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3.20 Using Precompiled Headers

Often large projects have many header files that are included in every source file. The time the compiler takes to process these header files over and over again can account for nearly all of the time required to build the project. To make builds faster, GCC allows users to `precompile' a header file; then, if builds can use the precompiled header file they will be much faster.

Caution: There are a few known situations where GCC will crash when trying to use a precompiled header. If you have trouble with a precompiled header, you should remove the precompiled header and compile without it. In addition, please use GCC's on-line defect-tracking system to report any problems you encounter with precompiled headers. See Bugs.

To create a precompiled header file, simply compile it as you would any other file, if necessary using the -x option to make the driver treat it as a C or C++ header file. You will probably want to use a tool like make to keep the precompiled header up-to-date when the headers it contains change.

A precompiled header file will be searched for when #include is seen in the compilation. As it searches for the included file (see Search Path) the compiler looks for a precompiled header in each directory just before it looks for the include file in that directory. The name searched for is the name specified in the #include with `.gch' appended. If the precompiled header file can't be used, it is ignored.

For instance, if you have #include "all.h", and you have all.h.gch in the same directory as all.h, then the precompiled header file will be used if possible, and the original header will be used otherwise.

Alternatively, you might decide to put the precompiled header file in a directory and use -I to ensure that directory is searched before (or instead of) the directory containing the original header. Then, if you want to check that the precompiled header file is always used, you can put a file of the same name as the original header in this directory containing an #error command.

This also works with -include. So yet another way to use precompiled headers, good for projects not designed with precompiled header files in mind, is to simply take most of the header files used by a project, include them from another header file, precompile that header file, and -include the precompiled header. If the header files have guards against multiple inclusion, they will be skipped because they've already been included (in the precompiled header).

If you need to precompile the same header file for different languages, targets, or compiler options, you can instead make a directory named like all.h.gch, and put each precompiled header in the directory, perhaps using -o. It doesn't matter what you call the files in the directory, every precompiled header in the directory will be considered. The first precompiled header encountered in the directory that is valid for this compilation will be used; they're searched in no particular order.

There are many other possibilities, limited only by your imagination, good sense, and the constraints of your build system.

A precompiled header file can be used only when these conditions apply:

For all of these except the last, the compiler will automatically ignore the precompiled header if the conditions aren't met. If you find an option combination that doesn't work and doesn't cause the precompiled header to be ignored, please consider filing a bug report, see Bugs.

If you do use differing options when generating and using the precompiled header, the actual behavior will be a mixture of the behavior for the options. For instance, if you use -g to generate the precompiled header but not when using it, you may or may not get debugging information for routines in the precompiled header.