Hack 1 : Running a C program without main()

This  post is a simple example of deception. It shows how a programmer can defy the very important rule of having a main() in c program and still make the program run. This illustrates the concept on a simple program though it can be scaled to  much bigger and more complex programs.


#define decode(s,t,u,m,p,e,d) m##s##u##t
#define begin decode(a,n,i,m,a,t,e)

int begin()

printf(” hello “);

This program runs without main().


Here we are using preprocessor(a program which processes the source code before compilation.) directive #define with arguments to give an impression that the program runs without main. But in reality it runs with a hidden main function.

The ‘##‘ operator is called the token pasting or token merging operator. That is we can merge two or more characters with it.

In the 2nd line of the program-

#define decode(s,t,u,m,p,e,d) m##s##u##t

What is the preprocessor doing here. The macro decode(s,t,u,m,p,e,d) is being expanded as “msut” (The ## operator merges m,s,u & t into msut). The logic is when you pass (s,t,u,m,p,e,d) as argument it merges the 4th,1st,3rd & the 2nd characters(tokens)

Now look at the third line of the program –

#define begin decode(a,n,i,m,a,t,e)

Here the preprocessor replaces the macro “begin” with the expansion decode(a,n,i,m,a,t,e). According to the macro definition in the previous line the argument must be expanded so that the 4th,1st,3rd & the 2nd characters must be merged. In the argument (a,n,i,m,a,t,e) 4th,1st,3rd & the 2nd characters are ‘m’,’a’,’i’ & ‘n’.

So the third line “int begin” is replaced by “int main” by the preprocessor before the program is passed on for the compiler. That’s it…

So actually C program can never run without a main() . We are just disguising the main() with the preprocessor, but actually there exists a hidden main function in the program.


One thought on “Hack 1 : Running a C program without main()

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