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std::iter_swap in C++

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std::swap is used for swapping of elements between two containers. One of the other way of doing this same thing is facilitated by std::iter_swap, which as the name suggests is used for swapping the elements with the help of an iterator. It simply exchanges the values of the elements pointed to by the iterators. If we look at its internal working, we will find that this function itself uses std::swap(). Syntax:
void iter_swap (ForwardIterator1 a, ForwardIterator2 b);

Here, a and b are forward iterators.

Returns: It has a void return type, so it does not 
return any value.

// C++ program to demonstrate the use of std::iter_swap
#include <iostream>
#include <algorithm>
#include <vector>
using namespace std;
int main()
    // Declaring first vector
    vector<int> v1;
    int i;
    for (i = 0; i < 10; ++i) {
    // v1 contains 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
    vector<int>::iterator i1, i2;
    i1 = v1.begin();
    i2 = v1.end() - 1;
    // Performing swap between first and last element
    // of vector
    std::iter_swap(i1, i2);
    // Displaying v1 after swapping
    for (i = 0; i < 10; ++i) {
        cout << v1[i] << " ";
    return 0;

9 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 0
Here, in this program we have swapped elements from v1 with the help of two iterators, one of them pointing at the beginning of v1 and the other one pointing at the end of v1.

std::iter_swap vs std::swap

After coming to know that iter_swap is used to swap the values, just like std::swap(), the question now arises is why should we learn iter_swap, if we have already something called swap(). Some of the reasons in support of iter_swap are:
  • Optimization for node-based sequences: Most STL algorithms operate on iterator ranges. It therefore makes sense to use iter_swap when swapping elements within those ranges, swapping the elements pointed to by two iterators. This allows optimization for node-based sequences such as std::list, whereby the nodes are just relinked, rather than the data actually being swapped.
  • Use in STL definition: Some STL algorithm like std::reverse involve the use of std::iter_swap in its definition. Therefore, one should have knowledge about this in order to understand these definition.
    // Definition of std::reverse()
    template void reverse(BidirectionalIterator first, 
                           BidirectionalIterator last)
        while ((first != last) && (first != --last)) 
            std::iter_swap(first, last);
  • Providing abstraction: iter_swap usefully encapsulates the part of the swappable interface which you would otherwise implement every time.

Last Updated : 06 Sep, 2019
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