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Parsing an INI File in C++: The Easiest Approach

INI files, also known as initialization files, are commonly used in software development to store configuration data. These files typically ...

INI files, also known as initialization files, are commonly used in software development to store configuration data. These files typically have a simple structure, with key-value pairs separated by equal signs. While there are many libraries and tools available for parsing INI files, implementing your own parser in C++ can be a valuable learning experience. In this article, we will explore the easiest approach to parsing an INI file in C++.

Before we dive into the code, let's understand the basic structure of an INI file. A typical INI file consists of sections, which are denoted by square brackets, and key-value pairs within each section. For example:



server = localhost

port = 3306

username = admin

password = 123456


In the above example, we have a section named "Database" with four key-value pairs representing the server, port, username, and password for the database.

Now, let's move on to the implementation. We will start by creating a class named "INIFile" that will handle the parsing of our INI file. This class will have two private members: a string variable to store the file path and a map to store the key-value pairs.


class INIFile {


std::string filePath;

std::map<std::string, std::map<std::string, std::string>> data;

// code for parsing goes here



Next, we need to define a constructor for our class that takes in the file path as a parameter and sets it to the filePath variable.


INIFile(std::string file_path) : filePath(file_path) {}


Now, let's move on to the core of our parser - the "parse" function. This function will take care of reading the INI file, extracting the key-value pairs, and storing them in our map. We will be using the standard library's ifstream and getline functions to read the file line by line.


void parse() {

std::ifstream file(filePath);

if (file.is_open()) {

std::string line;

std::string section;

while (getline(file, line)) {

// check if the line contains a section

if (line.find("[") != std::string::npos) {

// extract the section name

section = line.substr(line.find("[") + 1, line.find("]") - 1);


// check if the line contains a key-value pair

else if (line.find("=") != std::string::npos) {

// extract the key and value

std::string key = line.substr(0, line.find("="));

std::string value = line.substr(line.find("=") + 1);

// store the key-value pair in our map

data[section][key] = value;







As you can see, we are using the string functions "find" and "substr" to extract the section name, key, and value from each line. We then store the key-value pair in our map, using the section name as the first key and the key as the second key.

Now that we have our parse function ready, we can move on to accessing the data from our INI file. We can create a function named "getValue" that takes in the section name and key as parameters and returns the corresponding value from our map.


std::string getValue(std::string section, std::string key) {

return data[section][key];



With that, our INI parser is now complete. We can now use it in our C++ programs to easily access configuration data from INI files. Let's look at an example:


// create an instance of our INIFile class

INIFile ini("config.ini");

// parse the file


// get the value for the key "server" in the "Database" section

std::string server = ini.getValue("Database", "server");

// print the value

std::cout << "Server: " << server << std::endl;


In just a few lines of code, we were able to parse an INI file and extract the configuration data we needed. This approach is not only easy to implement, but it also gives you full control over how the file is read and how the data is stored.

In conclusion, parsing an INI file in C++ is a simple task that can be accomplished by following the approach outlined in this article. By creating our own parser, we gain a better understanding of the file structure and can easily adapt it to suit our needs. So the next time you come across an INI file in your software development journey, remember the easiest approach to parsing it in C++.

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