The Parts of a C++ Program

C++ programs consist of objects, functions, variables, and other component parts. Most of this book is devoted to explaining these parts in depth, but to get a sense of how a program fits together you must see a complete working program. Today you learn
  • The parts of a C++ program.
  • How the parts work together.
  • What a function is and what it does.

A Simple Program

Even the simple program HELLO.CPP, "Getting Started," had many interesting parts. This section will review this program in more detail. Listing 2.1 reproduces the original version of HELLO.CPP for your convenience.

Listing 2.1. HELLO.CPP demonstrates the parts of a C++ program.
1: #include <iostream.h>
3:  int main()
4: {
5:    cout << "Hello World!\n";
6:      return 0;
7: }
Hello World!
On line 1, the file iostream.h is included in the file. The first character is the # symbol, which is a signal to the preprocessor. Each time you start your compiler, the preprocessor is run. The preprocessor reads through your source code, looking for lines that begin with the pound symbol (#), and acts on those lines before the compiler runs.

Include is a preprocessor instruction that says, "What follows is a filename. Find that file and read it in right here." The angle brackets around the filename tell the preprocessor to look in all the usual places for this file. If your compiler is set up correctly, the angle brackets will cause the preprocessor to look for the file iostream.h in the directory that holds all the H files for your compiler. The file iostream.h (Input-Output-Stream) is used by cout, which assists with writing to the screen. The effect of line 1 is to include the file iostream.h into this program as if you had typed it in yourself.

New Term: The preprocessor runs before your compiler each time the compiler is invoked. The preprocessor translates any line that begins with a pound symbol (#) into a special command, getting your code file ready for the compiler.

Line 3 begins the actual program with a function named main(). Every C++ program has a main() function. In general, a function is a block of code that performs one or more actions. Usually functions are invoked or called by other functions, but main() is special. When your program starts, main() is called automatically.

main(), like all functions, must state what kind of value it will return. The return value type for main() in HELLO.CPP is void, which means that this function will not return any value at all. Returning values from functions is discussed in detail on Day 4, "Expressions and Statements."

All functions begin with an opening brace ({) and end with a closing brace (}). The braces for the main() function are on lines 4 and 7. Everything between the opening and closing braces is considered a part of the function.

The meat and potatoes of this program is on line 5. The object cout is used to print a message to the screen. We'll cover objects in general on Day 6, "Basic Classes," and cout and its related object cin in detail on Day 17, "The Preprocessor." These two objects, cout and cin, are used in C++ to print strings and values to the screen. A string is just a set of characters.

Here's how cout is used: type the word cout, followed by the output redirection operator (<<). Whatever follows the output redirection operator is written to the screen. If you want a string of characters written, be sure to enclose them in double quotes ("), as shown on line 5.

New Term: A text string is a series of printable characters.

The final two characters, \n, tell cout to put a new line after the words Hello World! This special code is explained in detail when cout is discussed on Day 17.

All ANSI-compliant programs declare main() to return an int. This value is "returned" to the operating system when your program completes. Some programmers signal an error by returning the value 1. In this book, main() will always return 0.

The main() function ends on line 7 with the closing brace.
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