C++ FAQ Celebrating Twenty-One Years of the C++ FAQ!!!
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Section 9:
[9.1] What's the deal with inline functions?

When the compiler inline-expands a function call, the function's code gets inserted into the caller's code stream (conceptually similar to what happens with a #define macro). This can, depending on a zillion other things, improve performance, because the optimizer can procedurally integrate the called code — optimize the called code into the caller.

There are several ways to designate that a function is inline, some of which involve the inline keyword, others do not. No matter how you designate a function as inline, it is a request that the compiler is allowed to ignore: it might inline-expand some, all, or none of the calls to an inline function. (Don't get discouraged if that seems hopelessly vague. The flexibility of the above is actually a huge advantage: it lets the compiler treat large functions differently from small ones, plus it lets the compiler generate code that is easy to debug if you select the right compiler options.)