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This chapter is from the book

Storing Data: C++ Variables

If all you could do was print messages, C++ wouldn’t be useful. The fundamental purpose of nearly any computer program is usually to get data from somewhere—such as end-user input—and then do something interesting with it.

Such operations require variables. These are locations into which you can place data. You can think of variables as magic boxes that hold values. As the program proceeds, it can read, write, or alter these values as needed. The upcoming example uses variables named ctemp and ftemp to hold Celsius and Fahrenheit values, respectively.


How are values put into variables? One way is through console input. In C++, you can input values by using the cin object, representing (appropriately enough) console input. With cin, you use a stream operator showing data flowing to the right (>>):


Here’s what happens in response to this statement. (The actual process is a little more complicated, but don’t worry about that for now.)

  1. The program suspends running and waits for the user to enter a number.
  2. The user types a number and presses ENTER.
  3. The number is accepted and placed in the variable ctemp (in this case).
  4. The program resumes running.

So, if you think about it, a lot happens in response to this statement:

cin >> ctemp;

But before you can use a variable in C++, you must declare it. This is an absolute rule and it makes C++ different from Basic, which is sloppy in this regard and doesn’t require declaration (but generations of Basic programmers have banged their heads against their terminals as they discovered errors cropping up as a result of Basic’s laxness about variables).

This is important enough to justify restating, so I’ll make it a cardinal rule:

To declare a variable, you first have to know what data type to use. This is a critical concept in C++ as in most other languages.

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