Procedures and Functions (Delphi)

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This topic covers the following items:

  • Declaring procedures and functions
  • Calling conventions
  • Forward and interface declarations
  • Declaration of external routines
  • Overloading procedures and functions
  • Local declarations and nested routines

About Procedures and Functions

Procedures and functions, referred to collectively as routines, are self-contained statement blocks that can be called from different locations in a program. A function is a routine that returns a value when it executes. A procedure is a routine that does not return a value.

Function calls, because they return a value, can be used as expressions in assignments and operations. For example:

 I := SomeFunction(X);

calls SomeFunction and assigns the result to I. Function calls cannot appear on the left side of an assignment statement.

Procedure calls - and, when extended syntax is enabled ({$X+}), function calls - can be used as complete statements. For example:


calls the DoSomething routine; if DoSomething is a function, its return value is discarded.

Procedures and functions can call themselves recursively.

Declaring Procedures and Functions

When you declare a procedure or function, you specify its name, the number and type of parameters it takes, and, in the case of a function, the type of its return value; this part of the declaration is sometimes called the prototype, heading, or header. Then you write a block of code that executes whenever the procedure or function is called; this part is sometimes called the body of the routine or block.

Procedure Declarations

A procedure declaration has the form:

 procedure procedureName(parameterList); directives;

where procedureName is any valid identifier, statements is a sequence of statements that execute when the procedure is called, and (parameterList), directives;, and localDeclarations; are optional.

Here is an example of a procedure declaration:

 procedure NumString(N: Integer; var S: string);
   V: Integer;
   V := Abs(N);
   S := '';
     S := Chr(V mod 10 + Ord('0')) + S;
     V := V div 10;
   until V = 0;
   if N < 0 then S := '-' + S;

Given this declaration, you can call the NumString procedure like this:

 NumString(17, MyString);

This procedure call assigns the value '17' to MyString (which must be a string variable).

Within a statement block of a procedure, you can use variables and other identifiers declared in the localDeclarations part of the procedure. You can also use the parameter names from the parameter list (like N and S in the previous example); the parameter list defines a set of local variables, so do not try to redeclare the parameter names in the localDeclarations section. Finally, you can use any identifiers within whose scope the procedure declaration falls.

Function Declarations

A function declaration is like a procedure declaration except that it specifies a return type and a return value. Function declarations have the form:

 function functionName(parameterList): returnType; directives;

where functionName is any valid identifier, returnType is a type identifier, statements is a sequence of statements that execute when the function is called, and (parameterList), directives;, and localDeclarations; are optional.

The statement block of the function is governed by the same rules that apply to procedures. Within the statement block, you can use variables and other identifiers declared in the localDeclarations part of the function, parameter names from the parameter list, and any identifiers within whose scope the function declaration falls. In addition, the function name itself acts as a special variable that holds the return value of the function, as does the predefined variable Result.

As long as extended syntax is enabled ({$X+}), Result is implicitly declared in every function. Do not try to redeclare it.

For example:

 function WF: Integer;
   WF := 17;

defines a constant function called WF that takes no parameters and always returns the integer value 17. This declaration is equivalent to:

 function WF: Integer;
   Result := 17;

Here is a more complicated function declaration:

 function Max(A: array of Real; N: Integer): Real;
   X: Real;
   I: Integer;
   X := A[0];
   for I := 1 to N - 1 do
     if X < A[I] then X := A[I];
   Max := X;

You can assign a value to Result or to the function name repeatedly within a statement block, as long as you assign only values that match the declared return type. When execution of the function terminates, whatever value was last assigned to Result or to the function name becomes the return value of the function. For example:

 function Power(X: Real; Y: Integer): Real;
   I: Integer;
   Result := 1.0;
   I := Y;
   while I > 0 do
     if Odd(I) then Result := Result * X;
     I := I div 2;
     X := Sqr(X);

Result and the function name always represent the same value. Hence:

 function MyFunction: Integer;
   MyFunction := 5;
   Result := Result * 2;
   MyFunction := Result + 1;

returns the value 11. But Result is not completely interchangeable with the function name. When the function name appears on the left side of an assignment statement, the compiler assumes that it is being used (like Result) to track the return value; when the function name appears anywhere else in the statement block, the compiler interprets it as a recursive call to the function itself. Result, on the other hand, can be used as a variable in operations, typecasts, set constructors, indexes, and calls to other routines.

If the function exits without assigning a value to Result or the function name, then the function's return value is undefined.

Calling Conventions

When you declare a procedure or function, you can specify a calling convention using one of the directives register, pascal, cdecl, stdcall, safecall, and winapi. For example,

 function MyFunction(X, Y: Real): Real; cdecl;

Calling conventions determine the order in which parameters are passed to the routine. They also affect the removal of parameters from the stack, the use of registers for passing parameters, and error and exception handling. The default calling convention is register.

  • For the register and pascal conventions, the evaluation order is not defined.
  • The cdecl, stdcall, and safecall conventions pass parameters from right to left.
  • For all conventions except cdecl, the procedure or function removes parameters from the stack upon returning. With the cdecl convention, the caller removes parameters from the stack when the call returns.
  • The register convention uses up to three CPU registers to pass parameters, while the other conventions pass all parameters on the stack.
  • The safecall convention implements exception 'firewalls.' On Win32, this implements interprocess COM error notification.
  • winapi is not actually a calling convention. winapi defines using the default platform calling convention. For example, on Win32 winapi is the same as stdcall.

The table below summarizes calling conventions.

Calling conventions :

Directive   Parameter order   Clean-up   Passes parameters in registers?





















The default register convention is the most efficient, since it usually avoids creation of a stack frame. (Access methods for published properties must use register.) The cdecl convention is useful when you call functions from shared libraries written in C or C++, while stdcall and safecall are recommended, in general, for calls to external code. On Win32, the operating system APIs are stdcall and safecall. Other operating systems generally use cdecl. (Note that stdcall is more efficient than cdecl.)

The safecall convention must be used for declaring dual-interface methods. The pascal convention is maintained for backward compatibility.

The directives near, far, and export refer to calling conventions in 16-bit Windows programming. They have no effect on any of the current platform targets and are maintained for backward compatibility only.

Forward and Interface Declarations

The forward directive replaces the block, including local variable declarations and statements, in a procedure or function declaration. For example:

 function Calculate(X, Y: Integer): Real; forward;

declares a function called Calculate. Somewhere after the forward declaration, the routine must be redeclared in a defining declaration that includes a block. The defining declaration for Calculate might look like this:

 function Calculate;
   ... { declarations }
   ... { statement block }

Ordinarily, a defining declaration does not have to repeat the parameter list or return type of the routine, but if it does repeat them, they must match those in the forward declaration exactly (except that default parameters can be omitted). If the forward declaration specifies an overloaded procedure or function, then the defining declaration must repeat the parameter list.

A forward declaration and its defining declaration must appear in the same type declaration section. That is, you cannot add a new section (such as a var section or const section) between the forward declaration and the defining declaration. The defining declaration can be an external or assembler declaration, but it cannot be another forward declaration.

The purpose of a forward declaration is to extend the scope of a procedure or function identifier to an earlier point in the source code. This allows other procedures and functions to call the forward-declared routine before it is actually defined. Besides letting you organize your code more flexibly, forward declarations are sometimes necessary for mutual recursions.

The forward directive has no effect in the interface section of a unit. Procedure and function headers in the interface section behave like forward declarations and must have defining declarations in the implementation section. A routine declared in the interface section is available from anywhere else in the unit and from any other unit or program that uses the unit where it is declared.

External Declarations

The external directive, which replaces the block in a procedure or function declaration, allows you to call routines that are compiled separately from your program. External routines can come from object files or dynamically loadable libraries.

When importing a C function that takes a variable number of parameters, use the varargs directive. For example:

 function printf(Format: PChar): Integer; cdecl; varargs;

The varargs directive works only with external routines and only with the cdecl calling convention.

Linking to Object Files

To call routines from a separately compiled object file, first link the object file to your application using the $L (or $LINK) compiler directive. For example:


links BLOCK.OBJ into the program or unit in which it occurs. Next, declare the functions and procedures that you want to call:

 procedure MoveWord(var Source, Dest; Count: Integer); external;
 procedure FillWord(var Dest; Data: Integer; Count: Integer); external;

Now you can call the MoveWord and FillWord routines from BLOCK.OBJ.

On the Win32 platform, declarations like the ones above are frequently used to access external routines written in assembly language. You can also place assembly-language routines directly in your Delphi source code.

Importing Functions from Libraries

To import routines from a dynamically loadable library (.DLL), attach a directive of the form

external stringConstant;

to the end of a normal procedure or function header, where stringConstant is the name of the library file in single quotation marks. For example, on 32-bit Windows

function SomeFunction(S: string): string; external 'strlib.dll';

imports a function called SomeFunction from strlib.dll.

Using Internal and External Linkers

Delphi has two interpretations of External, which depends on whether the compiler uses an external linker

1. Platforms supported by Delphi can be divided into two following groups:

  • Where the compiler uses its own internal linker.
  • Where the compiler uses an external linker.

Using internal linker 

WIN32 and WIN64;

Using external linker 

iOS-Device, Android, Linux, macOS64 

2. On platforms where Delphi uses an internal linker, external <stringconstant> indicates that the function/procedure lives in a DLL.

On these platforms, Delphi understands that the symbol is being imported from .dll. No validation is performed at link time. Delphi generates an image with a reference to the symbol/ library. If the symbol is not really in that library, you find it out at runtime.

3. On platforms where Delphi uses an external linker, for example: when targeting the iOSDevice64 platform, the identifier specified via external <stringconstant> is passed to the external linker.

The Delphi compiler passes <stringconstant> to ld.exe. If it cannot find the library, it displays the following error: Error: E2597 ld: file not found: <stringconstant>.

Importing Functions from object files(External linker only)

When using an external linker, you can eliminate the use of the $L (or $LINK) compiler directive by specifying the object file with the external directive. For example:

procedure FunctionName; cdecl; external object 'ObjectFile.o' name '_FunctionName';

Importing Functions from frameworks

You can import routines from an external framework. For example:

Function foo: Integer; external framework '<framework name>'

This only applies to iOS64, macOS64 ARM, and macOS64.

Importing a Routine Under a Different Name

You can import a routine under a different name from the one it has in the library. If you do this, specify the original name in the external directive:

external <stringConstant1> name <stringConstant2>;

where <stringConstant1> gives the name of the library file and <stringConstant2> is the original name of the routine.

The following declaration imports a function from user32.dll (part of the Windows API):

function MessageBox(HWnd: Integer; Text, Caption: PChar; Flags: Integer): Integer; stdcall; external 'user32.dll' name 'MessageBoxA';

The original name of the function is MessageBoxA, but it is imported as MessageBox.

In your importing declaration, be sure to match the exact spelling and case of the name of the routine. Later, when you call the imported routine, the name is case-insensitive.

Importing a Routine by Index

Instead of a name, you can use a number to identify the routine you want to import:

external <stringConstant> index <integerConstant>;

where <integerConstant> is the index of the routine in the export table.

Delaying the Loading of the Library

To postpone the loading of the library that contains the function to the moment the function is actually needed, append the delayed directive to the imported function:

function ExternalMethod(const SomeString: PChar): Integer; stdcall; external 'cstyle.dll' delayed;

delayed ensures that the library that contains the imported function is not loaded at application startup, but rather when the first call to the function is made. For more information on this topic, see the Libraries and Packages - Delayed Loading topic.

Specifying Dependencies of the Library

If the library that contains the target routine depends on other libraries, use the dependency directive to specify those dependencies.

To use the dependency directive, append the dependency keyword followed by a comma-separated list of strings. Each string must contain the name of a library that is a dependency of the target external library:

external <library> dependency <dependency1>, <dependency2>, …

The following declaration indicates that libmidas.a depends on the standard C++ library:

function DllGetDataSnapClassObject(const [REF] CLSID, [REF] IID: TGUID; var Obj): HResult; cdecl; external 'libmidas.a' dependency 'stdc++';

Overloading Procedures and Functions

You can declare more than one routine in the same scope with the same name. This is called overloading. Overloaded routines must be declared with the overload directive and must have distinguishing parameter lists. For example, consider the declarations:

 function Divide(X, Y: Real): Real; overload;
   Result := X/Y;

 function Divide(X, Y: Integer): Integer; overload;
   Result := X div Y;

These declarations create two functions, both called Divide, that take parameters of different types. When you call Divide, the compiler determines which function to invoke by looking at the actual parameters passed in the call. For example, Divide(6.0, 3.0) calls the first Divide function, because its arguments are real-valued.

You can pass to an overloaded routine parameters that are not identical in type with those in any of the declarations of the routine, but that are assignment-compatible with the parameters in more than one declaration. This happens most frequently when a routine is overloaded with different integer types or different real types - for example:

 procedure Store(X: Longint); overload;
 procedure Store(X: Shortint); overload;

In these cases, when it is possible to do so without ambiguity, the compiler invokes the routine whose parameters are of the type with the smallest range that accommodates the actual parameters in the call. (Remember that real-valued constant expressions are always of type Extended.)

Overloaded routines must be distinguished by the number of parameters they take or the types of their parameters. Hence the following pair of declarations causes a compilation error:

 function Cap(S: string): string; overload;
 procedure Cap(var Str: string); overload;

But the declarations:

 function Func(X: Real; Y: Integer): Real; overload;
 function Func(X: Integer; Y: Real): Real; overload;

are legal.

When an overloaded routine is declared in a forward or interface declaration, the defining declaration must repeat the parameter list of the routine.

The compiler can distinguish between overloaded functions that contain AnsiString/PAnsiChar, UnicodeString/PChar and WideString/PWideChar parameters in the same parameter position. String constants or literals passed into such an overload situation are translated into the native string or character type, which is UnicodeString/PChar.

 procedure test(const A: AnsiString); overload;
 procedure test(const W: WideString); overload;
 procedure test(const U: UnicodeString); overload;
 procedure test(const PW: PWideChar); overload;
   a: AnsiString;
   b: WideString;
   c: UnicodeString;
   d: PWideChar;
   e: string;
   a := 'a';
   b := 'b';
   c := 'c';
   d := 'd';
   e := 'e';
   test(a);    // calls AnsiString version
   test(b);    // calls WideString version
   test(c);    // calls UnicodeString version
   test(d);    // calls PWideChar version
   test(e);    // calls UnicodeString version
   test('abc');    // calls UnicodeString version
   test(AnsiString ('abc'));    // calls AnsiString version
   test(WideString('abc'));    // calls WideString version
   test(PWideChar('PWideChar'));    // calls PWideChar version

Variants can also be used as parameters in overloaded function declarations. Variant is considered more general than any simple type. Preference is always given to exact type matches over variant matches. If a variant is passed into such an overload situation, and an overload that takes a variant exists in that parameter position, it is considered to be an exact match for the Variant type.

This can cause some minor side effects with float types. Float types are matched by size. If there is no exact match for the float variable passed to the overload call but a variant parameter is available, the variant is taken over any smaller float type.

For example:

 procedure foo(i: integer); overload;
 procedure foo(d: double); overload;
 procedure foo(v: variant); overload;
   v: variant;
   foo(1);       // integer version
   foo(v);       // variant version
   foo(1.2);     // variant version (float literals -> extended precision)

This example calls the variant version of foo, not the double version, because the 1.2 constant is implicitly an extended type and extended is not an exact match for double. Extended is also not an exact match for Variant, but Variant is considered a more general type (whereas double is a smaller type than extended).


This typecast does not work. You should use typed consts instead:

 const  d: double = 1.2;

The above code works correctly, and calls the double version.

 const  s: single = 1.2;

The above code also calls the double version of foo. Single is a better fit to double than to variant.

When declaring a set of overloaded routines, the best way to avoid float promotion to variant is to declare a version of your overloaded function for each float type (Single, Double, Extended) along with the variant version.

If you use default parameters in overloaded routines, be careful not to introduce ambiguous parameter signatures.

You can limit the potential effects of overloading by qualifying a name of a routine when you call it. For example, Unit1.MyProcedure(X, Y) can call only routines declared in Unit1; if no routine in Unit1 matches the name and parameter list in the call, an error results.

Local Declarations

The body of a function or procedure often begins with declarations of local variables used in the statement block of the routine. These declarations can also include constants, types, and other routines. The scope of a local identifier is limited to the routine where it is declared.

Nested Routines

Functions and procedures sometimes contain other functions and procedures within the local-declarations section of their blocks. For example, the following declaration of a procedure called DoSomething contains a nested procedure.

 procedure DoSomething(S: string);
   X, Y: Integer;

   procedure NestedProc(S: string);


The scope of a nested routine is limited to the procedure or function in which it is declared. In our example, NestedProc can be called only within DoSomething.

For real examples of nested routines, look at the DateTimeToString procedure, the ScanDate function, and other routines in the SysUtils unit.

See Also