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Writing C header files

Writing portable C header files can be difficult, since they may be read by different types of compilers:

C++ compilers
C++ compilers require that functions be declared with full prototypes, since C++ is more strongly typed than C. C functions and variables also need to be declared with the extern "C" directive, so that the names aren't mangled. See section Writing libraries for C++, for other issues relevant to using C++ with libtool.
ANSI C compilers
ANSI C compilers are not as strict as C++ compilers, but functions should be prototyped to avoid unnecessary warnings when the header file is #included.
non-ANSI C compilers
Non-ANSI compilers will report errors if functions are prototyped.

These complications mean that your library interface headers must use some C preprocessor magic in order to be usable by each of the above compilers.

`foo.h' in the `demo' subdirectory of the libtool distribution serves as an example for how to write a header file that can be safely installed in a system directory.

Here are the relevant portions of that file:

/* __BEGIN_DECLS should be used at the beginning of your declarations,
   so that C++ compilers don't mangle their names.  Use __END_DECLS at
   the end of C declarations. */
#undef __BEGIN_DECLS
#undef __END_DECLS
#ifdef __cplusplus
# define __BEGIN_DECLS extern "C" {
# define __END_DECLS }
# define __BEGIN_DECLS /* empty */
# define __END_DECLS /* empty */

/* __P is a macro used to wrap function prototypes, so that compilers
   that don't understand ANSI C prototypes still work, and ANSI C
   compilers can issue warnings about type mismatches. */
#undef __P
#if defined (__STDC__) || defined (_AIX) \
        || (defined (__mips) && defined (_SYSTYPE_SVR4)) \
        || defined(WIN32) || defined(__cplusplus)
# define __P(protos) protos
# define __P(protos) ()

These macros are used in `foo.h' as follows:

#ifndef _FOO_H_
#define _FOO_H_ 1

/* The above macro definitions. */

int foo __P((void));
int hello __P((void));

#endif /* !_FOO_H_ */

Note that the `#ifndef _FOO_H_' prevents the body of `foo.h' from being read more than once in a given compilation.

Feel free to copy the definitions of __P, __BEGIN_DECLS, and __END_DECLS into your own headers. Then, you may use them to create header files that are valid for C++, ANSI, and non-ANSI compilers.

Do not be naive about writing portable code. Following the tips given above will help you miss the most obvious problems, but there are definitely other subtle portability issues. You may need to cope with some of the following issues:

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