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Thinking in C++
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In old (pre-Standard) C, if you wanted to make a constant, you had to use the preprocessor:

#define PI 3.14159

Everywhere you used PI, the value 3.14159 was substituted by the preprocessor (you can still use this method in C and C++).

When you use the preprocessor to create constants, you place control of those constants outside the scope of the compiler. No type checking is performed on the name PI and you can’t take the address of PI (so you can’t pass a pointer or a reference to PI). PI cannot be a variable of a user-defined type. The meaning of PI lasts from the point it is defined to the end of the file; the preprocessor doesn’t recognize scoping.

C++ introduces the concept of a named constant that is just like a variable, except that its value cannot be changed. The modifier const tells the compiler that a name represents a constant. Any data type, built-in or user-defined, may be defined as const. If you define something as const and then attempt to modify it, the compiler will generate an error.

You must specify the type of a const, like this:

const int x = 10;

In Standard C and C++, you can use a named constant in an argument list, even if the argument it fills is a pointer or a reference (i.e., you can take the address of a const). A const has a scope, just like a regular variable, so you can “hide” a const inside a function and be sure that the name will not affect the rest of the program.

The const was taken from C++ and incorporated into Standard C, albeit quite differently. In C, the compiler treats a const just like a variable that has a special tag attached that says “Don’t change me.” When you define a const in C, the compiler creates storage for it, so if you define more than one const with the same name in two different files (or put the definition in a header file), the linker will generate error messages about conflicts. The intended use of const in C is quite different from its intended use in C++ (in short, it’s nicer in C++).

Thinking in C++
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   Reproduced courtesy of Bruce Eckel, MindView, Inc. Design by Interspire