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Thinking in C++
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Inline functions

In solving the C++ problem of a macro with access to private class members, all the problems associated with preprocessor macros were eliminated. This was done by bringing the concept of macros under the control of the compiler where they belong. C++ implements the macro as inline function, which is a true function in every sense. Any behavior you expect from an ordinary function, you get from an inline function. The only difference is that an inline function is expanded in place, like a preprocessor macro, so the overhead of the function call is eliminated. Thus, you should (almost) never use macros, only inline functions.

Any function defined within a class body is automatically inline, but you can also make a non-class function inline by preceding it with the inline keyword. However, for it to have any effect, you must include the function body with the declaration, otherwise the compiler will treat it as an ordinary function declaration. Thus,

inline int plusOne(int x);

has no effect at all other than declaring the function (which may or may not get an inline definition sometime later). The successful approach provides the function body:

inline int plusOne(int x) { return ++x; }

Notice that the compiler will check (as it always does) for the proper use of the function argument list and return value (performing any necessary conversions), something the preprocessor is incapable of. Also, if you try to write the above as a preprocessor macro, you get an unwanted side effect.

You’ll almost always want to put inline definitions in a header file. When the compiler sees such a definition, it puts the function type (the signature combined with the return value) and the function body in its symbol table. When you use the function, the compiler checks to ensure the call is correct and the return value is being used correctly, and then substitutes the function body for the function call, thus eliminating the overhead. The inline code does occupy space, but if the function is small, this can actually take less space than the code generated to do an ordinary function call (pushing arguments on the stack and doing the CALL).

An inline function in a header file has a special status, since you must include the header file containing the function and its definition in every file where the function is used, but you don’t end up with multiple definition errors (however, the definition must be identical in all places where the inline function is included).

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