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ROS C++ Style Guide

This page defines a style guide to be followed in writing C++ code for ROS. This guide applies to all ROS code, both core and non-core.

For Python, see the PyStyleGuide and for Javascript, see the ROS JavaScript Style Guide

For general ROS developer guidelines, see the DevelopersGuide.


Coding style is important. A clean, consistent style leads to code that is more readable, debuggable, and maintainable. We strive to write elegant code that will not only perform its desired function today, but will also live on, to be re-used and improved by other developers for many years to come.

To this end, we prescribe (and proscribe) a variety of practices. Our goal is to encourage agile but reasoned development of code that can be easily understood by others.

These are guidelines, not rules. With very few exceptions, this document does not completely ban any particular C++ pattern or feature, but rather describes best practice, to be used in the large majority of cases. When deviating from the guidelines given here, just be sure to consider your options carefully, and to document your reasoning, in the code.

Above all else, be consistent. Follow this guide whenever possible, but if you are editing a package written by someone else, follow the existing stylistic conventions in that package (unless you are retrofitting the whole package to follow this guide, for which you deserve an award).

  • Throughout this guide, we will refer to the Google C++ style guide, as it is a well-written document on the topic at hand. Here's the first such reference, which gives a longer motivation of the need consistent style:

  • See also Google:Background

Autoformatting of ROS Code

Why waste your valuable development time formatting code manually when we are trying to build amazing robots? Use a robot to format your code using "clang-format" and these instructions.

What about all this non-conforming code?

A lot of ROS C++ code was written prior to the release of this style guide. Thus, the codebase contains a lot of code that doesn't conform to this guide. The following advice is intended for the developer working with non-conforming code:

  • All new package should conform to this guide.
  • Unless you have copious free time, don't undertake converting the existing codebase to conform to this guide.
  • If you are author of a non-conforming package, try to find time to update the code to conform.
  • If you are doing minor edits to a non-conforming package, follow the existing stylistic conventions in that package (if any). Don't mix styles.
  • If you are doing major work on a non-conforming package, take the opportunity to re-style it to conform to this guide.


The following shortcuts are used in this section to denote naming schemes:

  • CamelCased: The name starts with a capital letter, and has a capital letter for each new word, with no underscores.

  • camelCased: Like CamelCase, but with a lower-case first letter

  • under_scored: The name uses only lower-case letters, with words separated by underscores. (yes, I realize that under_scored should be underscored, because it's just one word).

  • ALL_CAPITALS: All capital letters, with words separated by underscores.


ROS packages are under_scored.

This is not C++-specific; see the DevelopersGuide for more information.

Topics / Services

ROS topics and service names are under_scored.

This is not C++-specific; see the DevelopersGuide for more information.


All files are under_scored.

Source files have the extension .cpp.

Header files have the extension .h.

Be descriptive, e.g., instead of laser.cpp, use hokuyo_topurg_laser.cpp.

If the file primarily implements a class, name the file after the class. For example the class ActionServer would live in the file action_server.h.


Libraries, being files, are under_scored.

Don't insert an underscore immediately after the lib prefix in the library name.


lib_my_great_thing ## Bad
libmy_great_thing ## Good

Classes / Types

Class names (and other type names) are CamelCased


class ExampleClass;

Exception: if the class name contains a short acronym, the acronym itself should be all capitals, e.g.:

class HokuyoURGLaser;

Name the class after what it is. If you can't think of what it is, perhaps you have not thought through the design well enough.

Compound names of over three words are a clue that your design may be unnecessarily confusing.

Function / Methods

In general, function and class method names are camelCased, and arguments are under_scored, e.g.:

int exampleMethod(int example_arg);

Functions and methods usually perform an action, so their name should make clear what they do: checkForErrors() instead of errorCheck(), dumpDataToFile() instead of dataFile(). Classes are often nouns. By making function names verbs and following other naming conventions programs can be read more naturally.


In general, variable names are under_scored..

Be reasonably descriptive and try not to be cryptic. Longer variable names don't take up more space in memory, I promise.

Integral iterator variables can be very short, such as i, j, k. Be consistent in how you use iterators (e.g., i on the outer loop, j on the next inner loop).

STL iterator variables should indicate what they're iterating over, e.g.:

std::list<int> pid_list;
std::list<int>::iterator pid_it;

Alternatively, an STL iterator can indicate the type of element that it can point at, e.g.:

std::list<int> pid_list;
std::list<int>::iterator int_it;


Constants, wherever they are used, are ALL_CAPITALS.

Member variables

Variables that are members of a class (sometimes called fields) are under_scored, with a trailing underscore added.


int example_int_;

Global variables

Global variables should almost never be used (see below for more on this). When they are used, global variables are under_scored with a leading g_ added.


// I tried everything else, but I really need this global variable
int g_shutdown;


Namespace names are under_scored.

License statements

Every source and header file must contain a license and copyright statement at the beginning of the file.

In the ros-pkg and wg-ros-pkg repositories, the LICENSE directory contains license templates, commented for inclusion in C/C++ code.

See the ROS developer's guide for information on permissible licenses and licensing strategy.


Your editor should handle most formatting tasks. See EditorHelp for example editor configuration files.

Indent each block by 2 spaces. Never insert literal tab characters.

The contents of a namespace are not indented.

Braces, both open and close, go on their own lines (no "cuddled braces"). E.g.:

if(a < b)
  // do stuff
  // do other stuff

Braces can be omitted if the enclosed block is a single-line statement, e.g.:

if(a < b)
  x = 2*a;

Always include the braces if the enclosed block is more complex, e.g.:

if(a < b)
  for(int i=0; i<10; i++)

Here is a larger example:

   1 /*
   2  * A block comment looks like this...
   3  */
   4 #include <math.h>
   5 class Point
   6 {
   7 public:
   8   Point(double xc, double yc) :
   9     x_(xc), y_(yc)
  10   {
  11   }
  12   double distance(const Point& other) const;
  13   int compareX(const Point& other) const;
  14   double x_;
  15   double y_;
  16 };
  17 double Point::distance(const Point& other) const
  18 {
  19   double dx = x_ - other.x_;
  20   double dy = y_ - other.y_;
  21   return sqrt(dx * dx + dy * dy);
  22 }
  23 int Point::compareX(const Point& other) const
  24 {
  25   if (x_ < other.x_)
  26   {
  27     return -1;
  28   }
  29   else if (x_ > other.x_)
  30   {
  31     return 1;
  32   }
  33   else
  34   {
  35     return 0;
  36   }
  37 }
  38 namespace foo
  39 {
  40 int foo(int bar) const
  41 {
  42   switch (bar)
  43   {
  44     case 0:
  45       ++bar;
  46       break;
  47     case 1:
  48       --bar;
  49     default:
  50     {
  51       bar += bar;
  52       break;
  53     }
  54   }
  55 }
  56 } // end namespace foo

Line length

Maximum line length is 120 characters.

#ifndef guards

All headers must be protected against multiple inclusion by #ifndef guards, e.g.:


This guard should begin immediately after the license statement, before any code, and should end at the end of the file.


Code must be documented. Undocumented code, however functional it may be, cannot be maintained.

We use doxygen to auto-document our code. Doxygen parses your code, extracting documentation from specially formatted comment blocks that appear next to functions, variables, classes, etc. Doxygen can also be used to build more narrative, free-form documentation.

See the rosdoc page for examples of inserting doxygen-style comments into your code.

All functions, methods, classes, class variables, enumerations, and constants should be documented.

Console output

Avoid printf and friends (e.g., cout). Instead, use rosconsole for all your outputting needs. It offers macros with both printf- and stream-style arguments. Just like printf, rosconsole output goes to screen. Unlike printf, rosconsole output is:

  • color-coded
  • controlled by verbosity level and configuration file
  • published on /rosout, and thus viewable by anyone on the network (only when working with roscpp)

  • optionally logged to disk


Avoid preprocessor macros whenever possible. Unlike inline functions and const variables, macros are neither typed nor scoped.

Preprocessor directives (#if vs. #ifdef)

For conditional compilation (except for the #ifndef guard explained above), always use #if, not #ifdef.

Someone might write code like:

#ifdef DEBUG

Someone else might compile the code with turned-off debug info like:

cc -c lurker.cpp -DDEBUG=0

Always use #if, if you have to use the preprocessor. This works fine, and does the right thing, even if DEBUG is not defined at all.


Output arguments

Output arguments to methods / functions (i.e., variables that the function can modify) are passed by pointer, not by reference. E.g.:

int exampleMethod(FooThing input, BarThing* output);

By comparison, when passing output arguments by reference, the caller (or subsequent reader of the code) can't tell whether the argument can be modified without reading the prototype of the method.


Use of namespaces to scope your code is encouraged. Pick a descriptive name, based on the name of the package.

Never use a using-directive in header files. Doing so pollutes the namespace of all code that includes the header.

It is acceptable to use using-directives in a source file. But it is preferred to use using-declarations, which pull in only the names you intend to use.

E.g., instead of this:

using namespace std; // Bad, because it imports all names from std::

Do this:

using std::list;  // I want to refer to std::list as list
using std::vector;  // I want to refer to std::vector as vector


Inheritance is the appropriate way to define and implement a common interface. The base class defines the interface, and the subclasses implement it.

Inheritance can also be used to provide common code from a base class to subclasses. This use of inheritance is discouraged. In most cases, the "subclass" could instead contain an instance of the "base class" and achieve the same result with less potential for confusion.

When overriding a virtual method in a subclass, always declare it to be virtual, so that the reader knows what's going on.

Multiple inheritance

Multiple inheritance is strongly discouraged, as it can cause intolerable confusion.


Exceptions are the preferred error-reporting mechanism, as opposed to returning integer error codes.

Always document what exceptions can be thrown by your package, on each function / method.

Don't throw exceptions from destructors.

Don't throw exceptions from callbacks that you don't invoke directly.

If you choose in your package to use error codes instead of exceptions, use only error codes. Be consistent.

Writing exception-safe code

When your code can be interrupted by exceptions, you must ensure that resources you hold will be deallocated when stack variables go out of scope. In particular, mutexes must be released, and heap-allocated memory must be freed. Accomplish this safety by using the following mutex guards and smart pointers:

  • TODO
  • TODO


Namespaceify your enums, e.g.:

namespace Choices
  enum Choice
typedef Choices::Choice Choice;

This prevents enums from polluting the namespace they're inside. Individual items within the enum are referenced by: Choices::Choice1, but the typedef still allows declaration of the Choice enum without the namespace.

If you are using C++11 and above, you can use scoped enumeration. E.g.

enum class Choice
Choice c = Choice::Choice1;


Globals, both variables and functions, are discouraged. They pollute the namespace and make code less reusable.

Global variables, in particular, are strongly discouraged. They prevent multiple instantiations of a piece of code and make multi-threaded programming a nightmare.

Most variables and functions should be declared inside classes. The remainder should be declared inside namespaces.

Exception: a file may contain a main() function and a handful of small helper functions that are global. But keep in mind that one day those helper function may become useful to someone else.

Static class variables

Static class variables are discouraged. They prevent multiple instantiations of a piece of code and make multi-threaded programming a nightmare.

Calling exit()

Only call exit() at a well-defined exit point for the application.

Never call exit() in a library.


Use assertions to check preconditions, data structure integrity, and the return value from a memory allocator. Assertions are better than writing conditional statements that will rarely, if ever, be exercised.

Don't call assert() directly. Instead use one of these functions, declared in ros/assert.h (part of the rosconsole package):

/** ROS_ASSERT asserts that the provided expression evaluates to
 * true.  If it is false, program execution will abort, with an informative
 * statement about which assertion failed, in what file.  Use ROS_ASSERT
 * instead of assert() itself.
 * Example usage:
   ROS_ASSERT(x > y);

/** ROS_ASSERT_MSG(cond, "format string", ...) asserts that the provided
 * condition evaluates to true.
 * If it is false, program execution will abort, with an informative
 * statement about which assertion failed, in what file, and it will print out
 * a printf-style message you define.  Example usage:
   ROS_ASSERT_MSG(x > 0, "Uh oh, x went negative.  Value = %d", x);

/** ROS_ASSERT_CMD(cond, function())
 * Runs a function if the condition is false. Usage example:
   ROS_ASSERT_CMD(x > 0, handleError(...));

/** ROS_BREAK aborts program execution, with an informative
 * statement about which assertion failed, in what file. Use ROS_BREAK
 * instead of calling assert(0) or ROS_ASSERT(0). You can step over the assert
 * in a debugger.
 * Example usage:

Do not do work inside an assertion; only check logical expressions. Depending on compilation settings, the assertion may not be executed.

It is typical to develop software with assertion-checking enabled, in order to catch violations. When nearing software completion and when assertions are found to always be true in the face of extensive testing, you build with a flag that removes assertions from compilation, so they take up no space or time. The following option to catkin_make will define the NDEBUG macro for all your ROS packages, and thereby remove assertion checks.


Note: cmake will rebuild all your software when you run it with this command, and will remember the setting through subsequent catkin_make runs until you delete your build and devel directories and rebuild.


See gtest.


We're currently support Linux and OS X, with plans to eventually support other OS's, including possibly Windows. To that end, it's important to keep the C++ code portable. Here are a few things to watch for:

  • Don't use uint as a type. Instead use unsigned int.

  • Call isnan() from within the std namespace, i.e.: std::isnan()


To deprecate an entire header file within a package, you may include an appropriate warning:

#warning mypkg/my_header.h has been deprecated

To deprecate a function, add the deprecated attribute:

ROS_DEPRECATED int myFunc();

To deprecate a class, deprecate its constructor and any static functions:

class MyClass

  ROS_DEPRECATED static int myStaticFunc(); 

Wiki: CppStyleGuide (last edited 2022-11-17 09:20:56 by Sanoronas)