I was reading hacker news not too long ago and came across a c++ signals and slots implementation. It was very clearly implemented pre-c++11, and is pretty difficult to read. I thought I would try my hand at coming up with something a little more modern, taking advantage of std::function.

Signals and slots

Signals and slots is a common way of implementing the observer pattern while avoiding messy boiler plate code and forced inheritance. The idea is that the observable objects can send signals to callable objects (slots). It is commonly used in GUI programming for handling events such as mouse clicks, button presses, etc. but is also useful in other environments such as asynchronous message passing.

Designing the components

The slot

The first thing that needed to be done was to implement the type that would be receiving the signals. The number one goal here was strong typed-ness. I really wanted to avoid going the java route where the observer receiving function just takes in an Object and leaves it up to the handler to cast it into something usable. I personally find that choice to be super hacky.

Thankfully C++ provides a std::function type which allows for template parameters and will type check at compile time. The signal receiver type can then be a specialization of std::function in which the return type is always void, and accepts a variable number of input parameter types. I called it delegate (inspired by the c# type) and defined it as:

template <typename ...Args>
using delegate = std::function<void(Args...)>;

The nice thing about std::function is that it can accept any callable object including lambdas and functors (callable objects).

The signal

Now that the slot is done, the signal type is trivial. We simply need to maintain a list of slots, and expose an interface for registering new slots and sending messages to them.

template <typename ...Args>
class signal {
    using fn_t = delegate<Args...>;
    std::vector<fn_t> observers;

    void connect(fn_t f) {

    void operator ()(Args... a) {
        for (auto i: observers)

You can now embed this signal type inside of GUI components, pass it as an asynchronous callback, etc. without having to worry about any kind of boilerplate or inheritance. You also avoid having to perform any cast or type checking operations inside the slot. An example usage of this code in a GUI setting follows.

#include "signal.h"
#include <string>
#include <iostream>
#include <functional>

struct button {
    qp::signal<std::string> update;

    void click() {

struct label {
    std::string text;
    void changeText(std::string s) {
        text = s;
        std::cout << s << std::endl;

int main() {
    using namespace std::placeholders;

    label label1;
    label label2;

    button button1;
        .connect(std::bind(&label::changeText, std::ref(label1), _1));
    // or
    // button1.update.connect([&](std::string s) { label1.changeText(s); });
        .connect(std::bind(&label::changeText, std::ref(label2), _1));

    return 0;

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