Unnamed anonymous namespaces vs namespace static

TechMunching TechMunching Follow Nov 10, 2019 · 7 mins read
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Detailed Comparison of unnamed namespaces and namespace static with advantages and disadvantages

Detailed Comparison of unnamed namespaces and namespace static with advantages and disadvantages

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

Table of Contents

  1. Translation unit
  2. unnamed namespaces
  3. static and namespace-static
  4. usage for both
  5. Where anonymous namespaces are superior
  6. Where namespace static pays off
  7. Summary

Translation Unit

According to standard C++ (wayback machine link)

A translation unit is the basic unit of compilation in C++. It consists of the contents of a single source file, plus the contents of any header files directly or indirectly included by it, minus those lines that were ignored using conditional preprocessing statements.

Unnamed namespace

A feature of C++ is the ability to create unnamed (anonymous) namespaces, like so:

namespace {  
  int invisible_to_others_translation_unit() { ... }
} // namespace

These unnamed namespaces are accessible within the translation unit they’re created in as if you had an implicit using-clause to them. An unnamed-namespace-definition behaves as if it were replaced by

  inline namespace unique { /* empty body */ }  
  using namespace unique ;  
  namespace unique { [*namespace-body*] }

Members of an inline namespace are treated as if they are members of the enclosing namespace.

Static and namespace-static

The static keyword can be used to declare variables and functions at -

  1. global scope — variables and functions
  2. namespace scope — variables and functions
  3. class scope — variables and functions
  4. local scope — variables Static duration means that the object or variable is allocated when the program starts and is deallocated when the program ends.

External linkage refers to things that exist beyond a particular translation unit. In other words, accessible through the whole program.

Internal linkage means everything in the scope of a translation unit.

By default, an object or variable that is defined in the global namespace has the static duration and external linkage however when you declare a variable or function at file scope (global and/or namespace scope), the static keyword specifies that the variable or function has internal linkage.

// in namespace or global scope

int i; // extern by default  

const int ci; // static by default  

extern const int eci; // explicitly extern  

static int si; // explicitly static  

// ========================================================== //

// same goes for functions (but there are no global const functions)

int foo(); // extern by default  

static int bar(); // explicitly static

const variables goes by default internal linkage unless otherwise declared as extern.

  1. Static data members/member function/unnamed class/named class/enumeration of a class in namespace scope have same linkage as the enclosing class.
  2. A class template has the linkage of the innermost enclosing class or namespace in which it is declared.
  3. Specializations (explicit or implicit) of a template that has internal linkage are distinct from all specializations in other translation units.

Static usage vs anonymous namespace

 namespace test{  
   static int i = 5; // internal linkage, definition is here  
   // And there will be no multiple definition!  

if you remove static, multiple definition errors would surely come.


 namespace {  
   int i = 5; // default internal linkage, unreachable from other   
   // translation units.  
   class invisible_to_others { };  

Where anonymous namespaces are superior

1. namespaces work for everything

An unnamed namespace is superior to the static keyword, primarily because of the fact that keyword static applies only to the variables declarations and functions, not to the user-defined types.

The following code is valid in C++

 //legal code  
static int sample_function() { /* function body */ }  
static int sample_variable;

But this code is NOT valid

//illegal code  
static class sample_class { /* class body */ };  
static struct sample_struct { /* struct body */ };

So the solution is, unnamed-namespace, which is this,

 //legal code  
  class sample_class { /* class body */ };  
  struct sample_struct { /* struct body */ };  

2. static has too many meanings

a) namespace-static — internal linkage
b) local-static — local variable persistence
c) member-static — class method

3. Uniformity and consistency

Namespaces provide a uniform and consistent way of controlling visibility at the global scope. You don’t have to use different tools for the same thing.

4. For template arguments

C++ does not allow types and pointers/references to objects or functions with internal linkage (static) to be used as template parameters.

Where static in namespaces pays off

1. Specialization of templates

anonymous namespaces can’t specialize templates outside of the namespace block

static keyword makes every translation unit which includes the interface header that contains namespace declaration has an internal-linkage copy of the static variable/function (consumes space). Hence, no multiple definition error. The same for const with no extern preceding it which defines a variable of internal linkage.

2. A cleaner Global Symbol Table

static prevent the name from entering into the global symbol table. This is strictly an optimization, but an important one in practice. This property is not shared by names in the unnamed namespace.

Functions in unnamed namespaces, however, generally are added to the symbol table but marked as internal or mangled so that they are effectively inaccessible.

So, in general, a program that uses static for its translation-unit-local namespace-level functions generates less work for the linker and might execute faster than the equivalent program using the unnamed namespace.


Avoid working with anonymous namespaces if you’re working with headers. Due to default internal linkage, each translation unit will define its own unique instance of members of the unnamed namespace which can cause unexpected results, bloat the resulting executable, or inadvertently trigger undefined behavior due to one-definition rule (ODR) violations.

Stating that variables defined in the anonymous namespaces are implicitly static is wrong and static are not totally useless in namespaces. In general, you can go to this guideline.

Prefer free functions and types in anonymous namespace (unless in header files, then go for static).

If needed to specialize class template methods or linker optimizations are a major concern, static is the option to go for.

Unnamed namespaces are designed for protecting locality rather than offering an interface.

Bonus Question 1

namespace { class A { } ; }  
void foo ( A ) // _Z3fooN12_GLOBAL__N_11AE  
{ ; }

the function’s symbol, apparently, would refer to the name of A, which is a member of a uniquely named namespace.

what is the foo’s linkage.?


While the name foo technically has external linkage, it cannot actually be referred to by other translation units since there is no way to write the name of the type of foo’s parameter


  1. linkage of function with parameter from unnamed namespace
  2. DCL59-CPP. Do not define an unnamed namespace in a header file

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