C++ – what does __declspec(dllimport) really mean


I saw the Qt source code like this:

class Q_CORE_EXPORT QBasicAtomicInt

Which Q_CORE_EXPORT macro defines like below:

define Q_DECL_IMPORT __declspec(dllimport)

So what does __declspec(dllimport) really mean?

Best Solution

__declspec is a Microsoft-specific attribute that allows you to specify storage-class information.
(Nitpicker's Corner: However, a number of other compiler vendors—e.g. GCC—now support this language extension for compatibility with the installed base of code that was written targeting Microsoft's compilers. Some even provide additional storage-class attributes.)

Two of those storage-class attributes that can be specified are dllimport and dllexport. These indicate to the compiler that a function or object is imported or exported (respectively) from a DLL.

More specifically, they define the DLL's interface to the client without requiring a module-definition (.DEF) file. Most people find it much easier to use these language extensions than to create DEF files.

For obvious reasons, __declspec(dllimport) and __declspec(dllexport) are generally paired with one another. You use dllexport to mark a symbol as exported from a DLL, and you use dllimport to import that exported symbol in another file.

Because of this, and because the same header file is generally used both when compiling the DLL and in client code that consumes the DLL's interface, it is a common pattern to define a macro that automatically resolves to the appropriate attribute specifier at compile-time. For example:

    #define DLLEXPORT __declspec(dllexport)
    #define DLLEXPORT __declspec(dllimport)

And then marking all of the symbols that should be exported with DLLEXPORT.

Presumably, that is what the Q_CORE_EXPORT macro does, resolving to either Q_DECL_IMPORT or Q_DECL_EXPORT.