C++ FAQ Celebrating Twenty-One Years of the C++ FAQ!!!
(Click here for a personal note from Marshall Cline.)
Section 35:
35.1 What's the idea behind templates?
35.2 What's the syntax / semantics for a "class template"?
35.3 What's the syntax / semantics for a "function template"?
35.4 How do I explicitly select which version of a function template should get called?
35.5 What is a "parameterized type"?
35.6 What is "genericity"?
35.7 My template function does something special when the template type T is int or std::string; how do I write my template so it uses the special code when T is one of those specific types?
35.8 Huh? Can you provide an example of template specialization that doesn't use foo and bar?
35.9 But most of the code in my template function is the same; is there some way to get the benefits of template specialization without duplicating all that source code?
35.10 All those templates and template specializations must slow down my program, right?
35.11 So templates are overloading, right?
35.12 Why can't I separate the definition of my templates class from its declaration and put it inside a .cpp file?
35.13 How can I avoid linker errors with my template functions? Updated!
35.14 How does the C++ keyword export help with template linker errors? Updated!
35.15 How can I avoid linker errors with my template classes? Updated!
35.16 Why do I get linker errors when I use template friends?
35.17 How can any human hope to understand these overly verbose template-based error messages?
35.18 Why am I getting errors when my template-derived-class uses a nested type it inherits from its template-base-class?
35.19 Why am I getting errors when my template-derived-class uses a member it inherits from its template-base-class?
35.20 Can the previous problem hurt me silently? Is it possible that the compiler will silently generate the wrong code?
35.21 How can I create a container-template that allows my users to supply the type of the underlying container that actually stores the values?
35.22 Follow-up to previous: can I pass in the underlying structure and the element-type separately?
35.23 Related: all those proxies must negatively reflect on the speed of my program. Don't they?
[35.4] How do I explicitly select which version of a function template should get called?

When you call a function template, the compiler tries to deduce the template type. Most of the time it can do that successfully, but every once in a while you may want to help the compiler deduce the right type — either because it cannot deduce the type at all, or perhaps because it would deduce the wrong type.

For example, you might be calling a function template that doesn't have any parameters of its template argument types, or you might want to force the compiler to do certain promotions on the arguments before selecting the correct function template. In these cases you'll need to explicitly tell the compiler which instantiation of the function template should be called.

Here is a sample function template where the template parameter T does not appear in the function's parameter list. In this case the compiler cannot deduce the template parameter types when the function is called.

template<typename T>
void f()
{
  ...
}
To call this function with T being an int or a std::string, you could say:
#include <string>

void sample()
{
  f<int>();          // type T will be int in this call
  f<std::string>();  // type T will be std::string in this call
}
Here is another function whose template parameters appear in the function's list of formal parameters (that is, the compiler can deduce the template type from the actual arguments):
template<typename T>
void g(T x)
{
  ...
}
Now if you want to force the actual arguments to be promoted before the compiler deduces the template type, you can use the above technique. E.g., if you simply called g(42) you would get g<int>(42), but if you wanted to pass 42 to g<long>(), you could say this: g<long>(42). (Of course you could also promote the parameter explicitly, such as either g(long(42)) or even g(42L), but that ruins the example.)

Similarly if you said g("xyz") you'd end up calling g<char*>(char*), but if you wanted to call the std::string version of g<>() you could say g<std::string>("xyz"). (Again you could also promote the argument, such as g(std::string("xyz")), but that's another story.)