What I learned about `inline` recently

What I learned about `inline` recently

C++'s inline is pretty nice, in my opinion. I define an inline function with external linkage, things work as expected (https://en.cppreference.com/w/cpp/language/inline):

  • taking the address of the inline function works
  • function-local static objects work as expected (shared across all translation units)
  • no ODR issue

The linker most likely emits one (and only one) copy of the function object; but we don't know where in lives. Someone calls this "vague linkage".

There's no "vague linkage" in C99. The way it works is by having the following in the header file (as we need the definition in each TU),

inline int max(int a, int b) {
  return a > b ? a : b;

...and in exactly one source file:

#include "header.h"
extern int max(int a, int b);


In this way, we know exactly where the stand-alone object code would be emitted. Good.

Then I ran into this piece of code, in gcc's <xmmintrin.h>

What is extern __inline? How can this inline definition work without violating ODR in C99? So I tried gcc -std=c99 with

// test.h
extern inline int foo() {}

// foo.c
#include "test.h"

// bar.c
#include "test.h"

I absolutely got ODR

multiple definition of `foo'

But the following worked just fine with gcc

// foo.c
#include <xmmintrin.h>

// bar.c
#include <xmmintrin.h>

I asked around and what I learned is that __gnu_inline__ attribute changes the inline behavior (https://gcc.gnu.org/onlinedocs/gcc-6.1.0/gcc/Common-Function-Attributes.html).

If the function is declared extern, then this definition of the function is used only for inlining.  In no case is the function compiled as a standalone function, not even if you take its address explicitly.  Such an address becomes an external reference, as if you had only declared the function, and had not defined it.  This has almost the effect of a macro.  The way to use this is to put a function definition in a header file with this attribute, and put another copy of the function, without extern, in a library file.  The definition in the header file causes most calls to the function to be inlined.  If any uses of the function remain, they refer to the single copy in the library.  Note that the two definitions of the functions need not be precisely the same, although if they do not have the same effect your program may behave oddly.
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