Scope and linkage

Scope is the largest region of program text in which a name can potentially be used without qualification to refer to an entity; that is, the largest region in which the name is potentially valid. Broadly speaking, scope is the general context used to differentiate the meanings of entity names. The rules for scope combined with those for name resolution enable the compiler to determine whether a reference to an identifier is legal at a given point in a file.

The scope of a declaration and the visibility of an identifier are related but distinct concepts. Scope is the mechanism by which it is possible to limit the visibility of declarations in a program. The visibility of an identifier is the region of program text from which the object associated with the identifier can be legally accessed. Scope can exceed visibility, but visibility cannot exceed scope. Scope exceeds visibility when a duplicate identifier is used in an inner declarative region, thereby hiding the object declared in the outer declarative region. The original identifier cannot be used to access the first object until the scope of the duplicate identifier (the lifetime of the second object) has ended.

Thus, the scope of an identifier is interrelated with the storage duration of the identified object, which is the length of time that an object remains in an identified region of storage. The lifetime of the object is influenced by its storage duration, which in turn is affected by the scope of the object identifier.

Linkage refers to the use or availability of a name across multiple translation units or within a single translation unit. The term translation unit refers to a source code file plus all the header and other source files that are included after preprocessing with the #include directive, minus any source lines skipped because of conditional preprocessing directives. Linkage allows the correct association of each instance of an identifier with one particular object or function.

Scope and linkage are distinguishable in that scope is for the benefit of the compiler, whereas linkage is for the benefit of the linker. During the translation of a source file to object code, the compiler keeps track of the identifiers that have external linkage and eventually stores them in a table within the object file. The linker is thereby able to determine which names have external linkage, but is unaware of those with internal or no linkage.

The distinctions between the different types of scopes are discussed in Scope. The different types of linkages are discussed in Program linkage.