Python has a syntactic construct known as a with statement:

with open('some-file.txt') as f:
  ... # code goes here

Code within the with block will execute as normal, but if the with block is exited for any reason, then some cleanup occurs. It works like this:

  1. The operand to with is captured as a context manager c.
  2. Upon entering the with block, c.__enter__() is called, and the result assigned to variable named with the as specifier (which may be omitted).
  3. Upon exiting the with block, c.__exit__(...) is called (with some arguments pertaining to exception handling, but they are not important here).

The __enter__ and __exit__ methods can perform arbitrary actions. You can think of this as a way to capture a finally block in an external variable. with supports a variety of objects:

# Files: Automatically calls `.close()` when finished
with open(filepath) as f:
# Locks: Calls `.acquire` on __enter__, and `.release` on __exit__
with some_mutex:
# Databases: Begins a transaction on __enter__, and commits or rolls
#   back on __exit__, depending on whether an exception occurred.
with some_db_client:

C++ developers will see this and understand that we have destructors to manage these kinds of things: Regardless of how the scope is exited (throw, return, or even goto), the destructors of our local variables will be invoked deterministically.

But here’s a neat trick: Python’s standard library contains a decorator called contextlib.contextmanager (Refer). This function decorator transforms any (generator) coroutine into a context manager object that can be used as the operand to a with statement:

from contextlib import contextmanager

def printing(msg: str):
  print(f'Entering: {str}')
  # Yield a value, making this into a coroutine function
  yield 1729
  print(f'Exiting: {str}')

with printing('coro context example') as val:
  print(f'Got value: {val}')

This program, when executed, will print:

Entering: coro context example
Got value: 1729
Exiting: coro context example

It works like this:

  1. When we call printing(), the @contextmanager internals will return a special context manager object that initializes and manages a new generator coroutine created by invoking the decorated coroutine function.
  2. When the with statement calls __enter__ on the @contextmanager-generated value, the context manager performs the initial send (initial resume) to get the coroutine started.
  3. When the coroutine execution hits the yield expression, the coroutine suspends and control passes back to the __enter__ method, which receives the yielded value. The yielded value is then returned from __enter__ and bound to the with-as variable val.
  4. We run the inner block and print val
  5. When we exit the with block, the __exit__ method in the @contextmanager object resumes the coroutine again, expecting that it will return without yielding further.
  6. The coroutine reaches the end of the function, and the __exit__ method resumes again.

Importantly: A coroutine execution managed by a @contextmanager must evaluate a single yield expression exactly once.

Pedantic aside: A Python function that yields is technically a generator, which is a Python coroutine of a specific flavor, and a “coroutine” usually refers to an async def function that awaits, but this distinction is unimportant for our purposes.

Language Envy

I’ve been writing a lot of C++ and Python code recently, and the @contextmanager decorator is absolutely one of my favorite things in Python, and I’ve found myself on multiple occassions wondered if I could get the same thing in C++ using C++20’s coroutines.

Skeptics may hear this and think this is pointless: We have destructors and RAII in C++, which allow us to already perform arbitrary deterministic cleanup, so why would we need something like this?

One important benefit of @contextmanager over a constructor-destructor (or even a try/finally) pair is “locality of code”:

struct file_scope {
  std::FILE* file;

  file_scope(const char* path)
    : file(std::fopen(path, "rb")) {}

  ~file_scope() {

This is a fairly small example. but illustrates that there’s some amount of unfortunate separation between the “initialization” and “cleanup” code. A more complex example might have the constructor and destructor implemented out-of-line.

Another unfortunate effect would relate to storage of supporting state. Here’s a simple example for a reentrant database transaction guard:

struct recursive_transaction_guard {
  database_ref db;
  int n_exceptions = std::uncaught_exceptions();
  bool already_in_transaction = db.in_transaction();

  recursive_transaction_guard(database_ref db) : db(db) {
    if (!already_in_transaction) {

  ~recursive_transaction_guard() {
    if (already_in_transaction) {
      // Do nothing
    if (std::uncaught_exceptions() > n_exceptions) {
      // We're exiting with an error
    } else {
      // We're okay

Here the associated state to track the database and exception state is stored as additional member variables. It isn’t intractible, but it feels a bit more clunky than an equivalent in Python with @contextmanager:

def recursive_transaction(db: Database):
  if db.in_transaction:
    # Do nothing


(In Python, the @contextmanager will cause the yield expression raise if the associated with exits with an exception.)

One may also note that we have two yield expressionss in the above example, depending on the state of the parameters. Remember that the requirement of @contextmanager is that a single yield expression evaluates once, but not that there only be one yield expression in the coroutine body. This is an important facet of @contextmanager that opens up a wealth of possibilities:

def as_local_file(url: URL):
  'Get a locally-readable copy of the file at the given URL'
  if url.scheme == 'file':
    # The file is already a local file, so just yield that path
    yield Path(url.path)
  elif url.scheme == 'ssh':
    # Mount the parent directory using SSH
    with ssh_mount(url.with_parent_path()) as mount_dir:
      # Yield the path to the file
      yield mount_dir / url.path.filename
      # The SSH host will be unmounted on scope exit
    # Create a temporary dir that is deleted when we leave scope
    with temp_dir() as td:
      tmp_file: Path = td / 'tmp.bin'
      download_file_to(tmp_file, url)
      yield tmp_file

Now we have multiple completely different setup and cleanup behaviors depending on the scheme of url. Could you implement this with C++? One could imagine:

struct as_local_file {
          download_tmpdir_state> _state;

  as_local_file(url u); // Initialize the correct state

  fs::path local_path();  // Get the path out of _state

(The implemenation of the various states is left as an exercise to the reader… or you can read on…)

Wouldn’t it be simpler if we could just do the same thing as in Python?

as_local_file(url u) {
  if (u.scheme == "file") {
    co_yield fs::path(u.path);
  } else if (u.scheme == "ssh") {
    auto mnt = open_ssh_mount(u.parent_path_url());
    co_yield mnt.root / fs::path(u.path).filename();
  } else {
    auto tmpdir = make_tempdir();
    auto tmp = tmpdir.path / "tmp.bin";
    download_into(tmp, u);
    co_yield tmp;

void print_content(url u) {
  co_resource<fs::path> local = as_local_file(u);

In this example, co_resource<T> is a class template that implements the same machinery as @contextmanager from Python.

Not only is co_resource<T> entirely implementable: It is remarkably simple!

Implementing co_resource

A co_resource is the return type of a coroutine function that:

  1. Runs the coroutine until the first co_yield expression.
  2. Captures the operand of co_yield and suspends the coroutine.
  3. The user of the resource can access the captured value using operator* and operator->.
  4. When the co_resource is destroyed, the coroutine is resumed and expected to return without awaiting or yielding again.
  5. The coroutine is destroyed.

Getting Started with Coroutines

C++20 coroutines are intimidating at first: There seems to be a lot going on compared to other language’s coroutines. In Python all I have to do is call yield and my function suddenly becomes a coroutine! In C++, it is not so easy.

In my opinion, here’s a very important preqrequesite to begin understanding C++ coroutines:

You should mentally detach the relationship between the return value and the body of the coroutine function: Including the return type itself!

Imagine a coroutine function:

my_lib::do_something(int arg) {
  // Code block containing 'co_await', 'co_yield', and/or 'co_return'

Traditionally, one would perceive my_lib::do_something as “a function that takes an int and returns a coro_widget”. But with coroutines, this is not the the full picture. Instead, I recommend approaching with this mental model:

my_lib::do_something is a coroutine factory that accepts an int and generates a coroutine, and then returns a coro_widget with a handle to that coroutine.

Importantly: The block of code associated with do_something is not necessarily relevant in the creation of the returned coro_widget object! The types of the operands of co_await, co_yield, and co_return are orthogonal to the actual return value of coro_widget. Imagine it more like this:

struct __do_something {
  using return_type = coro_widget;

  // ... state data ...

  void __impl() {
     // Code block containing 'co_await', 'co_yield', and/or 'co_return'

coro_widget my_lib::do_something(int arg) {
  auto co = new __co_magic<__do_something>{arg};
  return co->__create_return_value();

This omits a ton of important details and is partially psuedo-code (the body of __do_something::__impl requires transforming the original coroutine function body), but is a closer model of what actually happens. We’ll fill in some of the blanks below.

The Return Type and the Promise Type

When the coroutine object is being constructed, there are several customization points attached. The way these customizations are injected is via the declared return type and parameter types of the coroutine function. In particular, the compiler asks for the “promise type” via the std::coroutine_traits template:

using __promise_type =

One can specialize std::coroutine_traits arbitrarily, or rely on the default definition, which simply asks for promise_type on the declared return type itself. This gives us a simple beginning for co_resource:

template <typename T>
class co_resource {
  struct promise_type {};

from here-on-out, the promise_type is fully in control of the coroutine, and the actual return type and parameter types of the initial coroutine function are not directly consulted again. Everything we want to do to control the coroutine must be exposed via the promise_type.

The Promise Object and the Coroutine State

The corountine’s promise object and the opaque coroutine itself are intrinsically linked together. The coroutine can be accessed via coroutine_handle<promise_type>, and the promise can be accessed via the promise() method of the coroutine handle. The promise object will live exactly as long as the coroutine itself, and will not be moved or copied. To obtain the coroutine handle, one simply calls the static named-constructor coroutine_handle<P>::from_promise(P& p) with P as the promise type and p being the generated promise object. Thus the promise object can get a handle to its associated coroutine at any time:

void SomePromise::do_something() {
  std::coroutine_handle<SomePromise> my_coro =

likewise, one can obtain a reference to the associated promise object with the .promise() method of coroutine_handle:

void f(coroutine_handle<SomePromise> coro) {
  SomePromise& p = coro.promise();

One should think of coroutine_handle as a reference to an opaque coroutine object. For coroutine_handle<P>, the coroutine’s promise object is of type P. A coroutine_handle<void> (a.k.a. coroutine_handle<>) is a reference to a coroutine with an unknown promise type (and therefore the .promise() method is not available).

Because a coroutine_handle<P> and the promise object P can be easily obtained from one another, it helps to think of them as interchangeable objects that provide interfaces to different aspects of the underlying coroutine. So if your question is “should I use the coroutine_handle<P> or P& here?” the answer is “either one,” but storing the coroutine_handle<P> will often make the code more concise as it is a trivial type and it is more terse in code to obtain the promise via the handle than to obtain the handle via the promise.

The promise object is also the bridge between the coroutine and its caller. Any state that we wish to be accessible outside of the coroutine body should be declared as data in the promise type.

Some Boilerplate

Any promise object needs to provide a few methods that control the setup/teardown of the coroutine. For our case, these are not particularly interesting, so we can use some simple defaults:

struct promise_type {
  auto initial_suspend() noexcept { return std::suspend_never{}; }
  auto final_suspend() noexcept { return std::suspend_always{}; }
  void return_void() noexcept {}
  void unhandled_exception() { throw; }

For the above:

  1. On initial_suspend(), we tell the compiler that the coroutine should begin execution immediately before returning to the caller.
  2. On final_suspend(), we do nothing interesting and always suspend the coroutine when exiting.
  3. return_void is called in case of co_return; or reaching the end of the coroutine function body. This is a no-op.
  4. If an unhandled exception occurs, immediately re-throw it. This will cause the exception to throw out of the most recent call to resume() on the coroutine (including the implicit one inserted by the compiler that may occur following initial_suspend()).

Yielding a Value

We need to tell the coroutine machinery what to do when the coroutine evaluates a co_yield expression. This, unsurprisingly, is controlled via the promise object.

When a co_yield expression is evaluated, the operand is passed to the yield_value() method of the promise object. This gives us a chance to send that information back to the outside world. The return value of yield_value() is then given to a synthesized co_await expression, which determines whether or not to suspend the coroutine as part of that co_yield. In our case, we always want to suspend following the yield, so we return suspend_always again.

Because we are always suspending the coroutine after the yield, and the operand value has a lifetime of the full co_yield expression, the operand will live until the coroutine is resumed, meaning it is safe to store the address of the operand directly without making any moves or copies. Here’s what our promise_type looks like with these changes:

struct promise_type {
  // ...
  const T* yielded_value_ptr;

  auto yield_value(const T& arg) noexcept {
    yielded_value_ptr = &arg;
    return std::suspend_always{};

We’re almost done. Now we just need to open up the communication channel between the coroutine caller and the coroutine state. This is done using the return object of the coroutine.

The Return Object

After constructing the promise object, the next operation inserted by the compiler is the construction of the “return object.”

The return object is not the co_return value of the coroutine, but rather the coroutine caller’s interface to the coroutine itself. The declared return type of the coroutine function is the type of the return object. It is the return value of the coroutine factory’s machinery that started the coroutine in the first place.

The return object is obtained by calling the get_return_object() method on the promise object. The return type of this method must be convertible to the declared return type of the coroutine function. Note that the conversion takes place after the initial_suspend (and possible initial-resume()): This fact will be important.

Given that the coroutine_handle gives us access to all of the state, the simplest way to implement the co_resource<T> is to store the coroutine handle:

template <typename T>
class co_resource {
  // ...
  // The coroutine we are managing
  coroutine_handle<promise_type> _coro;

Importantly, we want to perform exception handling as part of the construction of the co_resource, but we need this to happen after the initial-suspend, but before the coroutine return object is given to the caller. We do this by taking advantage of the get_return_object() being converted to the actual return object by using a simple intermediate type:

template <typename T>
class co_resource {
  // ...

   struct init {
     std::coroutine_handle<co_resource::promise_type> coro;

  // Impilcit convert from the intermediate object
  co_resource(init i)
    : _coro{i.coro} {}

  struct promise_type {
    // ...

    auto get_return_object() {
      // Create the intermediate object
      return init{coroutine_handle<promise_type>::from_promise(*this)};

Now we have a co_resource type that can be constructed, but how do we store and access the managed resource? When do we finish the coroutine to clean up the resource?

Firstly, to access the managed object: with the address of the yielded value stored in the promise, and that promise being given to the co_resource via the coroutine_handle, we can access that yielded value from the outside:

template <typename T>
class co_resource {
  // ...

  const T& operator*() const noexcept {
    return *_coro.promise().yielded_value_ptr;

  const T* operator->() const noexcept {
    return _coro.promise().yielded_value_ptr;

Finally, to clean up: as part of the destructor of co_resource, we do the final resume() of the coroutine to run the cleanup code:

template <typename T>
class co_resource {
  // ...
  ~co_resource() {
    // Resume the coroutine from the co_yield point:
    // Clean up:

We now we are ready to use the co_resource:

co_resource<string> greeting() {
  co_yield "Hello!";

void foo() {
  co_resource<string> r = greeting();
  cout << *r;

Here’s how foo() executes:

  1. Enter the setup for greeting()
  2. Create a coroutine state and co_resource<string>::promise_type pr object. These are stored in dynamic allocated state by default, but this allocation can be elided by a Sufficiently Smart Compiler.
  3. Do init __rv = pr.get_return_object()
  4. Because we asked the coroutine not to suspend initially, the coroutine begins execution.
  5. We hit the co_yield in greeting().
  6. We pass the operand of co_yield to yield_value()
  7. yield_value() stores the address of the argument in a pointer member.
  8. We tell the coroutine to immediately suspend and return to the resumer as part of the co_yield.
  9. The __rv object is returned from greeting(), causing the conversion from init to co_resource<string>, giving management of the coroutine to the co_resource<string>, now out-of-the-hands of the compiler’s machinery. It is important that this conversion happens after the initial suspend and the first co_yield is hit, because if there is an exception before the co_yield, we do not want to give ownership of the coroutine to a co_resource, which would attempt to resume() the failed coroutine as part of its destructor.

If you run this code, you’ll see “Enter” followed by “Hello!”, then “Exit”, and that’s all there is to it.

What Else?

There’s a few open questions with this simple implementation:

  1. What about a co_resource<void>?
  2. What about a co_resource<T&> (with a non-const reference)?
  3. How can we assert that the coroutine yields exactly once?
  4. If the user copies or moves the co_resource object, that will probably be very bad. What would move operations look like?
  5. If the coroutine throws during the cleanup phase, this will std::terminate() since it occurs in the noexcept context of ~co_resource(). Is this the best option? Why or why not?

I’ll leave these as an exercise for the reader. You can see and use the fully-finished implementation from neo-fun here.