Extern variables and header files

Discussion in 'C Programming' started by Samuel Thomas, Jul 1, 2003.

  1. Hello Everybody,

    I am confused about the concept of variables declared as extern. I
    understand that when a variable is declared as extern the variable
    becomes accessible in different files. How is this different from
    declaring a variable in a header file and then including the header
    file where the variable is required?

    Thanks for all the help
    Warm Regards
    Samuel Thomas, Jul 1, 2003
    1. Advertisements

  2. Samuel Thomas

    Morris Dovey Guest


    You can /declare/ a variable as 'extern' in any file you like;
    but you can /define/ it only once.

    About header files and global variables:

    If you want to /declare/ a global variable in a header file,
    that's ok but not strictly required.

    If you were to /define/ a global variable in a header file; and
    then include that header file in more than one file, you'd be
    multiply-defining the variable. The compiler could happily
    compile the separate files; but the linker would take serious
    offense because it would have the same name associated with
    multiple objects and it would be unable to resolve references to

    Morris Dovey, Jul 1, 2003
    1. Advertisements

  3. Samuel Thomas

    Mark Gordon Guest

    Yes, the extern keyword is declaring the variable, however it *may* also
    be defined in the same file. Not having the extern keyword (for
    variables) means you are defining it.
    Common practice is to do something like:

    /* foo.h */
    #ifndef FOO_H
    #define FOO_H

    extern int blar; /* Declaring blar as having external linkage */


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

    int blar; /* Defining blar, this line ONLY occurs once */

    /* bar.c */
    #include "foo.h"
    /* No *definition of blar, just the declaration from the include file */

    So you have the declaration of blar in scope then the definition of blar
    is encountered, allowing the compiler to ensure that the types match.
    You only have one definition of blar, which does NOT use the extern
    keyword. You have as many declarations of blar (by including foo.h) as
    you need.

    Just to confuse matters, functions prototypes don't need the extern
    keyword to act as external declarations. Other than that they work, and
    are used, in a similar manner.
    Mark Gordon, Jul 1, 2003
  4. Samuel Thomas

    Joe Wright Guest

    Ease up John. Don't define objects in headers. Headers are for
    declarations. You obviously know that and so does Morris. Also, 'extern
    int x;' is a declaration and fits nicely in a header. The header might
    be included in all your .c files. The definition (at file scope) 'int
    x;' may legally appear in only one of your .c files but now 'x = 42;' in
    any of the other file refers to this x.
    Joe Wright, Jul 1, 2003
  5. Samuel Thomas

    Morris Dovey Guest

    These errors will only result from a definition in the header
    file - although a declaration in the header file /could/ result
    in an error condition if there is no corresponding definition
    anywhere in the link package.
    Well, I do that a lot. Most of the regulars on this NG actually
    do much better than I. It's worth the effort not to let it bother
    you very much; and there's considerable benefit to be gained from
    tapping into their knowledge and experience.
    Morris Dovey, Jul 1, 2003
  6. Hello Everybody,

    Thanks for all the replies for my qns. After going through all the
    follow-ups I came to this conclusion.


    Suppose I have a very big source(called big.c) file with many
    functions. I decide to split the big file logically and hence put
    similar functions together. I now end up having 3 files of source
    instead of my first big file. Lets call the files A.c,B.c and C.c. In
    big.c, suppose I have a global variable 'int commonvar' for all the
    functions to use. When I split my files, this would mean I still need
    to have my variable 'commonvar' in A.c,B.c and C.c. How do I do that?


    I /define/ my variable as /int commonvar/ in A.c. I make a header file
    called globals.h and I /declare/ the variable as /extern int
    commonvar/ in the header. I then include globals.h in my remaining
    files B.c and C.c. This solves my problem and now I can use my global
    variable in all my files :)

    why does this work?

    When I include a header file, all the contents of the header file
    actually get 'pasted' at places where I declare the header file, when
    I compile. This means I actually get the line "extern int commonvar"
    in both B.c and C.c. I have /defined/ commonvar in A.c and now have
    declarations in B.c and C.c.

    This means I now have the variable available in all my files.

    Friends, do tell me if my conclusions on header files and extern
    variables are correct.

    Samuel Thomas, Jul 2, 2003
  7. Samuel Thomas

    Kevin Easton Guest

    Not quite. Firstly, you also want to include the globals.h file in A.c
    as well - that way, your compiler will see both the declaration and the
    definition, and if they don't match (because you made a mistake), it'll
    tell you about it.

    Secondly, it's usual for the header file that declares the objects
    defined in A.c to be called A.h.

    - Kevin.
    Kevin Easton, Jul 2, 2003
  8. Samuel Thomas

    Morris Dovey Guest


    Sounds good to me. I would suggest choosing a more informative
    name than globals.h and including the header in A.c as well. That
    will allow the compiler to help out with additional error
    checking during future compilations (when all of today's crisp
    details may have become a little hazy.)

    Now that you seem to have mastered this important concept, let me
    offer another (related) dealing with globals - one that I've
    found helpful when I was stuck using them:

    I declare all global data in a header file as you're doing; and
    then I code a module consisting /only/ of global definitions (and
    sometimes methods to access this data). If the package name is
    xyz, I call this module xyz_data.c - and I don't waste any time
    wondering where any particular global has been defined.

    Congratulations - you've taken a significant step foreward.
    Morris Dovey, Jul 2, 2003
  9. Samuel Thomas

    Sameer Oak Guest

    Samuel's approach is good.
    i've an another, i'd say straight and a bit simpler approach to
    at times, it's needed to decide what data-items are to be made global.
    all data
    that are used across the varid source code files are needed to be
    handled with an outmost care since they are available across the
    entire source.

    what one can do is, (s)he can decide what data are to be declared as
    extern in the header and what not. the less important data-items, but
    still needed globally, can be defined in one of the .c files and used
    with extern qualifier in the others. even in this case, in my
    suggestion, one has to avoid the global extern declarations in the .c
    files. thus declaring such data as extern in the
    respective functions seems a very logical approach to me.

    thank you.
    Sameer Oak, Jul 2, 2003
    1. Advertisements

Ask a Question

Want to reply to this thread or ask your own question?

You'll need to choose a username for the site, which only take a couple of moments (here). After that, you can post your question and our members will help you out.