C++ FAQ Celebrating Twenty-One Years of the C++ FAQ!!!
(Click here for a personal note from Marshall Cline.)
Section 9:
[9.9] With inline member functions that are defined outside the class, is it best to put the inline keyword next to the declaration within the class body, next to the definition outside the class body, or both?

Best practice: only in the definition outside the class body.

class Foo {
  void method();   best practice: don't put the inline keyword here

inline void Foo::method()   best practice: put the inline keyword here
{ ... }
Here's the basic idea:
  • The public: part of the class body is where you describe the observable semantics of a class, its public member functions, its friend functions, and anything else exported by the class. Try not to provide any inklings of anything that can't be observed from the caller's code.
  • The other parts of the class, including non-public: part of the class body, the definitions of your member and friend functions, etc. are pure implementation. Try not to describe any observable semantics that were not already described in the class's public: part.

From a practical standpoint, this separation makes life easier and safer for your users. Say Chuck wants to simply "use" your class. Because you read this FAQ and used the above separation, Chuck can read your class's public: part and see everything he needs to see and nothing he doesn't need to see. His life is easier because he needs to look in only one spot, and his life is safer because his pure mind isn't polluted by implementation minutiae.

Back to inline-ness: the decision of whether a function is or is not inline is an implementation detail that does not change the observable semantics (the "meaning") of a call. Therefore the inline keyword should go next to the function's definition, not within the class's public: part.

NOTE: most people use the terms "declaration" and "definition" to differentiate the above two places. For example, they might say, "Should I put the inline keyword next to the declaration or the definition?" Unfortunately that usage is sloppy and somebody out there will eventually gig you for it. The people who gig you are probably insecure, pathetic wannabes who know they're not good enough to actually acomplish something with their lives, nonetheless you might as well learn the correct terminology to avoid getting gigged. Here it is: every definition is also a declaration. This means using the two as if they are mutually exclusive would be like asking which is heavier, steel or metal? Almost everybody will know what you mean if you use "definition" as if it is the opposite of "declaration," and only the worst of the techie weenies will gig you for it, but at least you now know how to use the terms correctly.