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6.13 — Unnamed and inline namespaces

C++ supports two permutations of regular namespaces that are worth at least knowing about. We won’t build on these, so consider this lesson optional for now.

Unnamed (anonymous) namespaces

An unnamed namespace (also called an anonymous namespace) is a namespace that is defined without a name, like so:

This prints:

v1

All content declared in an unnamed namespace is treated as if it is part of the parent namespace. So even though function doSomething is defined in the unnamed namespace, the function itself is accessible from the parent namespace (which in this case is the global namespace), which is why we can call doSomething from main without any qualifiers.

This might make unnamed namespaces seem useless. But the other effect of unnamed namespaces is that all identifiers inside an unnamed namespace are treated as if they had internal linkage, which means that the content of an unnamed namespace can’t be seen outside of the file in which the unnamed namespace is defined.

For functions, this is effectively the same as defining all functions in the unnamed namespace as static functions. The following program is effectively identical to the one above:

Unnamed namespaces are typically used when you have a lot of content that you want to ensure stays local to a given file, as it’s easier to cluster such content in an unnamed namespace than individually mark all declarations as static. Unnamed namespaces will also keep user-defined types (something we’ll discuss in a later lesson) local to the file, something for which there is no alternative equivalent mechanism to do.

Inline namespaces

Now consider the following program:

This prints:

v1

Pretty straightforward, right?

But let’s say you’re not happy with doSomething, and you want to improve it in some way that changes how it behaves. But if you do this, you risk breaking existing programs using the older version. How do you handle this?

One way would be to create a new version of the function with a different name. But over the course of many changes, you could end up with a whole set of almost-identically named functions (doSomething, doSomething_v2, doSomething_v3, etc…).

An alternative is to use an inline namespace. An inline namespace is a namespace that is typically used to version content. Much like an unnamed namespace, anything declared inside an inline namespace is considered part of the parent namespace. However, inline namespaces don’t give everything internal linkage.

To define an inline namespace, we use the inline keyword:

This prints:

v1
v2
v1

In the above example, callers to doSomething will get the v1 (the inline version) of doSomething. Callers who want to use the newer version can explicitly call v2::dosomething(). This preserves the function of existing programs while allowing newer programs to take advantage of newer/better variations.

Alternatively, if you want to push the newer version:

This prints:

v1
v2
v2

In this example, all callers to doSomething will get the v2 version by default (the newer and better version). Users who still want the older version of doSomething can explicitly call v1::doSomething() to access the old behavior. This means existing programs who want the v1 version will need to globally replace doSomething with v1::doSomething, but this typically won’t be problematic if the functions are well named.


6.x -- Chapter 6 summary and quiz
Index
6.12 -- Using declarations and using directives

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