization

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