Item 53: Pay attention to compiler warnings.

Item 53: Pay attention to compiler warnings.

Many programmers routinely ignore compiler warnings. After all, if the problem were serious, it would be an error, right? This thinking may be relatively harmless in other languages, but in C++, it's a good bet compiler writers have a better grasp of what's going on than you do. For example, here's an error everybody makes at one time or another:

class B {


 virtual void f() const;


class D: public B {


 virtual void f();


The idea is for D::f to redefine the virtual function B::f, but there's a mistake: in B, f is a const member function, but in D it's not declared const. One compiler I know says this about that:

warning: D::f() hides virtual B::f()

Too many inexperienced programmers respond to this message by saying to themselves, "Of course D::f hides B::f — that's what it's supposed to do!" Wrong. This compiler is trying to tell you that the f declared in B has not been redeclared in D; instead, it's been hidden entirely (see Item 33 for a description of why this is so). Ignoring this compiler warning will almost certainly lead to erroneous program behavior, followed by a lot of debugging to discover something this compiler detected in the first place.

After you gain experience with the warning messages from a particular compiler, you'll learn to understand what the different messages mean (which is often very different from what they seem to mean, alas). Once you have that experience, you may choose to ignore a whole range of warnings, though it's generally considered better practice to write code that compiles warning-free, even at the highest warning level. Regardless, it's important to make sure that before you dismiss a warning, you understand exactly what it's trying to tell you.

As long as we're on the topic of warnings, recall that warnings are inherently implementation-dependent, so it's not a good idea to get sloppy in your programming, relying on compilers to spot your mistakes for you. The function-hiding code above, for instance, goes through a different (but widely used) compiler with nary a squawk.

Things to Remember

  • Take compiler warnings seriously, and strive to compile warning-free at the maximum warning level supported by your compilers.

  • Don't become dependent on compiler warnings, because different compilers warn about different things. Porting to a new compiler may eliminate warning messages you've come to rely on.

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