Default Capacity & Growth Rate of C++ std::vector

If you’re creating a lot of small vectors in C++, you should probably consider using a small-size optimized vector instead. But, if you can’t do that for some reason, you might wonder if there is any win to be had by reserve()ing a small size in advance.

While the standard doesn’t require vectors to have any particular initial capacity(), it seems like all the common implementations:

  1. Start with zero capacity
  2. Allocate a single element on the first push_back()/emplace_back()
  3. Grow to a pair of elements on the second push
  4. Grow at something vaguely resembling exponential on subsequent pushes

Here’s a Compiler Explorer sample to check this behavior on various compilers (adapted from metamorphosis’ answer on StackOverflow):

#include <iostream>
#include <vector>

int main()
{
  std::vector<int> v;
  std::cout << "Initial capacity: " << v.capacity() << "\n";
  for(int i = 0; i != 10; ++i)
  {
      v.emplace_back(i); // use push_back() for pre-C++11 compilers, of course
      std::cout << "Size " << v.size() << " capacity: " << v.capacity() << "\n";
  }
  return 0;
}

GCC 5.1, GCC 10.2, Clang 6, and Clang 10.0.1 all grow as follows:

Initial capacity: 0
Size 1 capacity: 1
Size 2 capacity: 2
Size 3 capacity: 4
Size 4 capacity: 4
Size 5 capacity: 8
Size 6 capacity: 8
Size 7 capacity: 8
Size 8 capacity: 8
Size 9 capacity: 16
Size 10 capacity: 16

While MSVC 2013 and 2019 both have a much looser interpretation of exponential capacity growth:

Initial capacity: 0
Size 1 capacity: 1
Size 2 capacity: 2
Size 3 capacity: 3
Size 4 capacity: 4
Size 5 capacity: 6
Size 6 capacity: 6
Size 7 capacity: 9
Size 8 capacity: 9
Size 9 capacity: 9
Size 10 capacity: 13

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