One Definition Rule (ODR)

Inline functions

A function declared inline may be defined in multiple translation units, provided that all definitions are identical. It also must be defined in every translation unit in which it is used. Therefore, inline functions should be defined in headers and there is no need to mention them in the implementation file.

The program will behave as though there is a single definition of the function.

foo.h:

#ifndef FOO_H
#define FOO_H
#include <iostream>
inline void foo() { std::cout << "foo"; }
void bar();
#endif

foo.cpp:

#include "foo.h"
void bar() {
    // more complicated definition
}

main.cpp:

#include "foo.h"
int main() {
    foo();
    bar();
}

In this example, the simpler function foo is defined inline in the header file while the more complicated function bar is not inline and is defined in the implementation file. Both the foo.cpp and main.cpp translation units contain definitions of foo, but this program is well-formed since foo is inline.

A function defined within a class definition (which may be a member function or a friend function) is implicitly inline. Therefore, if a class is defined in a header, member functions of the class may be defined within the class definition, even though the definitions may be included in multiple translation units:

// in foo.h
class Foo {
    void bar() { std::cout << "bar"; }
    void baz();
};

// in foo.cpp
void Foo::baz() {
   // definition
}

The function Foo::baz is defined out-of-line, so it is not an inline function, and must not be defined in the header.

Multiply defined function

The most important consequence of the One Definition Rule is that non-inline functions with external linkage should only be defined once in a program, although they can be declared multiple times. Therefore, such functions should not be defined in headers, since a header can be included multiple times from different translation units.

foo.h:

#ifndef FOO_H
#define FOO_H
#include <iostream>
void foo() { std::cout << "foo"; }
void bar();
#endif

foo.cpp:

#include "foo.h"
void bar() { std:: cout << "bar"; }

main.cpp:

#include "foo.h"
int main() {
    foo();
    bar();
}

In this program, the function foo is defined in the header foo.h, which is included twice: once from foo.cpp and once from main.cpp. Each translation unit therefore contains its own definition of foo. Note that the include guards in foo.h do not prevent this from happening, since foo.cpp and main.cpp both separately include foo.h. The most likely result of trying to build this program is a link-time error identifying foo as having been multiply defined.

To avoid such errors, one should declare functions in headers and define them in the corresponding .cpp files, with some exceptions (see other examples).

ODR violation via overload resolution

Even with identical tokens for inline functions, ODR can be violated if lookup of names doesn't refer to the same entity. let's consider func in following:

  • header.h

    void overloaded(int);
    inline void func() { overloaded('*'); }
    
  • foo.cpp

    #include "header.h"
    
    void foo()
    {
        func(); // `overloaded` refers to `void overloaded(int)`
    }
    
  • bar.cpp

    void overloaded(char); // can come from other include
    #include "header.h"
    
    void bar()
    {
        func(); // `overloaded` refers to `void overloaded(char)`
    }
    

We have an ODR violation as overloaded refers to different entities depending of the translation unit.



2016-08-01
2016-08-04
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