C++ “Hello world”

Ok, the most famous first program on any programming language is the “Hello world” program, so I will explain how to create one in this post.

In my example I will use “g++” in a Linux environment, but “clang++” works exactly the same.

To create a “Hello world” in C++, you need to create an empty file and give it a name with an extension (any name, for example HelloWorld.cpp); “cpp”, “cxx” or “cc” are well-known C++ file name extensions.

The compiler does not verify if the filename is equal to the name of the “class” or anything inside the file; the file can be stored on any folder too, you do not need to create it inside a special folder containing all stuff of a given “package” (à la Java), for example.

So, after creating an empty HelloWorld.cpp, you can open it using any text editor and start to write the following lines of code:

#include <iostream>

int main()
  std::cout << "Hello world\n";

Save it, open a terminal, go to the folder where your file is located and there, enter this:

g++ HelloWorld.cpp -o HelloWorld

If after entering that command line you do not get any message, BE HAPPY! Your program compiled properly. Otherwise, you did some error in your code and you need to fix it and compile it again.

After compiling it properly, you need to execute the program. In a Linux/Unix environment, you do that writing the name of the program after a ./ :


And the program should show:

Hello world

Understanding how all of this worked

The compilation process in C++ has basically three steps:

  1. Passing your program through the "preprocessor"; an entity that performs several text transformations on your code before being compiled.
  2. The actual compilation process, that turns all your code into machine code with several calls to functions that are located in other libraries.
  3. The linking process, that binds the function calls with the actual functions in the libraries the program uses. If you do not specify anything (as in our case), your program will be linked only to the Standard Library that ships with any C++ compiler.

The parts of the program


#include <iostream>

All things that start with "#" are called "preprocessor directives", that are instructions the preprocessor understands and executes.

#include tells to the preprocessor to look for the file named inside quotes or less-than and greater-than and put its content in the place the #include directive was invoked.

If the filename is inside less-than and greater-than characters (as in our case), the preprocessor will look for the file in a previously defined folder the compiler knows about. So, it will look for the file iostream in that folder. In a Linux environment, those files are generally in a path similar to this one (I am using g++ 8.2):


If the filename is declared between double quotes, it means the file will be in the current folder or in a folder explictly mentioned while compiling the program.

iostream is the file that contains a lot of code that allows our programs to have data input and output. In our “Hello World”, we will need “std::cout” that is defined in this file.

main function
int main()

When you invoke your program, the operating system needs to know what piece of code it needs to execute. Such piece of code lives inside the function main.

All functions must return something, for example, if you call a function sum that sums two numbers, it must return a value containing the result of the sum. So, the function sum must return an integer value (an int). Some old compilers used to allow the function main() to return “void” (that means: “return nothing”) but the C++ standard specifies the main() function must return an int value.

Anyway, though this function is declared returning an int, if you do not return anything, the compiler does not complain about that and returns a 0. Notice that this behavior is exceptional and it is only allowed for the function main().

The return value of function main() specified if an error occurred or not. 0 means that no error occurred during the program executed; and a non-zero value means that an error occurred. The specific value being returned is completely depending on the programmers design and error mechanisms defined by them.

The program will be executed while the function main() is being executed. When its execution ends, the program automatically ends returning the return value to the Operating System.

The body of any function is declared inside two curly braces.

std::cout << "Hello world\n";

std::cout is a pre-existing object that represents the command line output. The “<<" is an operator that basically does, in this case, sends the text "Hello world\n" to the std::cout object, producing an output of such text in the terminal.

The \n character sequence means an end of line.


g++ is the most popular C++ compiler for Unix platforms. These days clang has a lot of popularity and you can replace one to other because clang parameters are completely compatible to the g++ ones.

When you say something like:

g++ HelloWorld.cpp

You are instructing to the g++ compiler to go through all the compilation process for the file “HelloWorld.cpp”. “Go through all the compilation process” in this case means: Running the preprocessor on the file, compiling it, linking it and producing an executable.

Since in this command line in my example above I did not mention the name of the executable file, the g++ command generates a file called “a.out” in the current folder.

To specify the name of the file to be generated, you must invoke g++ with the “-o” option and then the name of the executable file to be generated.


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