c++ how - Why is “using namespace std” considered bad practice?

advantages where (25)

It's nice to see code and know what it does. If I see std::cout I know that's the cout stream of the std library. If I see cout then I don't know. It could be the cout stream of the std library. Or there could be an int cout = 0; ten lines higher in the same function. Or a static variable named cout in that file. It could be anything.

Now take a million line code base, which isn't particularly big, and you're searching for a bug, which means you know there is one line in this one million lines that doesn't do what it is supposed to do. cout << 1; could read a static int named cout, shift it to the left by one bit, and throw away the result. Looking for a bug, I'd have to check that. Can you see how I really really prefer to see std::cout?

It's one of these things that seem a really good idea if you are a teacher and never had to write and maintain any code for a living. I love seeing code where (1) I know what it does; and, (2) I'm confident that the person writing it knew what it does.

I've been told by others that writing using namespace std in code is wrong, and that I should use std::cout and std::cin directly instead.

Why is using namespace std considered a bad practice? Is it inefficient or does it risk declaring ambiguous variables (variables that share the same name as a function in std namespace)? Does it impact performance?

Another reason is surprise.

If I see cout << blah, instead of std::cout << blah

I think what is this cout? Is it the normal cout? Is it something special?

A namespace is a named scope. Namespaces are used to group related declarations and to keep separate items separate. For example, two separately developed libraries may use the same name to refer to different items, but a user can still use both:

namespace Mylib{
    template<class T> class Stack{ /* ... */ };
    / / ...
namespace Yourlib{
    class Stack{ /* ... */ };
    / / ...
void f(int max) {
    Mylib: :Stack<int> s1(max) ; / / use my stack
    Yourlib: :Stack s2(max) ; / / use your stack
    / / ...

Repeating a namespace name can be a distraction for both readers and writers. Consequently, it is possible to state that names from a particular namespace are available without explicit qualification. For example:

void f(int max) {
    using namespace Mylib; / / make names from Mylib accessible
    Stack<int> s1(max) ; / / use my stack
    Yourlib: :Stack s2(max) ; / / use your stack
    / / ...

Namespaces provide a powerful tool for the management of different libraries and of different versions of code. In particular, they offer the programmer alternatives of how explicit to make a reference to a nonlocal name.

Source : An Overview of the C++ Programming Language by Bjarne Stroustrup

An example where using namespace std throws complilation error because of the ambiguity of count, which is also a function in algorithm library.

#include <iostream>

using namespace std;

int count = 1;
int main() {

It depends on where it is located. If it is a common header, then you are diminishing the value of the namespace by merging it into the global namespace. Keep in mind, this could be a neat way of making module globals.

I agree that it should not be used globally, but it's not so evil to to use locally, like in a namespace. Here's an example from "The C++ Programming Language" :

namespace My_lib {

    using namespace His_lib; // everything from His_lib
    using namespace Her_lib; // everything from Her_lib

    using His_lib::String; // resolve potential clash in favor of His_lib
    using Her_lib::Vector; // resolve potential clash in favor of Her_lib


In this example, we resolved potential name clashes and ambiguities arising from their composition.

Names explicitly declared there (including names declared by using-declarations like His_lib::String) take priority over names made accessible in another scope by a using-directive (using namespace Her_lib).

I agree with others – it is asking for name clashes, ambiguities and then the fact is it is less explicit. While I can see the use of using, my personal preference is to limit it. I would also strongly consider what some others pointed out:

If you want to find a function name that might be a fairly common name, but you only want to find it in the std namespace (or the reverse – you want to change all calls that are NOT in namespace std, namespace X, ...), then how do you propose to do this? You could write a program to do it but wouldn't it be better to spend time working on your project itself rather than writing a program to maintain your project?

Personally I actually don't mind the std:: prefix. I like the look more than not having it. I don't know if that is because it is explicit and says to me "this isn't my code... I am using the standard library" or if it is something else, but I think it looks nicer. This might be odd given that I only recently got into C++ (used and still do C and other languages for much longer and C is my favourite language of all time, right above assembly).

There is one other thing although it is somewhat related to the above and what others point out. While this might be bad practise, I sometimes reserve std::name for standard library version and name for program-specific implementation. Yes indeed this could bite you and bite you hard but it all comes down to that I started this project from scratch and I'm the only programmer for it. Example: I overload std::string and call it string. I have helpful additions. I did it in part because of my C and Unix (+ Linux) tendency towards lower-case names.

Besides that, you can have namespace aliases. Here is an example of where it is useful that might not have been referred to. I use the C++11 standard and specifically with libstdc++. Well, it doesn't have complete std::regex support. Sure it compiles but it throws an exception along the lines of it being an error on the programmer's end. But it is lack of implementation. So here's how I solved it. Install Boost's regex, link it in. Then, I do the following so that when libstdc++ has it implemented entirely, I need only remove this block and the code remains the same:

namespace std
    using boost::regex;
    using boost::regex_error;
    using boost::regex_replace;
    using boost::regex_search;
    using boost::regex_match;
    using boost::smatch;
    namespace regex_constants = boost::regex_constants;  

I won't argue on whether that is a bad idea or not. I will however argue that it keeps it clean for MY project and at the same time makes it specific: True I have to use Boost BUT I'm using it like the libstdc++ will eventually have it. Yes, starting your own project and starting with a standard (...) at the very beginning goes a very long way with helping maintenance, development and everything involved with the project!

Now that I have time, just to clarify something. I don't actually think it is a good idea to use a name of a class/whatever in the STL deliberately and more specifically in place of. The string is the exception (ignore the first, above, or second here, pun if you must) for me as I didn't like the idea of 'String'. As it is, I am still very biased towards C and biased against C++. Sparing details, much of what I work on fits C more (but it was a good exercise and a good way to make myself a. learn another language and b. try not be less biased against object/classes/etc which is maybe better stated as less closed-minded, less arrogant, more accepting.). But what IS useful is what some already suggested: I do indeed use list (it is fairly generic, is it not ?), sort (same thing) to name two that would cause a name clash if I were to do using namespace std; and so to that end I prefer being specific, in control and knowing that if I intend it to be the standard use then I will have to specify it. Put simply: no assuming allowed.

And as for making Boost's regex part of std. I do that for future integration and – again, I admit fully this is bias - I don't think it is as ugly as boost::regex:: ... Indeed that is another thing for me. There are many things in C++ that I still have yet to come to fully accept in looks and methods (another example: variadic templates versus var args [though I admit variadic templates are very very useful!]). Even those that I do accept it was difficult AND I still have issues with them.

From my experiences, if you have multiple libraries that uses say, cout, but for a different purpose you may use the wrong cout.

For example, if I type in, using namespace std; and using namespace otherlib; and type just cout (which happens to be in both), rather than std::cout (or 'otherlib::cout'), you might use the wrong one, and get errors, it's much more effective and efficient to use std::cout.

This is not related to performance at all. But consider this: you are using two libraries called Foo and Bar:

using namespace foo;
using namespace bar;

Everything works fine, you can call Blah() from Foo and Quux() from Bar without problems. But one day you upgrade to a new version of Foo 2.0, which now offers a function called Quux(). Now you've got a conflict: Both Foo 2.0 and Bar import Quux() into your global namespace. This is going to take some effort to fix, especially if the function parameters happen to match.

If you had used foo::Blah() and bar::Quux(), then the introduction of foo::Quux() would have been a non-event.

With unqualified imported identifiers you need external search tools like grep to find out where identifiers are declared. This makes reasoning about program correctness harder.

Experienced programmers use whatever solves their problems and avoid whatever creates new problems, and they avoid header-file-level using-directives for this exact reason.

Experienced programmers also try to avoid full qualification of names inside their source files. A minor reason for this is that it's not elegant to write more code when less code is sufficient unless there are good reasons. A major reason for this is turning off argument-dependent lookup (ADL).

What are these good reasons? Sometimes programmers explicitly want to turn off ADL, other times they want to disambiguate.

So the following are OK:

  1. Function-level using-directives and using-declarations inside functions' implementations
  2. Source-file-level using-declarations inside source files
  3. (Sometimes) source-file-level using-directives

It doesn't make worse your software or project performance, the inclusion of the namespace at the beginning of your source code isn't bad. The inclusion of the using namespace std instruction varies according to your needs and the way you are developing the software or project.

The namespace std contains the C++ standard functions and variables. This namespace is useful when you often would use the C++ standard functions.

As is mentioned in this page:

The statement using namespace std is generally considered bad practice. The alternative to this statement is to specify the namespace to which the identifier belongs using the scope operator(::) each time we declare a type.

And see this opinion:

There is no problem using "using namespace std" in your source file when you make heavy use of the namespace and know for sure that nothing will collide.

Some people had said that is a bad practice to include the using namespace std in your source files because you're invoking from that namespace all the functions and variables. When you would like to define a new function with the same name as another function contained in the namespace std you would overload the function and it could produce problems due to compile or execute. It will not compile or executing as you expect.

As is mentioned in this page:

Although the statement saves us from typing std:: whenever we wish to access a class or type defined in the std namespace, it imports the entirety of the std namespace into the current namespace of the program. Let us take a few examples to understand why this might not be such a good thing


Now at a later stage of development, we wish to use another version of cout that is custom implemented in some library called “foo” (for example)


Notice how there is an ambiguity, to which library does cout point to? The compiler may detect this and not compile the program. In the worst case, the program may still compile but call the wrong function, since we never specified to which namespace the identifier belonged.

This is a bad practice, often known as global namespace pollution. Problems may occur when more than one namespace has the same function name with signature, then it will be ambiguous for the compiler to decide which one to call and this all can be avoided when you are specifying the namespace with your function call like std::cout . Hope this helps. :)

  1. you need to be able to read code written by people who have different style and best practices opinions than you.

  2. If you're only using cout, nobody gets confused. But when you have lots of namespaces flying around and you see this class and you aren't exactly sure what it does, having the namespace explicit acts as a comment of sorts. You can see at first glance, 'oh, this is a filesystem operation' or 'thats doing network stuff'.

"Why is 'using namespace std;' considered a bad practice in C++?"

I put it the other way around: Why is typing 5 extra chars is considered cumbersome by some?

Consider e.g. writing a piece of numerical software, why would I even consider polluting my global namespace by cutting general "std::vector" down to "vector" when "vector" is one of the problem domain's most important concepts?

If you import the right header files you suddenly have names like hex, left, plus or count in your global scope. This might be surprising if you are not aware that std:: contains these names. If you also try to use these names locally it can lead to quite some confusion.

If all the standard stuff is in its own namespace you don't have to worry about name collisions with your code or other libraries.

To answer your question I look at it this way practically: a lot of programmers (not all) invoke namespace std. Therefore one should be in the habit of NOT using things that impinge or use the same names as what is in the namespace std. That is a great deal granted, but not so much compared to the number of possible coherent words and pseudonyms that can be come up with strictly speaking.

I mean really... saying "don't rely on this being present" is just setting you up to rely on it NOT being present. You are constantly going to have issues borrowing code snippets and constantly repairing them. Just keep your user-defined and borrowed stuff in limited scope as they should be and be VERY sparing with globals (honestly globals should almost always be a last resort for purposes of "compile now, sanity later"). Truly I think it is bad advice from your teacher because using std will work for both "cout" and "std::cout" but NOT using std will only work for "std::cout". You will not always be fortunate enough to write all your own code.

NOTE: Don't focus too much on efficiency issues until you actually learn a little about how compilers work. With a little experience coding you don't have to learn that much about them before you realize how much they are able to generalize good code into something something simple. Every bit as simple as if you wrote the whole thing in C. Good code is only as complex as it needs to be.

I agree with everything Greg wrote, but I'd like to add: It can even get worse than Greg said!

Library Foo 2.0 could introduce a function, Quux(), that is an unambiguously better match for some of your calls to Quux() than the bar::Quux() your code called for years. Then your code still compiles, but it silently calls the wrong function and does god-knows-what. That's about as bad as things can get.

Keep in mind that the std namespace has tons of identifiers, many of which are very common ones (think list, sort, string, iterator, etc.) which are very likely to appear in other code, too.

If you consider this unlikely: There was a question asked here on where pretty much exactly this happened (wrong function called due to omitted std:: prefix) about half a year after I gave this answer. Here is another, more recent example of such a question. So this is a real problem.

Here's one more data point: Many, many years ago, I also used to find it annoying having to prefix everything from the standard library with std::. Then I worked in a project where it was decided at the start that both using directives and declarations are banned except for function scopes. Guess what? It took most of us very few weeks to get used to writing the prefix, and after a few more weeks most of us even agreed that it actually made the code more readable. There's a reason for that: Whether you like shorter or longer prose is subjective, but the prefixes objectively add clarity to the code. Not only the compiler, but you, too, find it easier to see which identifier is referred to.

In a decade, that project grew to have several million lines of code. Since these discussions come up again and again, I once was curious how often the (allowed) function-scope using actually was used in the project. I grep'd the sources for it and only found one or two dozen places where it was used. To me this indicates that, once tried, developers don't find std:: painful enough to employ using directives even once every 100 kLoC even where it was allowed to be used.

Bottom line: Explicitly prefixing everything doesn't do any harm, takes very little getting used to, and has objective advantages. In particular, it makes the code easier to interpret by the compiler and by human readers — and that should probably be the main goal when writing code.

A concrete example to clarify the concern. Imagine you have a situation where you have 2 libraries, foo and bar, each with their own namespace:

namespace foo {
    void a(float) { /* does something */ }

namespace bar {

Now let's say you use foo and bar together in your own program as follows:

using namespace foo;
using namespace bar;

void main() {

At this point everything is fine. When you run your program it 'does something'. But later you update bar and let's say it has changed to be like:

namespace bar {
    void a(float) { /* does something completely different */ }

At this point you'll get a compiler error:

using namespace foo;
using namespace bar;

void main() {
    a(42);  // error: call to 'a' is ambiguous, should be foo::a(42)

So you'll need to do some maintenance to clarify which 'a' you meant (i.e. foo::a). That's probably undesirable, but fortunately it is pretty easy (just add foo:: in front of all calls to a that the compiler marks as ambiguous).

But imagine an alternative scenario where bar changed instead to look like this instead:

namespace bar {
    void a(int) { /* does something completely different */ }

At this point your call to a(42) suddenly binds to bar::a instead of foo::a and instead of doing 'something' it does 'something completely different'. No compiler warning or anything. Your program just silently starts doing something complete different than before.

When you use a namespace you're risking a scenario like this, which is why people are uncomfortable using namespaces. The more things in a namespace the greater the risk of conflict, so people might be even more uncomfortable using namespace std (due to the number of things in that namespace) than other namespaces.

Ultimately this is a trade-off between writability vs reliability/maintainability. Readability may factor in also, but I could see arguments for that going either way. Normally I would say reliability and maintainability are more important, but in this case you'll constantly pay the writability cost for an fairly rare reliability/maintainability impact. The 'best' trade-off will determine on your project and your priorities.


// myHeader.h
#include <sstream>
using namespace std;

// someoneElses.cpp/h
#include "myHeader.h"

class stringstream {  // uh oh

Note that this is a simple example, if you have files with 20 includes and other imports you'll have a ton of dependencies to go through to figure out the problem. The worse thing about it is that you can get unrelated errors in other modules depending on the definitions that conflict.

It's not horrible but you'll save yourself headaches by not using it in header files or the global namespace. It's probably alright to do it in very limited scopes but I've never had a problem typing the extra 5 characters to clarify where my functions are coming from.

It's all about managing complexity. Using the namespace will pull things in that you don't want, and thus possibly make it harder to debug (I say possibly). Using std:: all over the place is harder to read (more text and all that).

Horses for courses - manage your complexity how you best can and feel able.

Using many namespaces at the same time is obviously a recipe for disaster, but using JUST namespace std and only namespace std is not that big of a deal in my opinion because redefinition can only occur by your own code...

So just consider them functions as reserved names like "int" or "class" and that is it.

People should stop being so anal about it. Your teacher was right all along. Just use ONE namespace; that is the whole point of using namespaces the first place. You are not supposed to use more than one at the same time. Unless it is your own. So again, redefinition will not happen.

Short version: don't use global using declarations or directives in header files. Feel free to use them in implementation files. Here's what Herb Sutter and Andrei Alexandrescu have to say about this issue in C++ Coding Standards (bolding for emphasis is mine):


Namespace usings are for your convenience, not for you to inflict on others: Never write a using declaration or a using directive before an #include directive.

Corollary: In header files, don’t write namespace-level using directives or using declarations; instead, explicitly namespace-qualify all names. (The second rule follows from the first, because headers can never know what other header #includes might appear after them.)


In short: You can and should use namespace using declarations and directives liberally in your implementation files after #include directives and feel good about it. Despite repeated assertions to the contrary, namespace using declarations and directives are not evil and they do not defeat the purpose of namespaces. Rather, they are what make namespaces usable.

One shouldn't use using directive at global scope, especially in headers. However there are situations where it is appropriate even in a header file:

template <typename FloatType> inline
FloatType compute_something(FloatType x)
    using namespace std; //no problem since scope is limited
    return exp(x) * (sin(x) - cos(x * 2) + sin(x * 3) - cos(x * 4));

This is better than explicit qualification (std::sin, std::cos...) because it is shorter and has the ability to work with user defined floating point types (via Argument Dependent Lookup).

Although standard C++ has no such requirement, some compilers require that all function and class templates need to be made available in every translation unit they are used. In effect, for those compilers, the bodies of template functions must be made available in a header file. To repeat: that means those compilers won't allow them to be defined in non-header files such as .cpp files

There is an export keyword which is supposed to mitigate this problem, but it's nowhere close to being portable.

c++ namespaces std using-directives c++-faq