C++ is a powerful and versatile programming language that offers a wide array of features to developers. Among these features is the std::variant, which provides a flexible and type-safe way to work with heterogeneous data. This article will delve into what a variant is in C++, how to use it, and the benefits it offers to developers.

Understanding Variants:

A C++ std::variant is a container that can hold values of different types but guarantees type safety. It can be thought of as a safer alternative to using a union in C++, which allows you to store different types of data in a single memory location but can lead to type-related errors if not used carefully. A std::variant ensures that only one type of data is “active” at any given time.

Creating a Variant:

To use a std::variant, you need to include the <variant> header in your C++ program. Here’s how you can create a simple std::variant:

#include <variant>

std::variant<int, double, std::string> myVariant;

In this example, myVariant can hold values of type int, double, or std::string. By default, it is initialized with the first type, which is int in this case.

Accessing Variant Data:

You can access the data stored in a std::variant using the std::get function. For example:

myVariant = 42;  // Store an int
int value = std::get<int>(myVariant); // Access the int value

However, it’s crucial to ensure that the std::variant contains the expected type when using std::get. Attempting to access the wrong type will result in a std::bad_variant_access exception.

Switching Between Types:

To change the active type within a std::variant, you can use the std::get function or use the std::visit function to perform type-safe operations. Here’s an example using std::visit:

#include <variant>
#include <iostream>

struct Printer {
    void operator()(int value) const {
        std::cout << "Integer: " << value << std::endl;
    void operator()(double value) const {
        std::cout << "Double: " << value << std::endl;
    void operator()(const std::string& value) const {
        std::cout << "String: " << value << std::endl;

std::variant<int, double, std::string> myVariant;

int main() {
    myVariant = 3.14;
    std::visit(Printer{}, myVariant);
    return 0;

In this example, the std::visit function takes a visitor object (in this case, Printer) that defines operator overloads for each possible type in the std::variant. The appropriate overload is called based on the active type.

Benefits of Using Variants:

  1. Type Safety: Variants help catch type-related errors at compile-time, reducing the chances of runtime crashes and bugs.
  2. Versatility: You can use variants to handle different types of data in a single container, making it easier to manage heterogeneous data structures.
  3. Readable Code: Variants, when used with std::visit, allow you to write clean, readable, and type-safe code for operations on the variant data.
  4. Memory Efficiency: Unlike some other approaches like using a common base class and polymorphism, variants don’t require dynamic memory allocation for each type, leading to better memory efficiency.


C++ variants, provided by the std::variant type, offer a type-safe and versatile way to handle heterogeneous data within a single container. By ensuring type safety and enabling you to work with different data types in a structured and readable manner, variants are a valuable tool for C++ developers. Whether you’re working with complex data structures or simple data processing, variants can simplify your code and make it more robust.