Ultimate Solution ‘Undefined Reference To Pow’ Error In C

Encountering an ‘undefined reference to pow’ error when trying to compile C code that calls the pow() function can be frustrating. But have no fear – this comprehensive guide will explain what causes this pesky linkage error and walk through a variety of solutions to correctly use pow() in your C projects so you can get past it.

We’ll cover compiler settings, header files, declaring prototypes, static vs dynamic linking, and proper library usage to help you fully grasp the nuances of using C math libraries. Let’s dive in and conquer the “undefined reference to pow” problem once and for all!

What Does the ‘Undefined Reference to Pow’ Error Mean?

When attempting to compile C source code that calls the pow() function, you may see an error like:

undefined reference to `pow'

This error means that the C compiler cannot find the implementation code that defines the pow() function when it tries to link your program.

The pow() function lives in the math.h header file and its matching libm math library. When this error appears, it indicates a problem with including math.h, declaring a prototype for pow(), or correctly linking its library.

We’ll systematically walk through solutions for each of these issues that can cause the notorious “undefined reference to pow” error next.

Forgetting to Include math.h Header File

The first thing to check when seeing an undefined reference to pow error is whether you remembered to include the math.h header file that declares the pow() function prototype.

At the top of your C source file that uses pow(), you must have:

#include <math.h>

If this directive is missing, the compiler won’t recognize calls to pow() since it hasn’t been declared. Always double-check that you’ve imported essential header files!

For example, this code would produce the error:

// Missing #include <math.h>

int main() {
  double base = 2.0;
  double exponent = 3.0;

  double result = pow(base, exponent); // Compiler error

  return 0;

By adding the header import, the error disappears:

#include <math.h> //Added header import

int main() {
  double base = 2.0;
  double exponent = 3.0;

  double result = pow(base, exponent); //No more error

  return 0;

So the first step is verifying you have included the necessary header file that declares pow() – math.h.

Forgetting to Declare the pow() Prototype

Beyond the header file, you also need to specifically declare a function prototype for pow() in scope before calling it if the header is missing or if you’re declaring powder() forward in your own header.

A prototype acts as a declaration that pow() exists even if the actual implementation remains undefined until linking with its library. The prototype for pow() is:

double pow(double x, double y);

This declares pow() takes two double inputs and returns a double result.

If calling pow() without any prototype declaration in scope, the compiler assumes it doesn’t exist, causing the error.

For example:

//No prototypes

int main() {

  double result = pow(2.0, 3.0); //Compiler error

  return 0;


Adding the prototype fixes it:

//Prototype added

double pow(double x, double y); //Prototype declaration

int main() {

  double result = pow(2.0, 3.0); //Now compiles thanks to prototype

  return 0;

So remember to declare a prototype for any function like pow() before calling it in your code to avoid “undefined reference” errors.

Forgetting to Link the Appropriate Math Library

Even with proper header files and prototypes, you still need to link to the appropriate library that contains the compiled implementation of pow() and other math functions.

C’s pow() lives in the math library called libm. Failing to link this at compile time will result in the error.

Here are examples of how to properly link libm:


gcc source.c -o program -lm


cl source.c /link /LIBPATH:libm.lib

The -lm option tells GCC/Clang to link libm, while /LIBPATH specifies the path to link on MSVC.

Neglecting to link the required library prevents the compiler from finding pow()’s actual definition despite the prototype, so be sure to remember this step!

##Mismatching Function Declarations

Another potential cause of the pow() error is having conflicting declarations that don’t match the prototype and implementation.

For example, the following would result in an error due to the mismatching double/float types:

//Prototype with double

double pow(double x, double y);  

//Implementation with float

float pow(float x, float y) {

  return x ** y;


int main() {

  double result = pow(2.0, 3.0); //Error - mismatching types

  return 0;


Fix by ensuring your custom declarations match the standard ones:

//Corrected with matching double prototype and implementation

double pow(double x, double y);

double pow(double x, double y) {

  return x ** y; //Fixed


int main() {

  double result = pow(2.0, 3.0); //Now matches!

  return 0;


So be cognizant of data types when declaring custom prototypes to avoid mismatches.

Using the Wrong Header File

While math.h contains the pow() prototype, you may accidentally include a different incorrect header file that does not have this declaration.

For instance, stdio.h does not contain the pow() prototype, so the following would result in an error:

//Wrong header file

#include <stdio.h> //Won't declare pow()!

int main() {

  double result = pow(2.0, 3.0); //Undefined reference error

  return 0;

Double check that you are including the proper header file (math.h) for the function in question to avoid incorrect references.Forgetting to Include the Header in Your .c FileWhen splitting code across multiple files, it’s common to declare function prototypes in a .h header file, then implement the functions themselves in a .c file.However, don’t forget that the .c file also needs to #include the same header so that the function implementations match the prototypes! Omitting the #include can again result in an undefined reference compiler error.For example:


//Function prototype
double pow(double x, double y);


//Missing #include! 

double pow(double x, double y) {

This would produce an undefined reference error. Include the header:

Fixed math.c:

#include "math.h" //Include header

double pow(double x, double y) {

Now the .c file can correctly reference the matching prototype.

Static vs Dynamic Linking of Libraries

C allows linking libraries both statically and dynamically. Static linking embeds the library code directly into your program executable, while dynamic linking loads the library from an external file at runtime.

neglecting to include the appropriate -Wl or /libpath directive to dynamically link the math library will default to looking for it statically, causing errors.

For instance, while this dynamically links properly:

gcc main.c -o program -lm

Forgoing the -lm results in only static linking:

gcc main.c -o program

Causing undefined reference errors. So ensure you are properly handling dynamic library linking using the required compiler options.

Calling Pow Before Main()

Due to the order of compilation, functions called before main() like global constructors will fail to link dynamically with the math library, since dynamic linking hasn’t happened yet.

For example:

#include <math.h>

//Global constructor invoked before main()
void init() {
  double result = pow(2, 4); //Fails!

int main() {
   double result = pow(2, 4); //Succeeds 
   return 0;

This causes an undefined reference error on the first call only.

To fix, either:

  1. Delay calling pow() until after main(), or
  2. Link the math library statically

This ensures the library is successfully linked before invoking the function.

Summary of Resolutions

To recap, here are the common solutions to fix an undefined reference to pow error in C:

  • Include the proper math.h header
  • Declare a prototype for pow() in scope
  • Link the libm math library using -lm or /LIBPATH
  • Ensure prototype and implementation types match
  • Use the correct header file (math.h vs others)
  • Include header also in .c files, not just .h
  • Use dynamic linking appropriately
  • Delay pow() calls until after main() or link statically

Thoroughly checking each of these explanations whenever this error appears will help you identify and fix the underlying issue.

Leveraging gcc’s Linker Error Insights

Beyond just fixing your code, you can leverage gcc’s compile stage reporting to learn exactly why the linker failed to find pow().

Compiling with gcc -Wl,–verbose will dump verbose linker details. For example:

gcc -Wl,--verbose main.c -o program

main.c: undefined reference to `pow'

collect2: error: ld returned 1 exit status


attempt to open pow failed

attempt to open pow in /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-linux-gnu/9/../../../../lib/libm.a failed

attempt to open pow in /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-linux-gnu/9/../../../../lib/libm.so failed

attempt to open pow in /usr/lib/gcc/x86_64-linux-gnu/9/../../../../lib/libm.a failed


Showing exactly which libraries failed to contain pow. This helps validate you are linking libm properly.

Similarly, MSVC’s linker generates a verbose manifest file detailing missing references on errors.

Use these insights to confirm your linkage and pow acquisition!

Common Pitfalls and Plans of Attack

To help commit these solutions to memory, here is a summary table outlining common pitfalls that can cause undefined reference errors with pow() and strategies to resolve:

Pitfalls and Plan of Attack

PitfallPlan of Attack
Forgetting #include Double check header files
Missing pow() prototypeDeclare prototype before invoking
Not linking libm libraryUse -lm flag with gcc/clang
Mismatching typesPrint prototypes and ensure matching
Wrong header (stdio.h)Verify proper header (math.h)
Header missing from .c file#include header in .c alongside .h
Static vs dynamic issuesUse proper dynamic linking commands
Calling before main()Delay call or use static linking

Keeping these common issues and solutions in mind will help you quickly troubleshoot and resolve any “undefined reference to pow” errors encountered.

Never Fear the Pow Error Again!

That covers everything you need to know to troubleshoot and fix the notorious “undefined reference to pow” linker error in C once and for all.

The key takeaways are properly including the math.h header, declaring prototypes, correctly linking the libm math library, matching types, and handling static vs dynamic calling issues.

Follow the solutions outlined here and you’ll be able to seamlessly invoke pow() in any C project. Never again will undefined references thwart your compilation!

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