When learning functions on C++, I was taught that functions need declarations to be called. For example:

#include <iostream>

int main() {
  std::cout << "The result is " << sum(1, 2);
  return 0;
}

int sum(int x, int y) {
  return x + y;
}

It returns an error, as there is no declaration for the function sum.

main.cpp:4:36: error: use of undeclared identifier 'sum'
  std::cout << "The result is " << sum(1, 2);
                                   ^
1 error generated.

To fix this, I’d add the declaration:

#include <iostream>

int sum(int x, int y); // declaration

int main() {
  std::cout << "The result is " << sum(1, 2);
  return 0;
}

int sum(int x, int y) {
  return x + y;
}

My question is, why we don’t add a declaration for the main function, as we’d have to add for other functions, like sum?

ANSWER

A definition of a function is also a declaration of a function.

The purpose of a declaring a function is to make it known to the compiler. Declaring a function without defining it allows a function to be used in places where it is inconvenient to define it. For example:

  • If a function is used in a source file (A) other than the one it is defined in (B), we need to declare it in A (usually via a header that A includes, such as B.h).
  • If two or more functions may call each other, then we cannot define all those functions before the others—one of them has to be first. So declarations can be provided first, with definitions coming afterward.
  • Many people prefer to put “higher level” routines earlier in a source file and subroutines later. Since those “higher level” routines call various subroutines, the subroutines must be declared earlier.

In C++, a user program never calls main, so it never needs a declaration before the definition. (Note that you could provide one if you wished. There is nothing special about a declaration of main in this regard.) In C, a program can call main. In that case, it does require that a declaration be visible before the call.

Note that main does need to be known to the code that calls it. This is special code in what is typically called the C++ runtime startup code. The linker includes that code for you automatically when you are linking a C++ program with the appropriate linker options. Whatever language that code is written in, it has whatever declaration of main it needs in order to call it properly.