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Thinking in C++
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Inlines & the compiler

To understand when inlining is effective, it’s helpful to know what the compiler does when it encounters an inline. As with any function, the compiler holds the function type (that is, the function prototype including the name and argument types, in combination with the function return value) in its symbol table. In addition, when the compiler sees that the inline’s function type and the function body parses without error, the code for the function body is also brought into the symbol table. Whether the code is stored in source form, compiled assembly instructions, or some other representation is up to the compiler.

When you make a call to an inline function, the compiler first ensures that the call can be correctly made. That is, all the argument types must either be the exact types in the function’s argument list, or the compiler must be able to make a type conversion to the proper types and the return value must be the correct type (or convertible to the correct type) in the destination expression. This, of course, is exactly what the compiler does for any function and is markedly different from what the preprocessor does because the preprocessor cannot check types or make conversions.

If all the function type information fits the context of the call, then the inline code is substituted directly for the function call, eliminating the call overhead and allowing for further optimizations by the compiler. Also, if the inline is a member function, the address of the object (this) is put in the appropriate place(s), which of course is another action the preprocessor is unable to perform.

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