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26.4 Header Files

A header file is a file of C code, typically containing C declarations and macro definitions (see Macros), to be shared between several source files. You request the use of a header file in your program by including it, with the C preprocessing directive #include.

Header files serve two purposes.

Including a header file produces the same results as copying the header file into each source file that needs it. Such copying would be time-consuming and error-prone. With a header file, the related declarations appear in only one place. If they need to be changed, you can change them in one place, and programs that include the header file will then automatically use the new version when next recompiled. The header file eliminates the labor of finding and changing all the copies as well as the risk that a failure to change one copy will result in inconsistencies within a program.

In C, the usual convention is to give header files names that end with .h. It is most portable to use only letters, digits, dashes, and underscores in header file names, and at most one dot.

The operation of including another source file isn’t actually limited to the sort of code we put into header files. You can put any sort of C code into a separate file, then use #include to copy it virtually into other C source files. But that is a strange thing to do.

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