c++ - What is an undefined reference/unresolved external symbol error and how do I fix it?

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Top 5 Answer for c++ - What is an undefined reference/unresolved external symbol error and how do I fix it?

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Compiling a C++ program takes place in several steps, as specified by 2.2 (credits to Keith Thompson for the reference):

The precedence among the syntax rules of translation is specified by the following phases [see footnote].

  1. Physical source file characters are mapped, in an implementation-defined manner, to the basic source character set (introducing new-line characters for end-of-line indicators) if necessary. [SNIP]
  2. Each instance of a backslash character (\) immediately followed by a new-line character is deleted, splicing physical source lines to form logical source lines. [SNIP]
  3. The source file is decomposed into preprocessing tokens (2.5) and sequences of white-space characters (including comments). [SNIP]
  4. Preprocessing directives are executed, macro invocations are expanded, and _Pragma unary operator expressions are executed. [SNIP]
  5. Each source character set member in a character literal or a string literal, as well as each escape sequence and universal-character-name in a character literal or a non-raw string literal, is converted to the corresponding member of the execution character set; [SNIP]
  6. Adjacent string literal tokens are concatenated.
  7. White-space characters separating tokens are no longer significant. Each preprocessing token is converted into a token. (2.7). The resulting tokens are syntactically and semantically analyzed and translated as a translation unit. [SNIP]
  8. Translated translation units and instantiation units are combined as follows: [SNIP]
  9. All external entity references are resolved. Library components are linked to satisfy external references to entities not defined in the current translation. All such translator output is collected into a program image which contains information needed for execution in its execution environment. (emphasis mine)

[footnote] Implementations must behave as if these separate phases occur, although in practice different phases might be folded together.

The specified errors occur during this last stage of compilation, most commonly referred to as linking. It basically means that you compiled a bunch of implementation files into object files or libraries and now you want to get them to work together.

Say you defined symbol a in a.cpp. Now, b.cpp declared that symbol and used it. Before linking, it simply assumes that that symbol was defined somewhere, but it doesn't yet care where. The linking phase is responsible for finding the symbol and correctly linking it to b.cpp (well, actually to the object or library that uses it).

If you're using Microsoft Visual Studio, you'll see that projects generate .lib files. These contain a table of exported symbols, and a table of imported symbols. The imported symbols are resolved against the libraries you link against, and the exported symbols are provided for the libraries that use that .lib (if any).

Similar mechanisms exist for other compilers/ platforms.

Common error messages are error LNK2001, error LNK1120, error LNK2019 for Microsoft Visual Studio and undefined reference to symbolName for GCC.

The code:

struct X {    virtual void foo(); }; struct Y : X {    void foo() {} }; struct A {    virtual ~A() = 0; }; struct B: A {    virtual ~B(){} }; extern int x; void foo(); int main() {    x = 0;    foo();    Y y;    B b; } 

will generate the following errors with GCC:

/home/AbiSfw/ccvvuHoX.o: In function `main': prog.cpp:(.text+0x10): undefined reference to `x' prog.cpp:(.text+0x19): undefined reference to `foo()' prog.cpp:(.text+0x2d): undefined reference to `A::~A()' /home/AbiSfw/ccvvuHoX.o: In function `B::~B()': prog.cpp:(.text._ZN1BD1Ev[B::~B()]+0xb): undefined reference to `A::~A()' /home/AbiSfw/ccvvuHoX.o: In function `B::~B()': prog.cpp:(.text._ZN1BD0Ev[B::~B()]+0x12): undefined reference to `A::~A()' /home/AbiSfw/ccvvuHoX.o:(.rodata._ZTI1Y[typeinfo for Y]+0x8): undefined reference to `typeinfo for X' /home/AbiSfw/ccvvuHoX.o:(.rodata._ZTI1B[typeinfo for B]+0x8): undefined reference to `typeinfo for A' collect2: ld returned 1 exit status 

and similar errors with Microsoft Visual Studio:

1>test2.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol "void __cdecl foo(void)" (?foo@@YAXXZ) 1>test2.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol "int x" (?x@@3HA) 1>test2.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol "public: virtual __thiscall A::~A(void)" (??1A@@UAE@XZ) 1>test2.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol "public: virtual void __thiscall X::foo(void)" (?foo@X@@UAEXXZ) 1>...\test2.exe : fatal error LNK1120: 4 unresolved externals 

Common causes include:

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Class members:

A pure virtual destructor needs an implementation.

Declaring a destructor pure still requires you to define it (unlike a regular function):

struct X {     virtual ~X() = 0; }; struct Y : X {     ~Y() {} }; int main() {     Y y; } //X::~X(){} //uncomment this line for successful definition 

This happens because base class destructors are called when the object is destroyed implicitly, so a definition is required.

virtual methods must either be implemented or defined as pure.

This is similar to non-virtual methods with no definition, with the added reasoning that the pure declaration generates a dummy vtable and you might get the linker error without using the function:

struct X {     virtual void foo(); }; struct Y : X {    void foo() {} }; int main() {    Y y; //linker error although there was no call to X::foo } 

For this to work, declare X::foo() as pure:

struct X {     virtual void foo() = 0; }; 

Non-virtual class members

Some members need to be defined even if not used explicitly:

struct A {      ~A(); }; 

The following would yield the error:

A a;      //destructor undefined 

The implementation can be inline, in the class definition itself:

struct A {      ~A() {} }; 

or outside:

A::~A() {} 

If the implementation is outside the class definition, but in a header, the methods have to be marked as inline to prevent a multiple definition.

All used member methods need to be defined if used.

A common mistake is forgetting to qualify the name:

struct A {    void foo(); };  void foo() {}  int main() {    A a;    a.foo(); } 

The definition should be

void A::foo() {} 

static data members must be defined outside the class in a single translation unit:

struct X {     static int x; }; int main() {     int x = X::x; } //int X::x; //uncomment this line to define X::x 

An initializer can be provided for a static const data member of integral or enumeration type within the class definition; however, odr-use of this member will still require a namespace scope definition as described above. C++11 allows initialization inside the class for all static const data members.

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Failure to link against appropriate libraries/object files or compile implementation files

Commonly, each translation unit will generate an object file that contains the definitions of the symbols defined in that translation unit. To use those symbols, you have to link against those object files.

Under gcc you would specify all object files that are to be linked together in the command line, or compile the implementation files together.

g++ -o test objectFile1.o objectFile2.o -lLibraryName 

The libraryName here is just the bare name of the library, without platform-specific additions. So e.g. on Linux library files are usually called libfoo.so but you'd only write -lfoo. On Windows that same file might be called foo.lib, but you'd use the same argument. You might have to add the directory where those files can be found using -L‹directory›. Make sure to not write a space after -l or -L.

For XCode: Add the User Header Search Paths -> add the Library Search Path -> drag and drop the actual library reference into the project folder.

Under MSVS, files added to a project automatically have their object files linked together and a lib file would be generated (in common usage). To use the symbols in a separate project, you'd need to include the lib files in the project settings. This is done in the Linker section of the project properties, in Input -> Additional Dependencies. (the path to the lib file should be added in Linker -> General -> Additional Library Directories) When using a third-party library that is provided with a lib file, failure to do so usually results in the error.

It can also happen that you forget to add the file to the compilation, in which case the object file won't be generated. In gcc you'd add the files to the command line. In MSVS adding the file to the project will make it compile it automatically (albeit files can, manually, be individually excluded from the build).

In Windows programming, the tell-tale sign that you did not link a necessary library is that the name of the unresolved symbol begins with __imp_. Look up the name of the function in the documentation, and it should say which library you need to use. For example, MSDN puts the information in a box at the bottom of each function in a section called "Library".

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Declared but did not define a variable or function.

A typical variable declaration is

extern int x; 

As this is only a declaration, a single definition is needed. A corresponding definition would be:

int x; 

For example, the following would generate an error:

extern int x; int main() {     x = 0; } //int x; // uncomment this line for successful definition 

Similar remarks apply to functions. Declaring a function without defining it leads to the error:

void foo(); // declaration only int main() {    foo(); } //void foo() {} //uncomment this line for successful definition 

Be careful that the function you implement exactly matches the one you declared. For example, you may have mismatched cv-qualifiers:

void foo(int& x); int main() {    int x;    foo(x); } void foo(const int& x) {} //different function, doesn't provide a definition                           //for void foo(int& x)                            

Other examples of mismatches include

  • Function/variable declared in one namespace, defined in another.
  • Function/variable declared as class member, defined as global (or vice versa).
  • Function return type, parameter number and types, and calling convention do not all exactly agree.

The error message from the compiler will often give you the full declaration of the variable or function that was declared but never defined. Compare it closely to the definition you provided. Make sure every detail matches.

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The order in which interdependent linked libraries are specified is wrong.

The order in which libraries are linked DOES matter if the libraries depend on each other. In general, if library A depends on library B, then libA MUST appear before libB in the linker flags.

For example:

// B.h #ifndef B_H #define B_H  struct B {     B(int);     int x; };  #endif  // B.cpp #include "B.h" B::B(int xx) : x(xx) {}  // A.h #include "B.h"  struct A {     A(int x);     B b; };  // A.cpp #include "A.h"  A::A(int x) : b(x) {}  // main.cpp #include "A.h"  int main() {     A a(5);     return 0; }; 

Create the libraries:

$ g++ -c A.cpp $ g++ -c B.cpp $ ar rvs libA.a A.o  ar: creating libA.a a - A.o $ ar rvs libB.a B.o  ar: creating libB.a a - B.o 


$ g++ main.cpp -L. -lB -lA ./libA.a(A.o): In function `A::A(int)': A.cpp:(.text+0x1c): undefined reference to `B::B(int)' collect2: error: ld returned 1 exit status $ g++ main.cpp -L. -lA -lB $ ./a.out 

So to repeat again, the order DOES matter!

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