Why does const_cast remove constness for a pointer but not for a pointer to a const?

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Category:Languages

I understand that const_cast works with pointers and references.

I'm assuming that the input to const_cast should be a pointer or reference. I want to know why it doesn't remove the constness if the input is a pointer/reference to a const int?

The following code works as expected.

  1. const_cast with multilevel pointers

    int main() {     using std::cout;     #define endl '/n'     const int * ip = new int(123);     const int * ptr = ip;     *const_cast<int*>(ptr) = 321;     cout << "*ip: " << *ip << endl;  // value of *ip is changed to 321 } 

    But when I try a pointer to const int or reference to const int, the value doesn't seem to change.

  2. const_cast with reference to const int

    int main() {     using std::cout;     #define endl '/n'     const int i = 123;     const int & ri = i;     const_cast<int&>(ri) = 321;     cout << "i: " << i << endl;  // value in 'i' is 123 } 
  3. const_cast with pointer to const int

    int main() {     using std::cout;     #define endl '/n'     const int i = 123;     const int * ri = &i;     *const_cast<int*>(ri) = 321;     cout << "i: " << i << endl;  // value in 'i' is 123 } 

(1) works as expected, but I'm unable to comprehend why (2) & (3) don't work the way I think though the input to the const_cast is a pointer/reference.

Please help me understand the philosophy behind this. Thanks.

 


There are two kinds of constness.

Constness of an object is an inherent property of an object. It cannot be changed.

Think of a page in a printed book. It can be viewed as a string of characters, and it cannot be changed. It says what it says and that's it. So it's a const string.

Now think of a blackboard. It may have something written on it. You can wipe that and write something else. So the blackboard is a non-const string.

The other kind of constness is pointer and reference constness. This constness is not an inherent property of the pointed-to object, but a permission. It says you are not allowed to modify the object through this pointer. It says nothing about whether the object itself can be modified.

So if you have a const pointer, you don't necessarily know what it really points to. Maybe it's a book page. Maybe it's a blackboard. The pointer doesn't tell.

Now if you do know somehow that it is indeed a blackboard, you can be nasty and demand permission to go ahead and change what's written on it. That's what const_cast does. It gives you permission to do something.

What happens if you demand permission to modify a string, and it turns out to be a printed page? You get your permission, you go ahead and wipe it... and... What exactly happens is undefined. Perhaps nothing at all. Perhaps the print is smeared and you can neither recognise the original string nor write anything on top. Perhaps your world explodes to little pieces. You can try and see, but there's no guarantee the same thing will happen tomorrow.

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