Why is “using namespace std;” considered bad practice? [Top Answers]

This article shared the top best answers to the problem mentioned above.

Why is “using namespace std;” considered bad practice? Answer #1:

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, and 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.

Why is “using namespace std;” considered bad practice? Answer #2:

I agree with everything explained above, but I’d like to add: It can even get worse than that!

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 listsortstringiterator, etc.) which are very likely to appear in other code, too.

If you consider this unlikely: There was a question asked here on Stack Overflow 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.

Why is “using namespace std;” considered bad practice? Answer #3:

The problem with putting using namespace in the header files of your classes is that it forces anyone who wants to use your classes (by including your header files) to also be ‘using’ (i.e. seeing everything in) those other namespaces.

However, you may feel free to put a using statement in your (private) *.cpp files.


Beware that some people disagree with my saying “feel free” like this — because although a using statement in a cpp file is better than in a header (because it doesn’t affect people who include your header file), they think it’s still not good (because depending on the code it could make the implementation of the class more difficult to maintain). This C++ Super-FAQ entry says,

The using-directive exists for legacy C++ code and to ease the transition to namespaces, but you probably shouldn’t use it on a regular basis, at least not in your new C++ code.

The FAQ suggests two alternatives:

  • A using-declaration:using std::cout; // a using-declaration lets you use cout without qualification cout << "Values:";
  • Just typing std::std::cout << "Values:";

Why is “using namespace std;” considered bad practice? Answer #4:

Do not use it globally

It is considered “bad” only when used globally. Because:

  • You clutter the namespace you are programming in.
  • Readers will have difficulty seeing where a particular identifier comes from, when you use many using namespace xyz;.
  • Whatever is true for other readers of your source code is even more true for the most frequent reader of it: yourself. Come back in a year or two and take a look…
  • If you only talk about using namespace std; you might not be aware of all the stuff you grab — and when you add another #include or move to a new C++ revision you might get name conflicts you were not aware of.

You may use it locally

Go ahead and use it locally (almost) freely. This, of course, prevents you from repetition of std:: — and repetition is also bad.

An idiom for using it locally

In C++03 there was an idiom — boilerplate code — for implementing a swap function for your classes. It was suggested that you actually use a local using namespace std; — or at least using std::swap;:

class Thing {
    int    value_;
    Child  child_;
public:
    // ...
    friend void swap(Thing &a, Thing &b);
};
void swap(Thing &a, Thing &b) {
    using namespace std;      // make `std::swap` available
    // swap all members
    swap(a.value_, b.value_); // `std::stwap(int, int)`
    swap(a.child_, b.child_); // `swap(Child&,Child&)` or `std::swap(...)`
}

This does the following magic:

  • The compiler will choose the std::swap for value_, i.e. void std::swap(int, int).
  • If you have an overload void swap(Child&, Child&) implemented the compiler will choose it.
  • If you do not have that overload the compiler will use void std::swap(Child&,Child&) and try its best swapping these.

With C++11 there is no reason to use this pattern any more. The implementation of std::swap was changed to find a potential overload and choose it.

Follow Programming Articles for more!

About ᴾᴿᴼᵍʳᵃᵐᵐᵉʳ

Linux and Python enthusiast, in love with open source since 2014, Writer at programming-articles.com, India.

View all posts by ᴾᴿᴼᵍʳᵃᵐᵐᵉʳ →