Question:

What will the preprocessor do for a program?

Answer:

The C preprocessor is used to modify your program according to the preprocessor directives in your source code. A preprocessor directive is a statement (such as #define) that gives the preprocessor specific instructions on how to modify your source code. The preprocessor is invoked as the first part of your compiler program's compilation step. It is usually hidden from the programmer because it is run automatically by the compiler.

The preprocessor reads in all of your include files and the source code you are compiling and creates a preprocessed version of your source code. This preprocessed version has all of its macros and constant symbols replaced by their corresponding code and value assignments. If your source code contains any conditional preprocessor directives (such as #if), the preprocessor evaluates the condition and modifies your source code accordingly.

Here is an example of a program that uses the preprocessor extensively:

#include <stdio.h>
#define TRUE         1
#define FALSE        (!TRUE)
#define GREATER(a,b) ((a) > (b) ? (TRUE) : (FALSE))
#define PIG_LATIN    FALSE
void main(void);
void main(void)
{
     int x, y;
#if PIG_LATIN
     printf("Easeplay enternay ethay aluevay orfay xnay: ");
     scanf("%d", &x);
     printf("Easeplay enternay ethay aluevay orfay ynay: ");
     scanf("%d", &y);
#else
     printf("Please enter the value for x: ");
     scanf("%d", &x);
     printf("Please enter the value for y: ");
     scanf("%d", &y);
#endif
     if (GREATER(x,y) == TRUE)
     {
#if PIG_LATIN
          printf("xnay islay eatergray anthay ynay!\n");
#else
          printf("x is greater than y!\n");
#endif
     }
     else
     {
     #if PIG_LATIN
          printf("xnay islay otnay eatergray anthay ynay!\n");
#else
          printf("x is not greater than y!\n");
#endif
     }
}

This program uses preprocessor directives to define symbolic constants (such as TRUEFALSE, and PIG_LATIN), a macro (such as GREATER(a,b)), and conditional compilation (by using the #if statement). When the preprocessor is invoked on this source code, it reads in the stdio.h file and interprets its preprocessor directives, then it replaces all symbolic constants and macros in your program with the corresponding values and code. Next, it evaluates whether PIG_LATIN is set to TRUE and includes either the pig latin text or the plain English text.

If PIG_LATIN is set to FALSE, as in the preceding example, a preprocessed version of the source code would look like this:

/* Here is where all the include files
   would be expanded. */
void main(void)
{
     int x, y;
     printf("Please enter the value for x: ");
     scanf("%d", &x);
     printf("Please enter the value for y: ");
     scanf("%d", &y);
     if (((x) > (y) ? (1) : (!1)) == 1)
     {
          printf("x is greater than y!\n");
     }
     else
     {
          printf("x is not greater than y!\n");
     }
}

This preprocessed version of the source code can then be passed on to the compiler. If you want to see a preprocessed version of a program, most compilers have a command-line option or a standalone preprocessor program to invoke only the preprocessor and save the preprocessed version of your source code to a file. This capability can sometimes be handy in debugging strange errors with macros and other preprocessor directives, because it shows your source code after it has been run through the preprocessor.


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