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What is the reason for having unreserved identifiers as built-in macros in gcc?

Posted by: admin November 30, 2017 Leave a comment


Today I stumbled upon a rather interesting compiler error:

int main() {
  int const unix = 0; // error-line
  return unix;

Gives the following message with gcc 4.3.2 (yes, ancient…):

error: expected unqualified-id before numeric constant

which is definitely quite confusing.

Fortunately, clang (3.0) is a little more helpful (as usual):

error: expected unqualified-id
  int const unix = 0
<built-in>:127:14: note: expanded from:
#define unix 1

I certainly did not expect unix, which is neither written in upper-case nor begin with underscore to be a macro, especially a built-in one.

I checked the predefined macros in gcc and there are 2 (on my platform) that use “unreserved” symbols:

$ g++ -E -dM - < /dev/null | grep -v _
#define unix 1
#define linux 1

All the others are “well-behaved” macros with leading underscores, using the traditional reserved identifiers, sample:

#define __linux 1
#define __linux__ 1
#define __gnu_linux__ 1

#define __unix__ 1
#define __unix 1

#define __CHAR_BIT__ 8
#define __x86_64 1
#define __amd64 1
#define _LP64 1

(it’s a mess and there does not seem to be any particular order…)

Furthermore, there are lots of “similar” symbols, so I guess there is an issue of backward compatibility…

So, where do the unix and linux macros come from ?


gcc does not fully conform to any C standard by default.

Invoke it with -ansi, -std=c99, or -std=c1x and unix won’t be predefined. (-std=c1x will probably become became -std=c11 in a future more recent gcc release.)

It’s a bit confusing that this is documented in the separate manual for the GNU preprocessor, not in the gcc manual.

Quoting the GNU preprocessor documentation (info cpp, version 4.5):

The C standard requires that all system-specific macros be part of
the “reserved namespace”. All names which begin with two underscores,
or an underscore and a capital letter, are reserved for the compiler
and library to use as they wish. However, historically
system-specific macros have had names with no special prefix; for
instance, it is common to find `unix’ defined on Unix systems. For
all such macros, GCC provides a parallel macro with two underscores
added at the beginning and the end. If `unix’ is defined,
`__unix__’ will be defined too. There will never be more than two
underscores; the parallel of `_mips’ is `__mips__’.

When the `-ansi’ option, or any `-std’ option that requests strict
conformance, is given to the compiler, all the system-specific
predefined macros outside the reserved namespace are suppressed. The
parallel macros, inside the reserved namespace, remain defined.

We are slowly phasing out all predefined macros which are outside the
reserved namespace. You should never use them in new programs, and we
encourage you to correct older code to use the parallel macros
whenever you find it. We don’t recommend you use the system-specific
macros that are in the reserved namespace, either. It is better in
the long run to check specifically for features you need, using a tool
such as `autoconf’.

The current version of the manual is here.