Linkage specifications

Introduction

A linkage specification tells the compiler to compile declarations in a way that allows them to be linked together with declarations written in another language, such as C.

Syntax

  • extern string-literal { declaration-seq(opt) }
  • extern string-literal declaration

Remarks

The standard requires all compilers to support extern "C" in order to allow C++ to be compatible with C, and extern "C++", which may be used to override an enclosing linkage specification and restore the default. Other supported linkage specifications are implementation-defined.

Making a C library header compatible with C++

A C library header can usually be included into a C++ program, since most declarations are valid in both C and C++. For example, consider the following foo.h:

typedef struct Foo {
    int bar;
} Foo;
Foo make_foo(int);

The definition of make_foo is separately compiled and distributed with the header in object form.

A C++ program can #include <foo.h>, but the compiler will not know that the make_foo function is defined as a C symbol, and will probably try to look for it with a mangled name, and fail to locate it. Even if it can find the definition of make_foo in the library, not all platforms use the same calling conventions for C and C++, and the C++ compiler will use the C++ calling convention when calling make_foo, which is likely to cause a segmentation fault if make_foo is expecting to be called with the C calling convention.

The way to remedy this problem is to wrap almost all the declarations in the header in an extern "C" block.

#ifdef __cplusplus
extern "C" {
#endif

typedef struct Foo {
    int bar;
} Foo;
Foo make_foo(int);

#ifdef __cplusplus
}  /* end of "extern C" block */
#endif

Now when foo.h is included from a C program, it will just appear as ordinary declarations, but when foo.h is included from a C++ program, make_foo will be inside an extern "C" block and the compiler will know to look for an unmangled name and use the C calling convention.

Signal handler for Unix-like operating system

Since a signal handler will be called by the kernel using the C calling convention, we must tell the compiler to use the C calling convention when compiling the function.

volatile sig_atomic_t death_signal = 0;
extern "C" void cleanup(int signum) {
    death_signal = signum;
}
int main() {
    bind(...);
    listen(...);
    signal(SIGTERM, cleanup);
    while (int fd = accept(...)) {
        if (fd == -1 && errno == EINTR && death_signal) {
            printf("Caught signal %d; shutting down\n", death_signal);
            break;
        }
        // ...
    }
}


2017-02-27
2017-02-27
C++ Pedia
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