How to use Pair in C++ STL

In this article, we’ll take a look at using pair in C++ Standard Template Library (STL).

This is quite a useful container, which serves to reduce the pain of working with a single return type.

Similar to a tuple in Python, the std::pair template class is the C++ way of having multiple objects in one variable.

Let’s look at how we can use this, use some illustrative examples!

Basic Syntax of std::pair

This is in the std namespace, so we need to prefix the namespace name before using it.

This is a template class, and can take templated arguments, based on the type.

To declare a pair variable called my_pair, the syntax is as follows:

Here, T1 and T2 can be of any type, such as int, char, string, etc.

Now that we have our pair variable declared, let’s now define it.

A pair has two elements, called first and second.

  • To get/set the first element, use my_pair.first.
  • To get/set the second element, use my_pair.second.

The elements must be of the appropriate type which conforms to T1 and T2, in the declaration.

Let’s now assign the pair elements to specific values.

We’ll construct a pair of std::pair<int, char>, and assign it to 2 values accordingly.


As you can observe, we can easily manipulate the pair elements!

Initializing a Pair in C++ STL

We can also directly initialize a pair variable, using it’s constructor!

Look at the below example, which directly constructs a pair.

Here, I have used the auto keyword, which is very useful for automatic type inference!

We don’t need to write the huge std::pair<> again and again!


Indeed, we were able to directly initialize the pair variable.

Concise initialization using std::make_pair()

Another way of initializing a pair is to use the std::make_pair(T1 a, T2 b) function.

The advantage to this way is that we do have not to explicitly have to specify the types!

This makes writing short and concise code more easier! Look at the same example above, now rewritten using std::make_pair().

I never once mentioned the type name here. auto and make_pair() did this work for us!

Let’s now look at some other things that we can do with this container class!

Default Operators for std::pair

We’ll look at how we can compare two std::pair variables using logical operators.

  • If we want to assign a pair to another pair variable, using =, the first value of the first pair is assigned to the first value of the second pair. (Same for second element)
  • The != operator compares the first and second elements, and returns True only if any one of them are not equal.
  • Similarly, the == operator also does a corresponding comparison.
  • The <= and >= operators first check the first two elements of both pairs, and return the comparison. If they are equal, the second elements are compared.

To illustrate all these operators, a simple example may be easy to visualize.


Operator Overloading with std::pair

We can overload certain specific operators directly, on std::pair.

The below operators can be overloaded in C++20.

PLEASE NOTE: All the logical operators except == CANNOT be overloaded in C++20. This is a major change as compared to C++17.

Let’s take an example of overloading the logical equals operator (==).

We’ll overload this to compare values of a pair. To be equal, both the first and second values must match.

The complete code is shown below:


As you can see, we have indeed overloaded the == operator to make this work for std::pair as well!


In this article, we learned how we could use the pair container class in C++ STL. We also saw how we could use different operators on two sets of pairs.


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