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Chapter 3. Macros

A macro is a fragment of code which has been given a name. Whenever the name is used, it is replaced by the contents of the macro. There are two kinds of macros. They differ mostly in what they look like when they are used. Object-like macros resemble data objects when used, function-like macros resemble function calls.

You may define any valid identifier as a macro, even if it is a C keyword. The preprocessor does not know anything about keywords. This can be useful if you wish to hide a keyword such as const from an older compiler that does not understand it. However, the preprocessor operator defined (Section 4.2.3 Defined) can never be defined as a macro, and C++'s named operators (Section 3.7.4 C++ Named Operators) cannot be macros when you are compiling C++.

3.1. Object-like Macros

An object-like macro is a simple identifier which will be replaced by a code fragment. It is called object-like because it looks like a data object in code that uses it. They are most commonly used to give symbolic names to numeric constants.

You create macros with the #define directive. #define is followed by the name of the macro and then the token sequence it should be an abbreviation for, which is variously referred to as the macro's body, expansion or replacement list. For example,

#define BUFFER_SIZE 1024

defines a macro named BUFFER_SIZE as an abbreviation for the token 1024. If somewhere after this #define directive there comes a C statement of the form

foo = (char *) malloc (BUFFER_SIZE);

then the C preprocessor will recognize and expand the macro BUFFER_SIZE. The C compiler will see the same tokens as it would if you had written

foo = (char *) malloc (1024);

By convention, macro names are written in uppercase. Programs are easier to read when it is possible to tell at a glance which names are macros.

The macro's body ends at the end of the #define line. You may continue the definition onto multiple lines, if necessary, using backslash-newline. When the macro is expanded, however, it will all come out on one line. For example,

#define NUMBERS 1, \
                2, \
int x[] = { NUMBERS };
     ==> int x[] = { 1, 2, 3 };

The most common visible consequence of this is surprising line numbers in error messages.

There is no restriction on what can go in a macro body provided it decomposes into valid preprocessing tokens. Parentheses need not balance, and the body need not resemble valid C code. (If it does not, you may get error messages from the C compiler when you use the macro.)

The C preprocessor scans your program sequentially. Macro definitions take effect at the place you write them. Therefore, the following input to the C preprocessor

foo = X;
#define X 4
bar = X;


foo = X;
bar = 4;

When the preprocessor expands a macro name, the macro's expansion replaces the macro invocation, then the expansion is examined for more macros to expand. For example,

#define BUFSIZE 1024
     ==> BUFSIZE
     ==> 1024

TABLESIZE is expanded first to produce BUFSIZE, then that macro is expanded to produce the final result, 1024.

Notice that BUFSIZE was not defined when TABLESIZE was defined. The #define for TABLESIZE uses exactly the expansion you specify--in this case, BUFSIZE--and does not check to see whether it too contains macro names. Only when you use TABLESIZE is the result of its expansion scanned for more macro names.

This makes a difference if you change the definition of BUFSIZE at some point in the source file. TABLESIZE, defined as shown, will always expand using the definition of BUFSIZE that is currently in effect:

#define BUFSIZE 1020
#undef BUFSIZE
#define BUFSIZE 37

Now TABLESIZE expands (in two stages) to 37.

If the expansion of a macro contains its own name, either directly or via intermediate macros, it is not expanded again when the expansion is examined for more macros. This prevents infinite recursion. Section 3.10.5 Self-Referential Macros, for the precise details.

  Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License Design by Interspire