C++ Coding Guidelines


In terms of coding conventions, the style present within an existing source file should be favoured over the standards found below.

When a new source file is being created, the following coding conventions should be observed if creating a new file within the MAME core (src/emu and src/lib). If the source file is outside the core, deference can be given to a contributor’s preferred style, although it is strongly encouraged to code with the understanding that the file may need to be comprehensible by more than one person as time marches forward.


Snake case

All lowercase letters with words separated by underscores: this_is_snake_case

Screaming snake case

All uppercase letters with words separated by underscores: SCREAMING_SNAKE_CASE

Camel case:

Lowercase initial letter, first letter of each subsequent word capitalised, with no separators between words: exampleCamelCase

Llama case:

Uppercase initial letter, first letter of each subsequent word capitalised, with no separators between words: LlamaCaseSample

Source file format

MAME C++ source files are encoded as UTF-8 text, assuming fixed-width characters, with tab stops at four-space intervals. Source files should end with a terminating end-of-line. Any valid printable Unicode text is permitted in comments. Outside comments and strings, only the printable ASCII subset of Unicode is permitted.

The srcclean tool is used to enforce file format rules before each release. You can build this tool and apply it to the files you modify before opening a pull request to avoid conflicts or surprising changes later.

Naming conventions

Preprocessor macros

Macro names should use screaming snake case. Macros are always global and name conflicts can cause confusing errors – think carefully about what macros really need to be in headers and name them carefully.

Include guards

Include guard macros should begin with MAME_, and end with a capitalised version of the file name, with separators replaced by underscores.


Constants should use screaming snake case, whether they are constant globals, constant data members, enumerators or preprocessor constants.


Free functions names should use snake case. (There are some utility function that were previously implemented as preprocessor macros that still use screaming snake case.)


Class names should use snake case. Abstract class names should end in _base. Public member functions (including static member functions) should use snake case.

Device classes

Concrete driver driver_device implementation names conventionally end in _state, while other concrete device class names end in _device. Concrete device_interface names conventionally begin with device_ and end with _interface.

Device types

Device types should use screaming snake case. Remember that device types are names in the global namespace, so choose explicit, unambiguous names.


The enumeration name should use snake case. The enumerators should use screaming snake case.

Template parameters

Template parameters should use llama case (both type and value parameters).

Identifiers containing two consecutive underscores or starting with an underscore followed by an uppercase letter are always reserved and should not be used.

Type names and other identifiers with a leading underscore should be avoided within the global namespace, as they are explicitly reserved according to the C++ standard. Additionally, identifiers suffixed with _t should be avoided within the global namespace, as they are also reserved according to POSIX standards. While MAME violates this policy occasionally – most notably with device_t – it’s considered to be an unfortunate legacy decision that should be avoided in any new code.

Variables and literals

Octal literals are discouraged from use outside of specific cases. They lack the obvious letter-based prefixes found in hexadecimal and binary literals, and therefore can be difficult to distinguish at a glance from a decimal literal to coders who are unfamiliar with octal notation.

Lower-case hexadecimal literals are preferred, e.g. 0xbadc0de rather than 0xBADC0DE. For clarity, try not to exceed the bit width of the variable which will be used to store it.

Binary literals have rarely been used in the MAME source code due to the 0b prefix not being standardised until C++14, but there is no policy to avoid their use.

Integer suffix notation should be used when specifying 64-bit literals, but is not strictly required in other cases. It can, however, clarify the intended use of a given literal at a glance. Uppercase long integer literal suffixes should be used to avoid confusion with the digit 1, e.g. 7LL rather than 7ll.

Digit grouping should be used for longer numeric literals, as it aids in recognising order of magnitude or bit field positions at a glance. Decimal literals should use groups of three digits, and hexadecimal literals should use groups of four digits, outside of specific situations where different grouping would be easier to understand, e.g. 4'433'619 or 0xfff8'1fff.

Types that do not have a specifically defined size should be avoided if they are to be registered with MAME’s save-state system, as it harms portability. In general, this means avoiding the use of int for these members.

It's encouraged, but not required, for class data members to be prefixed with m_ for non-static instance members and s_ for static members. This does not apply to nested classes or structs.

Bracing and indentation

Tabs are used for initial indentation of lines, with one tab used per nested scope level. Statements split across multiple lines should be indented by two tabs. Spaces are used for alignment at other places within a line.

Either K&R or Allman-style bracing is preferred. There is no specific preference for bracing on single-line statements, although bracing should be consistent for a given if/else block, as shown:

if (x == 0)

When using a series of if/else or if/else if/else blocks with comments at the top indentation level, avoid extraneous newlines. The use of additional newlines may lead to else if or else blocks being missed due to the newlines pushing the blocks outside the visible editor height:

// Early-out if our hypothetical counter has run out.
if (x == 0)
// We should do something if the counter is running.

Indentation for case statements inside a switch body can either be on the same level as the switch statement or inward by one level. There is no specific style which is used across all core files, although indenting by one level appears to be used most often.


Consistent single-spacing between binary operators, variables, and literals is strongly preferred. The following examples exhibit reasonably consistent spacing:

uint8_t foo = (((bar + baz) + 3) & 7) << 1;
uint8_t foo = ((bar << 1) + baz) & 0x0e;
uint8_t foo = bar ? baz : 5;

The following examples exhibit extremes in either direction, although having extra spaces is less difficult to read than having too few:

uint8_t foo = ( ( ( bar + baz ) + 3 ) & 7 ) << 1;
uint8_t foo = ((bar<<1)+baz)&0x0e;
uint8_t foo = (bar?baz:5);

A space should be used between a fundamental C++ statement and its opening parenthesis, e.g.:

switch (value) ...
if (a != b) ...
for (int i = 0; i < foo; i++) ...


Variables should be scoped as narrowly as is reasonably possible. There are many instances of C89-style local variable declaration in the MAME codebase, but this is largely a hold-over from MAME’s early days, which pre-date the C99 specification.

The following two snippets exhibit the legacy style of local variable declaration, followed by the more modern and preferred style:

void example_device::some_function()
    int i;
    uint8_t data;

    for (i = 0; i < std::size(m_buffer); i++)
        data = m_buffer[i];
        if (data)
void example_device::some_function()
    for (int i = 0; i < std::size(m_buffer); i++)
        const uint8_t data = m_buffer[i];
        if (data)

Enumerated values, structs, and classes used only by one specific device should be declared within the device's class itself. This avoids pollution of the global namespace and makes the device-specific use of them more obvious at a glance.

Const Correctness

Const-correctness has not historically been a strict requirement of code that goes into MAME, but there’s increasing value in it as the amount of code refactoring increases and technical debt decreases.

When writing new code, it’s worth taking the time to determine if a local variable can be declared const. Similarly, it's encouraged to consider which member functions of a new class can be const qualified.

In a similar vein, arrays of constants should be declared constexpr and should use screaming snake case, as outlined towards the top of this document. Lastly, arrays of C-style strings should be declared as both a const array of const strings, as so:

static const char *const EXAMPLE_NAMES[4] =


While /* ANSI C comments */ are often found in the codebase, there has been a gradual shift towards // C++-style comments for single-line comments. This is very much a guideline, and coders are encouraged to use whichever style is most comfortable.

Unless specifically quoting content from a machine or ancillary materials, comments should be in English so as to match the predominant language that the MAME team shares worldwide.

Commented-out code should typically be removed prior to authoring a pull request, as it has a tendency to rot due to the fast-moving nature of MAME’s core API. If there is a desire known beforehand for the code to eventually be included, it should be bookended in if (0) or if (false), as code removed through a preprocessor macro will rot at the same rate.

MAME-Specific Helpers

When at all possible, use helper functions and macros for bit manipulation operations.

The BIT(value, bit) helper can be used to extract the state of a bit at a given position from an integer value. The resulting value will be aligned to the least significant bit position, i.e. will be either 0 or 1.

An overload of the same function, BIT(value, bit, width) can be used to extract a bit field of a specified width from an integer value, starting at the specified bit position. The result will also be right-justified and will be of the same type as the incoming value.

There are, additionally, a number of helpers for functionality such as counting leading zeroes/ones, population count, and signed/unsigned integer multiplication and division for both 32-bit and 64-bit results. Not all of these helpers have wide use in the MAME codebase, but using them in new code is strongly preferred when that code is performance- critical, as they utilise inline assembly or compiler intrinsics per- platform when available.

count_leading_zeros_32/64(T value)

Accepts an unsigned 32/64-bit value and returns an unsigned 8-bit value containing the number of consecutive zeros starting from the most significant bit.

count_leading_ones_32/64(T value)

Same functionality as above, but examining consecutive one-bits.

population_count_32/64(T value)

Accepts an unsigned 32/64-bit value and returns the number of one-bits found, i.e. the Hamming weight of the value.

rotl_32/64(T value, int shift)

Performs a circular/barrel left shift of an unsigned 32/64-bit value with the specified shift value. The shift value will be masked to the valid bit range for a 32-bit or 64-bit value.

rotr_32/64(T value, int shift)

Same functionality as above, but with a right shift.

For documentation on helpers related to multiplication and division, refer to src/osd/eminline.h.


MAME has multiple logging function for different purposes. Two of the most frequently used logging functions are logerror and osd_printf_verbose:

  • Devices inherit a logerror member function. This automatically includes the fully-qualified tag of the invoking device in log messages. Output is sent to MAME’s debugger’s rotating log buffer if the debugger is enabled. If the -log option is enabled, it’s also written to the file error.log in the working directory. If the -oslog option is enabled, it’s additionally sent to the OS diagnostic output (the host debugger diagnostic log on Windows if a host debugger is attached, or standard error otherwise).

  • The output of the osd_printf_verbose function is sent to standard error if the -verbose option is enabled.

The osd_printf_verbose function should be used for logging that is useful for diagnosing user issues, while logerror should be used for messages more relevant to developers (either developing MAME itself, or developing software for emulated systems using MAME’s debugger).

For debug logging, a channel-based logging system exists via the header logmacro.h. It can be used as a generic logging system as follows, without needing to make use of its ability to mask out specific channels:

// All other headers in the .cpp file should be above this line.
#define VERBOSE (1)
#include "logmacro.h"
void some_device::some_reg_write(u8 data)
    LOG("%s: some_reg_write: %02x\n", machine().describe_context(), data);

The above example also makes use of a helper function which is available in all derivatives of device_t: machine().describe_context(). This function will return a string that describes the emulation context in which the function is being run. This includes the fully-qualified tag of the currently executing device (if any). If the relevant device implements device_state_interface, it will also include the current program-counter value reported by the device.

For more fine-grained control, specific bit masks can be defined and used via the LOGMASKED macro:

// All other headers in the .cpp file should be above this line.
#define LOG_FOO (1 << 1U)
#define LOG_BAR (1 << 2U)

#include "logmacro.h"
void some_device::some_reg_write(u8 data)
    LOGMASKED(LOG_FOO, "some_reg_write: %02x\n", data);

void some_device::another_reg_write(u8 data)
    LOGMASKED(LOG_BAR, "another_reg_write: %02x\n", data);

Note that the least significant bit position for user-supplied masks is 1, as bit position 0 is reserved for LOG_GENERAL.

By default, LOG and LOGMASKED will use the device-supplied logerror function. However, this can be redirected as desired. The most common use case would be to direct output to the standard output instead, which can be accomplished by explicitly defining LOG_OUTPUT_FUNC as so:

#define LOG_OUTPUT_FUNC osd_printf_info

A developer should always ensure that VERBOSE is set to 0 and that any definition of LOG_OUTPUT_FUNC is commented out prior to opening a pull request.

Structural organization

All C++ source files must begin with a two comments listing the distribution license and copyright holders in a standard format. Licenses are specified by their SPDX short identifier if available. Here is an example of the standard format:

// license:BSD-3-Clause
// copyright-holders:David Haywood, Tomasz Slanina

Header includes should generally be grouped from most-dependent to least-dependent, and sorted alphabetically within said groups:

  • The project prefix header, emu.h, must be the first thing in a translation unit

  • Local project headers (i.e. headers found in the same source directory)

  • Headers in src/devices

  • Headers in src/emu

  • Headers in src/lib/formats

  • Headers in src/lib/util

  • Headers from the OSD layer

  • C++ standard library headers

  • C standard library headers

  • OS-specific headers

  • Layout headers

Finally, task-specific headers such as logmacro.h - described in the previous section - should be included last. A practical example follows:

#include "emu.h"

#include "cpu/m68000/m68000.h"
#include "machine/mc68328.h"
#include "machine/ram.h"
#include "sound/dac.h"
#include "video/mc68328lcd.h"
#include "video/sed1375.h"

#include "emupal.h"
#include "screen.h"
#include "speaker.h"

#include "pilot1k.lh"

#define VERBOSE (0)
#include "logmacro.h"

In most cases, the class declaration for a system driver should be within the corresponding source file along with the implementation. In such cases, the class declaration and all contents of the source file, excluding the GAME, COMP, or CONS macro, should be enclosed in an anonymous namespace (this produces better compiler diagnostics, allows more aggressive optimisation, reduces the chance of duplicate symbols, and reduces linking time).

Within a class declaration, there should be one section for each member access level (public, protected and private) if practical. This may not be possible in cases where private constants and/or types need to be declared before public members. Members should use the least public access level necessary. Overridden virtual member functions should generally use the same access level as the corresponding member function in the base class.

Class member declarations should be grouped to aid understanding:

  • Within a member access level section, constants, types, data members, instance member functions and static member functions should be grouped.

  • In device classes, configuration member functions should be grouped separately from live signal member functions.

  • Overridden virtual member functions should be grouped according to the base classes they are inherited from.

For classes with multiple overloaded constructors, constructor delegation should be used where possible to avoid repeated member initialiser lists.

Constants which are used by a device or machine driver should be in the form of explicitly-sized enumerated values within the class declaration, or be relegated to #define macros within the source file. This helps avoid polluting the preprocessor.