Systems of Quantities¶
The physical units libraries on the market typically only scope on modeling one or more systems of units. However, this is not the only system kind to model. Another, and maybe even more important, system kind is a system of quantities.
Info
Please note that the mpunits is probably the first library on the Open Source market (in any programming language) that models the ISQ with all its definitions provided in ISO 80000. Please provide feedback if something looks odd or could be improved.
Dimension is not enough to describe a quantity¶
Most of the products on the market are aware of physical dimensions. However, a dimension is not enough to describe a quantity. For example, let's see the following implementation:
class Box {
area base_;
length height_;
public:
Box(length l, length w, length h) : base_(l * w), height_(h) {}
// ...
};
Box my_box(2 * m, 3 * m, 1 * m);
How do you like such an interface? It turns out that in most existing stronglytyped libraries this is often the best we can do
Another typical question many users ask is how to deal with work and torque. Both of those have the same dimension but are different quantities.
A similar issue is related to figuring out what should be the result of:
where:
Hz
(hertz)  unit of frequencyBq
(becquerel)  unit of activityBd
(baud)  unit of modulation rate
All of those quantities have the same dimension, namely \(\mathsf{T}^{1}\), but probably it is not wise to allow adding, subtracting, or comparing them, as they describe vastly different physical properties.
If the above example seems too abstract, let's consider a fuel consumption (fuel volume
divided by distance, e.g., 6.7 l/km
) and an area. Again, both have the same dimension
\(\mathsf{L}^{2}\), but probably it wouldn't be wise to allow adding, subtracting, or comparing
a fuel consumption of a car and the area of a football field. Such an operation does not
have any physical sense and should fail to compile.
Important
More than one quantity may be defined for the same dimension:
 quantities of different kinds (e.g. frequency, modulation rate, activity, ...)
 quantities of the same kind (e.g. length, width, altitude, distance, radius, wavelength, position vector, ...)
It turns out that the above issues can't be solved correctly without proper modeling of a system of quantities.
Quantities of the same kind¶
ISO 800001
 Quantities may be grouped together into categories of quantities that are mutually comparable
 Mutually comparable quantities are called quantities of the same kind
 Two or more quantities cannot be added or subtracted unless they belong to the same category of mutually comparable quantities
 Quantities of the same kind within a given system of quantities have the same quantity dimension
 Quantities of the same dimension are not necessarily of the same kind
The above quotes from ISO 80000 provide answers to all the issues above. Two quantities can't be added, subtracted, or compared unless they belong to the same kind. As frequency, activity, and modulation rate are different kinds, the expression provided above should not compile.
System of quantities is not only about kinds¶
ISO 80000 specify hundreds of different quantities. There are plenty of different kinds provided and often each kind contains more than one quantity. In fact, it turns out that such quantities form a hierarchy of quantities of the same kind.
For example, here are all quantities of the kind length provided in the ISO 80000:
flowchart TD
length  width[width, breadth]
length  height[height, depth, altitude]
width  thickness
width  diameter
width  radius
length  path_length
path_length  distance
distance  radial_distance
length  wavelength
length  position_vector["position_vector\n{vector}"]
length  displacement["displacement\n{vector}"]
radius  radius_of_curvature
Each of the above quantities expresses some kind of length, and each can be measured with si::metre
.
However, each of them has different properties, usage, and sometimes even requires a different
representation type (notice that position_vector
and displacement
are vector quantities).
Such a hierarchy helps us in defining arithmetics and conversion rules for various quantities of the same kind.
Defining quantities¶
In the mpunits library all the information about the quantity is provided with the quantity_spec
class template. In order to define a specific quantity a user should inherit a strong type
from such an instantiation.
Tip
Quantity specification definitions benefit from an
explicit object parameter
added in C++23 to remove the need for CRTP idiom, which significantly simplifies the code.
However, as C++23 is far from being mainstream today,
a portability macro QUANTITY_SPEC()
is provided and used consistently through the library to allow the code to compile with C++20
compilers, thanks to the CRTP usage under the hood.
See more in the C++ compiler support chapter.
For example, here is how the above quantity kind tree can be modeled in the library:
inline constexpr struct length final : quantity_spec<dim_length> {} length;
inline constexpr struct width final : quantity_spec<length> {} width;
inline constexpr auto breadth = width;
inline constexpr struct height final : quantity_spec<length> {} height;
inline constexpr auto depth = height;
inline constexpr auto altitude = height;
inline constexpr struct thickness final : quantity_spec<width> {} thickness;
inline constexpr struct diameter final : quantity_spec<width> {} diameter;
inline constexpr struct radius final : quantity_spec<width> {} radius;
inline constexpr struct radius_of_curvature final : quantity_spec<radius> {} radius_of_curvature;
inline constexpr struct path_length final : quantity_spec<length> {} path_length;
inline constexpr auto arc_length = path_length;
inline constexpr struct distance final : quantity_spec<path_length> {} distance;
inline constexpr struct radial_distance final : quantity_spec<distance> {} radial_distance;
inline constexpr struct wavelength final : quantity_spec<length> {} wavelength;
inline constexpr struct position_vector final : quantity_spec<length, quantity_character::vector> {} position_vector;
inline constexpr struct displacement final : quantity_spec<length, quantity_character::vector> {} displacement;
inline constexpr struct length final : quantity_spec<length, dim_length> {} length;
inline constexpr struct width final : quantity_spec<width, length> {} width;
inline constexpr auto breadth = width;
inline constexpr struct height final : quantity_spec<height, length> {} height;
inline constexpr auto depth = height;
inline constexpr auto altitude = height;
inline constexpr struct thickness final : quantity_spec<thickness, width> {} thickness;
inline constexpr struct diameter final : quantity_spec<diameter, width> {} diameter;
inline constexpr struct radius final : quantity_spec<radius, width> {} radius;
inline constexpr struct radius_of_curvature final : quantity_spec<radius_of_curvature, radius> {} radius_of_curvature;
inline constexpr struct path_length final : quantity_spec<path_length, length> {} path_length;
inline constexpr auto arc_length = path_length;
inline constexpr struct distance final : quantity_spec<distance, path_length> {} distance;
inline constexpr struct radial_distance final : quantity_spec<radial_distance, distance> {} radial_distance;
inline constexpr struct wavelength final : quantity_spec<wavelength, length> {} wavelength;
inline constexpr struct position_vector final : quantity_spec<position_vector, length, quantity_character::vector> {} position_vector;
inline constexpr struct displacement final : quantity_spec<displacement, length, quantity_character::vector> {} displacement;
QUANTITY_SPEC(length, dim_length);
QUANTITY_SPEC(width, length);
inline constexpr auto breadth = width;
QUANTITY_SPEC(height, length);
inline constexpr auto depth = height;
inline constexpr auto altitude = height;
QUANTITY_SPEC(thickness, width);
QUANTITY_SPEC(diameter, width);
QUANTITY_SPEC(radius, width);
QUANTITY_SPEC(radius_of_curvature, radius);
QUANTITY_SPEC(path_length, length);
inline constexpr auto arc_length = path_length;
QUANTITY_SPEC(distance, path_length);
QUANTITY_SPEC(radial_distance, distance);
QUANTITY_SPEC(wavelength, length);
QUANTITY_SPEC(position_vector, length, quantity_character::vector);
QUANTITY_SPEC(displacement, length, quantity_character::vector);
Note
More information on how to define a system of quantities can be found in the "International System of Quantities (ISQ)" chapter.
Comparing, adding, and subtracting quantities¶
ISO 80000 explicitly states that width and height are quantities of the same kind, and as such they:
 are mutually comparable,
 can be added and subtracted.
If we take the above for granted, the only reasonable result of 1 * width + 1 * height
is 2 * length
,
where the result of length
is known as a common quantity type. A result of such an equation is always
the first common node in a hierarchy tree of the same kind. For example:
static_assert(common_quantity_spec(isq::width, isq::height) == isq::length);
static_assert(common_quantity_spec(isq::thickness, isq::radius) == isq::width);
static_assert(common_quantity_spec(isq::distance, isq::path_length) == isq::path_length);
Converting between quantities¶
Based on the same hierarchy of quantities of kind length, we can define quantity conversion rules.

Implicit conversions
 every width is a length
 every radius is a width

Explicit conversions
 not every length is a width
 not every width is a radius
static_assert(!implicitly_convertible(isq::length, isq::width)); static_assert(!implicitly_convertible(isq::width, isq::radius)); static_assert(!implicitly_convertible(isq::length, isq::radius)); static_assert(explicitly_convertible(isq::length, isq::width)); static_assert(explicitly_convertible(isq::width, isq::radius)); static_assert(explicitly_convertible(isq::length, isq::radius));

Explicit casts
 height is not a width
 both height and width are quantities of kind length

No conversion
 time has nothing in common with length
Hierarchies of derived quantities¶
Derived quantity equations often do not automatically form a hierarchy tree. This is why it is sometimes not obvious what such a tree should look like. Also, ISO explicitly states:
ISO/IEC Guide 99
The division of â€˜quantityâ€™ according to â€˜kind of quantityâ€™ is, to some extent, arbitrary.
The below presents some arbitrary hierarchy of derived quantities of kind energy:
flowchart TD
energy["energy\n(mass * length<sup>2</sup> / time<sup>2</sup>)"]
energy  mechanical_energy
mechanical_energy  potential_energy
potential_energy  gravitational_potential_energy["gravitational_potential_energy\n(mass * acceleration_of_free_fall * height)"]
potential_energy  elastic_potential_energy["elastic_potential_energy\n(spring_constant * amount_of_compression<sup>2</sup>)"]
mechanical_energy  kinetic_energy["kinetic_energy\n(mass * speed<sup>2</sup>)"]
energy  enthalpy
enthalpy  internal_energy[internal_energy, thermodynamic_energy]
internal_energy  Helmholtz_energy[Helmholtz_energy, Helmholtz_function]
enthalpy  Gibbs_energy[Gibbs_energy, Gibbs_function]
energy  active_energy
Notice, that even though all of those quantities have the same dimension and can be expressed in the same units, they have different quantity equations that can be used to create them implicitly:

energy is the most generic one and thus can be created from base quantities of mass, length, and time. As those are also the roots of quantities of their kinds and all other quantities from their trees are implicitly convertible to them (we agreed on that "every width is a length" already), it means that an energy can be implicitly constructed from any quantity of mass, length, and time:

mechanical energy is a more "specialized" quantity than energy (not every energy is a mechanical energy). It is why an explicit cast is needed to convert from either energy or the results of its quantity equation:
static_assert(!implicitly_convertible(isq::energy, isq::mechanical_energy)); static_assert(explicitly_convertible(isq::energy, isq::mechanical_energy)); static_assert(!implicitly_convertible(isq::mass * pow<2>(isq::length) / pow<2>(isq::time), isq::mechanical_energy)); static_assert(explicitly_convertible(isq::mass * pow<2>(isq::length) / pow<2>(isq::time), isq::mechanical_energy));

gravitational potential energy is not only even more specialized one but additionally, it is special in a way that it provides its own "constrained" quantity equation. Maybe not every
mass * pow<2>(length) / pow<2>(time)
is a gravitational potential energy, but everymass * acceleration_of_free_fall * height
is.static_assert(!implicitly_convertible(isq::energy, gravitational_potential_energy)); static_assert(explicitly_convertible(isq::energy, gravitational_potential_energy)); static_assert(!implicitly_convertible(isq::mass * pow<2>(isq::length) / pow<2>(isq::time), gravitational_potential_energy)); static_assert(explicitly_convertible(isq::mass * pow<2>(isq::length) / pow<2>(isq::time), gravitational_potential_energy)); static_assert(implicitly_convertible(isq::mass * isq::acceleration_of_free_fall * isq::height, gravitational_potential_energy));
Modeling a quantity kind¶
In the physical units library, we also need an abstraction describing an entire family of quantities of the same kind. Such quantities have not only the same dimension but also can be expressed in the same units.
To annotate a quantity to represent its kind (and not just a hierarchy tree's root quantity)
we introduced a kind_of<>
specifier. For example, to express any quantity of length, we need
to type kind_of<isq::length>
.
Important
isq::length
and kind_of<isq::length>
are two different things.
Such an entity behaves as any quantity of its kind. This means that it is implicitly convertible to any quantity in a tree.
static_assert(!implicitly_convertible(isq::length, isq::height));
static_assert(implicitly_convertible(kind_of<isq::length>, isq::height));
Additionally, the result of operations on quantity kinds is also a quantity kind:
static_assert(same_type<kind_of<isq::length> / kind_of<isq::time>, kind_of<isq::length / isq::time>>);
However, if at least one equation's operand is not a quantity kind, the result becomes a "strong" quantity where all the kinds are converted to the hierarchy tree's root quantities:
static_assert(!same_type<kind_of<isq::length> / isq::time, kind_of<isq::length / isq::time>>);
static_assert(same_type<kind_of<isq::length> / isq::time, isq::length / isq::time>);
Info
Only a root quantity from the hierarchy tree or the one marked with is_kind
specifier
in the quantity_spec
definition can be put as a template parameter to the kind_of
specifier. For example, kind_of<isq::width>
will fail to compile. However, we can call
get_kind(q)
to obtain a kind of any quantity: