Why SDL doesn't allow `int main(void)`

copyrat90·2022년 2월 5일

Probably the most common mistake SDL beginners do is this:

// Error: Fails to link.
#include <stdio.h>
#include <SDL.h>

int main(void)
    printf("Hello, SDL!\n");
    return 0;

... Hang on a second, it's just another Hello, world! program with the SDL.h header included!
What could possibly go wrong?

Surprisingly, this code fails to link, even if you set up the compiler and the linker correctly.
The error's gonna say something similar to this:

.../lib/libSDL2main.a(SDL_windows_main.o): In function `main_getcmdline':
.../src/main/windows/SDL_windows_main.c:71: undefined reference to `SDL_main'
collect2.exe: error: ld returned 1 exit status

To fix this, you have to put int main(int argc, char** argv) instead of int main(void).

// OK
#include <stdio.h>
#include <SDL.h>

int main(int argc, char** argv)
    printf("Hello, SDL!\n");
    return 0;

But why is it like that?
The C language allows the int main(void) as an entry point, doesn't it?

The thing is, when you include SDL.h, your main is not the real entry point anymore.
The real entry point now resides somewhere in the SDL library, and it calls your main function.
... Wait, what?

How SDL calls your (pseudo) main function

SDL.h includes SDL_main.h, and this is where the main related conditional defines take place.
If you look close to the SDL_main.h, you'll find these weird things:

#if defined(SDL_MAIN_NEEDED) || defined(SDL_MAIN_AVAILABLE)
#define main    SDL_main
 *  The prototype for the application's main() function
typedef int (*SDL_main_func)(int argc, char *argv[]);
extern SDLMAIN_DECLSPEC int SDL_main(int argc, char *argv[]);

#define main SDL_main tells your preprocessor to substitute identifier main into SDL_main.
By including SDL.h, you'll also include SDL_main.h, which turns your int main(int argc, char** argv) into int SDL_main(int argc, char** argv).

So, where's the real entry point then?
It differs from each platform.
I'll look into the lines which deals with Windows console application.

#if defined(_MSC_VER)
/* The VC++ compiler needs main/wmain defined */
# define console_ansi_main main
#  define console_wmain wmain
# endif
/* This is where execution begins [console apps, ansi] */
int console_ansi_main(int argc, char *argv[])
    return main_getcmdline();

/* This is where execution begins [console apps, unicode] */
int console_wmain(int argc, wchar_t *wargv[], wchar_t *wenvp)
    return main_getcmdline();

There they are, the console_ansi_main and console_wmain, which will turn into main and wmain respectively by the preprocessor.
They are calling main_getcmdline,
so let's look at this one, too.

/* Gets the arguments with GetCommandLine, converts them to argc and argv
   and calls SDL_main */
static int main_getcmdline(void)

    /* Run the application main() code */
    result = SDL_main(argc, argv);
    return result;

There! the main_getcmline calls SDL_main(int argc, char* argv[]) function declared in SDL_main.h, and its implementation is your int main(int argc, char** argv) function!
This is why you can't implement your main as int main(void), as it's not an implementation of SDL_main(int argc, char* argv[]), which is called by the SDL entry point.

But why SDL does this?
SDL got its own SDL_Init function to initialize SDL, after all.
If it were only for initializing platform specific stuff, it could have been done in SDL_Init, with the help of the conditional inclusion.
It seems there's no point to mess with the entry point, doesn't it?

Why SDL mess with entry point

Actually, some platforms require you to use an entry point other than main function.
A well known example of this is WinMain from the Win32 API.
So, normally you have to detect the platform you are working, and conditionally include the necessary entry point.

But thinking that the point of using SDL is to deal with cross-platform easily, this is a complete nonsense.
So the SDL wraps up your main function as SDL_main in its platform-specific entry points, effectively allowing you to just write main on the application level.
(e.g. WinMain is dealt in here)

So this approach certainly has a reason.
BUT, if you also want to use other libraries that mess with main, it is GUARENTEED TO BE BROKEN.
So, how can you use those libraries with SDL?

Tell SDL that you'll handle main manually (NOT recommended)

Let's look at these lines in SDL_main.h again.

#if defined(SDL_MAIN_NEEDED) || defined(SDL_MAIN_AVAILABLE)
#define main    SDL_main

Hey, it's covered with #if defined(SDL_MAIN_NEEDED) || defined(SDL_MAIN_AVAILABLE) conditional inclusion!
Looking through the SDL_main.h again, you can find the other lines that defines SDL_MAIN_NEEDED and SDL_MAIN_AVAILABLE.

#if defined(__WIN32__)

#elif defined(__WINRT__)
#endif /* SDL_MAIN_HANDLED */

So, by defining SDL_MAIN_HANDLED BEFORE including SDL_main.h, you can prevent SDL from messing with the entry point.


#include "SDL.h"

int main(int argc, char *argv[])

    return 0;

In this case, your main function is the real entry point.
And you have to deal with some platform-specific stuff by yourself.

Also, you have to call SDL_SetMainReady before SDL_Init in this case,
as on some operating system, SDL_Init() will fail if SDL_main() has not been defined as the entry point for the program.
But unfortunately this will disable SDL's error handling.

As a small side effect, you can use int main(void) in this case.
But defining SDL_MAIN_HANDLED is NOT recommended, as it lacks of platform-specific initializations.
You should not define it whenever possible, and should just stick to int main(int argc, char** argv).

References not mentioned in the article

  1. https://stackoverflow.com/a/33051499/12875525
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