How to parse program options in C++ using getopt_long

Any C or C++ program worth its salt will take some options and arguments from the user at the shell. Option is typically of the form -h (short) or --help (long). Options can also have a following argument, for example -o someFile.txt or --open someFile.txt. All these types of options and arguments can be processed easily using the getopt_long function in the GNU C library.

An example that illustrates its usage is given below:

#include <getopt.h>
#include <iostream>
int num = –1;
bool is_beep = false;
float sigma = 2.034;
std::string write_file = "default_file.txt";
void PrintHelp()
std::cout <<
"–num <n>: Set number of program\n"
"–beep: Beep the user\n"
"–sigma <val>: Set sigma of program\n"
"–writeFile <fname>: File to write to\n"
"–help: Show help\n";
void ProcessArgs(int argc, char** argv)
const char* const short_opts = "n:bs:w:h";
const option long_opts[] = {
{"num", required_argument, nullptr, 'n'},
{"beep", no_argument, nullptr, 'b'},
{"sigma", required_argument, nullptr, 's'},
{"writeFile", required_argument, nullptr, 'w'},
{"help", no_argument, nullptr, 'h'},
{nullptr, no_argument, nullptr, 0}
while (true)
const auto opt = getopt_long(argc, argv, short_opts, long_opts, nullptr);
if (-1 == opt)
switch (opt)
case 'n':
num = std::stoi(optarg);
std::cout << "Num set to: " << num << std::endl;
case 'b':
is_beep = true;
std::cout << "Beep is set to true\n";
case 's':
sigma = std::stof(optarg);
std::cout << "Sigma set to: " << sigma << std::endl;
case 'w':
write_file = std::string(optarg);
std::cout << "Write file set to: " << write_file << std::endl;
case 'h': // -h or –help
case '?': // Unrecognized option
int main(int argc, char **argv)
ProcessArgs(argc, argv);
return 0;
$ g++ -std=c++11 opt.cpp
$ ./a.out –help
–num <n>: Set number of program
–beep: Beep the user
–sigma <val>: Set sigma of program
–writeFile <fname>: File to write to
–help: Show help
$ ./a.out –num 10
Num set to: 10
$ ./a.out –num 10 –writeFile haha.txt –sigma 3.45 –beep
Num set to: 10
Write file set to: haha.txt
Sigma set to: 3.45
Beep is set to true


  • Sec 2.1.3 of Advanced Linux Programming by CodeSourcery LLC and Mark Mitchell
  • getopt(3) Linux man page

Tried with: GCC 4.9.2 and Ubuntu 14.04

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