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Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we spell metre instead of meter?

This is how the BIPM defines it in the SI Brochure (British English spelling by default).

Why don't we use UDLs to create quantities?

Many reasons make UDLs a poor choice for a physical units library:

  1. UDLs work only with literals (compile-time known values). Our observation is that besides the unit tests, there are only a few compile-time known quantity values used in the production code. Please note that for physical constants, we recommend using Faster-than-lightspeed Constants.
  2. Typical implementations of UDLs tend to always use the widest representation type available. In the case of std::chrono::duration, the following is true:

    using namespace std::chrono_literals;
    auto d1 = 42s;
    auto d2 = 42.s;
    static_assert(std::is_same_v<decltype(d1)::rep, std::int64_t>);
    static_assert(std::is_same_v<decltype(d2)::rep, long double>);

When such UDL is intermixed in arithmetics with any quantity type of a shorter representation type, it will always expand it to the longest one. In other words, such long type spreads until all types use it everywhere.

  1. While increasing the coverage for the library, we learned that many unit symbols conflict with built-in types or numeric extensions. A few of those are: F (farad), J (joule), W (watt), K (kelvin), d (day), l or L (litre), erg, ergps. Usage of the _ prefix would make it work for mp-units, but in case the library is standardized, those naming collisions would be a big issue. This is why we came up with the _q_ prefix that would become q_ after standardization (e.g., 42q_s), which is not that nice anymore.

  2. UDLs with the same identifiers defined in different namespace can't be disambiguated in the C++ language. If both SI and CGS systems define _q_s UDL for a second unit, then it would not be possible to specify which one to use in case both namespaces are "imported" with using directives.

  3. Another bad property of UDLs is that they do not compose. A coherent unit of angular momentum would have a UDL specified as _q_kg_m2_per_s. Now imagine that we want to make every possible user happy. How many variations of that unit would we predefine for differently scaled versions of all unit ingredients?

  4. UDLs are also really expensive to define and specify. Typically, for each unit, we need two definitions. One for integral and another one for floating-point representation. Before the V2 framework, the coherent unit of angular momentum was defined as:

    constexpr auto operator"" _q_kg_m2_per_s(unsigned long long l)
      return angular_momentum<kilogram_metre_sq_per_second, std::int64_t>(static_cast<std::int64_t>(l));
    constexpr auto operator"" _q_kg_m2_per_s(long double l)
      return angular_momentum<kilogram_metre_sq_per_second, long double>(l);

Why can't I create a quantity by passing a number to a constructor?

A quantity class template in the mp-units library has no publicly available constructor taking a raw value. Such support is provided by the std::chrono::duration and was pointed out to us as a red flag safety issue by a few parties already.

Consider the following structure and a code using it:

struct X {
  std::vector<std::chrono::milliseconds> vec;
  // ...
X x;

Everything works fine for years until, at some point, someone changes the structure to:

struct X {
  std::vector<std::chrono::microseconds> vec;
  // ...

The code continues to compile just fine, but all the calculations are off now. This is why we decided to not follow this path.

In the mp-units library, both a number and a unit have to always be explicitly provided in order to form a quantity.


The same applies to the construction of quantity_point using an explicit point origin. To prevent similar safety issues during maintenance, the initialization always requires providing both a quantity and a PointOrigin that we use as a reference point.

Why a dimensionless quantity is not just a fundamental arithmetic type?

In the initial design of this library, the resulting type of division of two quantities was their common representation type:

static_assert(std::is_same_v<decltype(10 * km / (5 * km)), int>);

First of all, this was consistent with std::chrono::duration behavior. Additional reasoning behind it was not providing a false impression of a strong quantity type for something that looks and feels like a regular number. Also, all of the mathematic and trigonometric functions were working fine out of the box with such representation types, so we did not have to rewrite sin(), cos(), exp(), and others.

However, the feedback we got from the production usage was that such an approach is really bad for generic programming. It is hard to handle the result of the two quantities' division (or multiplication) as it might be either a quantity or a fundamental type. If we want to raise such a result to some power, we must use units::pow or std::pow depending on the resulting type. Those are only a few issues related to such an approach.

Moreover, suppose we divide quantities of the same dimension but with units of significantly different magnitudes. In that case, we may end up with a really small or a huge floating-point value, which may result in losing lots of precision. Returning a dimensionless quantity from such cases allows us to benefit from all the properties of scaled units and is consistent with the rest of the library.


More information on the current design can be found in the Dimensionless Quantities chapter.

Why do the identifiers for concepts in the library use CamelCase?

Initially, C++20 was meant to use CamelCase for all the concept identifiers. All the concepts from the std::ranges library were merged with such names into the standard document draft. Frustratingly, CamelCase concepts got dropped from the C++ standard at the last moment before releasing C++20. Now, we are facing the predictable consequences of running out of names.

As long as some concepts in the library could be easily named with a standard_case there are some that are hard to distinguish from the corresponding type names, such as Quantity, QuantityPoint, QuantitySpec, or Reference. This is why we decided to use CamelCase consistently for all the concept identifiers to make it clear when we are talking about a type or concept identifier.

However, we are aware that this might be a temporary solution. In case the library gets standardized, we can expect the ISO C++ Committee to bikeshed/rename all of the concept identifiers to a standard_case, even if it will result in a harder to understand code.


In case you have a good idea of how to rename existing concepts to the standard_case, please let us know in the associated GitHub Issue.

Why Unicode quantity symbols are used by default instead of ASCII-only characters?

Both C++ and ISO 80000 are standardized by the ISO. ISO 80000 and the SI standards specify Unicode symbols as the official unit names for some quantities (e.g. Ω symbol for the resistance quantity). As the mp-units library will be proposed for standardization as a part of the C++ Standard Library we have to obey the rules and be consistent with ISO specifications.


We do understand engineering reality and the constraints of some environments. This is why the library has the option of ASCII-only Quantity Symbols.

Why don't we have CMake options to disable the building of tests and examples?

Over time, many people provided PRs proposing adding options to build tests and examples conditionally. Here are a few examples:

We admit this is a common practice in the industry, but we also believe this is a bad pattern.

First, the only need for such options comes when a user wants to use add_subdirectory() in CMake to handle dependencies. Such an approach does not scale and should be discouraged. There is little use for such a practice in times when we have dedicated package managers like Conan.

The second thing is that our observation is that many people are fixed on disabling "unneeded" subdirectories from compilation, but they do not see or address the biggest issue, which is polluting user's build environment with our development-specific settings. Propagating our restrictive compilation flags to user's project is not the best idea as it might cause a lot of harm if this project stops to compile because of that.

Last but not least, not having those options is on purpose. Top level CMakeLists.txt file should only be used by mp-units developers and contributors as an entry point for the project's development. We want to ensure that everyone will build ALL the code correctly before pushing a commit. Having such options would allow unintended issues to leak to PRs and CI.

This is why our projects have two entry points:

  • ./CMakeLists.txt is to be used by projects developers to build ALL the project code with really restrictive compilation flags,
  • ./src/CMakeLists.txt contains only a pure library definition and should be used by the customers that prefer to use CMake's add_subdirectory() to handle the dependencies.


For more details on this please refer to the CMake + Conan: 3 Years Later - Mateusz Pusz lecture that Mateusz Pusz provided at the C++Now 2021 conference.