Maciek Maciek - 7 months ago 28
C Question

What is the difference between a definition and a declaration?

As title says, the meaning of both eludes me.

sbi sbi

A declaration introduces an identifier and describes its type, be it a type, object, or function. A declaration is what the compiler needs to accept references to that identifier. These are declarations:

extern int bar;
extern int g(int, int);
double f(int, double); // extern can be omitted for function declarations
class foo; // no extern allowed for type declarations

A definition actually instantiates/implements this identifier. It's what the linker needs in order to link references to those entities. These are definitions corresponding to the above declarations:

int bar;
int g(int lhs, int rhs) {return lhs*rhs;}
double f(int i, double d) {return i+d;}
class foo {};

A definition can be used in the place of a declaration.

An identifier can be declared as often as you want. Thus, the following is legal in C and C++:

double f(int, double);
double f(int, double);
extern double f(int, double); // the same as the two above
extern double f(int, double);

However, it must be defined exactly once. If you forget to define something that's been declared and referenced somewhere, then the linker doesn't know what to link references to and complains about a missing symbols. If you define something more than once, then the linker doesn't know which of the definitions to link references to and complains about duplicated symbols.

Since the debate what is a class declaration vs. a class definition in C++ keeps coming up (in answers and comments to other questions) , I'll paste a quote from the C++ standard here.
At 3.1/2, C++03 says:

A declaration is a definition unless it [...] is a class name declaration [...].

3.1/3 then gives a few examples. Amongst them:

[Example: [...]
struct S { int a; int b; }; // defines S, S::a, and S::b [...]
struct S; // declares S
—end example

To sum it up: The C++ standard considers struct x; to be a declaration and struct x {}; a definition. (In other words, "forward declaration" a misnomer, since there are no other forms of class declarations in C++.)

Thanks to litb (Johannes Schaub) who dug out the actual chapter and verse in one of his answers.