This tutorial walks you through the inspection of a piece of small but smelly C++ source code. By the end of this tutorial, you should be able to

  • Apply OCLint on a single file
  • Configure OCLint with very basic compiler flags
  • Understand output

Throughout this tutorial, we will also lead you to the detail pages if you are interested in certain steps and are willing to know more.

Something Smells Here

Create a sample.cpp file with the content below:

int main() {
    int i = 0, j = 1;
    if (j) {
        if (i) {
            return 1;
            j = 0;
    else {
        // Do this later!
    return 0;

Building Sample Code (Optional)

There is no need to build the code prior to run OCLint against it. However, since finding the correct arguments becomes one of the most frequently asked questions, this step is trying to help you convert your compiler flags to the ones that OCLint requires.


This step, however, doesn’t teach you how to find the correct compiler flags, thus, some level of knowledge about compiler flags is a prerequisite.

$ CC -c sample.cpp // step 1: compiling generates sample.o
$ CC -o sample sample.o // step 2: linking generates sample executable file

// Change CC to your favorite compiler that is GCC-compatible, e.g. g++ and clang++

$ ./sample // execute the binary
$ echo $? // output of a 0 means the code has been successfully built

We just took two sequential steps to generate the binary, step 1 compiles the code, and step 2 links. We are only interested in step 1 because that’s all compiler flags you need to give to OCLint. Here in this case, the compiler flag is -c, and inspected source file is sample.cpp.

If you cannot pass through this step, don’t give up, there are two helper programs oclint-json-compilation-database and oclint-xcodebuild (for Mac Xcode users) could help find the arguments for you.

Checking Single File

OCLint checks on single file with the following format:

oclint [options] <source> -- [compiler flags]

So, the command that applies to the sample source is

$ oclint sample.cpp -- -c

To change OCLint behavior, change the [options] before the source; to alter the compiler behavior, change the [compiler flags] after the -- separator. A complicated example might look like this:

$ oclint -html -o report.html sample.cpp -- -D__STDC_CONSTANT_MACROS -D__STDC_LIMIT_MACROS -I/usr/include -I/usr/local/include -c

For detail about OCLint options and inspect multiple files, see oclint usage.

Some Thoughts

This approach works perfectly if you want to apply OCLint against one single file. The inspection process is quick, and making changes to arguments is easy.

When working on a project with a group of source files, you definitely prefer inspecting the entire project and having one report consists of all results. Well, if they share the same compiler flags, you can do

oclint [options]  <source0> [... <sourceN>] -- [compiler flags]

Now, each source file may have different compiler flags. In this case, OCLint uses the compilation database to know which source files to parse with what compiler flags. It can be considered as a condensed Makefile. So, you can do

oclint -p <build-path> [other options]  <source0> [... <sourceN>]

A more handy helper program that comes with OCLint is oclint-json-compilation-database.

In addition, if you are working on a Mac with Xcode as IDE, an experimental helper program oclint-xcodebuild is prepared for you.

Understanding Report

By applying OCLint against the above sample, we got the output like this:

Processing: /path/to/sample.cpp.
OCLint Report

Summary: TotalFiles=1 FilesWithViolations=1 P1=0 P2=2 P3=1

/path/to/sample.cpp:4:9: collapsible if statements P3
/path/to/sample.cpp:13:9: empty else block P2
/path/to/sample.cpp:9:17: dead code P2

[OCLint (http://oclint.org) v0.6]

Basically, you can find the following information in the report:

  • Summary
    • total files
    • files with violations
    • number of priority 1 violations
    • number of priority 2 violations
    • number of priority 3 violations
  • A list of violations
    • path to the source file
    • line number
    • column number
    • violated rule
    • priority
    • message (if any)
  • OCLint information
    • website
    • release version

Read more about customizing reports.

We hope you have some feelings about OCLint, you can move on with a comprehensive usage guide. Also feel free to browse the rest content in this documentation for details, back to index or see table of contents. Thank you!