Sometimes it is necessary to adjust the contents of a system-provided header file without editing it directly. GCC’s
fixincludes operation does this, for example. One way to do that would be to create a new header file with the same name and insert it in the search path before the original header. That works fine as long as you’re willing to replace the old header entirely. But what if you want to refer to the old header from the new one?
You cannot simply include the old header with ‘#include’. That will start from the beginning, and find your new header again. If your header is not protected from multiple inclusion (see Once-Only Headers), it will recurse infinitely and cause a fatal error.
You could include the old header with an absolute pathname:
This works, but is not clean; should the system headers ever move, you would have to edit the new headers to match.
There is no way to solve this problem within the C standard, but you can use the GNU extension ‘#include_next’. It means, “Include the next file with this name”. This directive works like ‘#include’ except in searching for the specified file: it starts searching the list of header file directories after the directory in which the current file was found.
Suppose you specify -I /usr/local/include, and the list of directories to search also includes /usr/include; and suppose both directories contain signal.h. Ordinary
#include <signal.h> finds the file under /usr/local/include. If that file contains
#include_next <signal.h>, it starts searching after that directory, and finds the file in /usr/include.
‘#include_next’ does not distinguish between
"file" inclusion, nor does it check that the file you specify has the same name as the current file. It simply looks for the file named, starting with the directory in the search path after the one where the current file was found.
The use of ‘#include_next’ can lead to great confusion. We recommend it be used only when there is no other alternative. In particular, it should not be used in the headers belonging to a specific program; it should be used only to make global corrections along the lines of
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