Why are #ifndef and #define used in C++ header files?


Question

I have been seeing code like this usually in the start of header files:

#ifndef HEADERFILE_H
#define HEADERFILE_H

And at the end of the file is

#endif

What is the purpose of this?

1
441
7/25/2019 1:41:04 AM

Accepted Answer

Those are called #include guards.

Once the header is included, it checks if a unique value (in this case HEADERFILE_H) is defined. Then if it's not defined, it defines it and continues to the rest of the page.

When the code is included again, the first ifndef fails, resulting in a blank file.

That prevents double declaration of any identifiers such as types, enums and static variables.

473
5/7/2017 12:02:51 PM

#ifndef <token>
/* code */
#else
/* code to include if the token is defined */
#endif

#ifndef checks whether the given token has been #defined earlier in the file or in an included file; if not, it includes the code between it and the closing #else or, if no #else is present, #endif statement. #ifndef is often used to make header files idempotent by defining a token once the file has been included and checking that the token was not set at the top of that file.

#ifndef _INCL_GUARD
#define _INCL_GUARD
#endif

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