Rules for managing header file includes in C++

Software Design
Published in
1 min readJun 3, 2017


C++ header file management can be very frustrating:

  • Changing the order of header files often results in difficult to track compilation errors
  • C++ project compilations take a long time due to complex header file inclusions

Here are a few rules to remedy this:

An example illustrates the header file inclusion rules:

Header file

#ifndef _a_h_included_
#define _a_h_included_
#include "abase.h"
#include "b.h"

// Forward Declarations
class C;
class D;

class A : public ABase
B m_b;
C *m_c;
D *m_d;

void SetC(C *c);
C *GetC() const;

void ModifyD(D *d);

Source file

#include "a.h"
#include "d.h"

void A::SetC(C* c)
m_c = c;

C* A::GetC() const
return m_c;

void A::ModifyD(D* d)
m_d = d;

For details, refer to C++ Header File Include Rules