Ashish Yadav Ashish Yadav - 1 year ago 54
C Question

Why can't I create an array with size determined by a global variable?

Why does the array

not get initialized by global variable


int size = 5;

int main()
int a[size] = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5};
printf("%d", a[0]);

return 0;

The compilation error is shown as

variable-sized object may not be initialized

According to me, the array should get initialized by

And what would be the answer if I insist on using global variable (if it is possible)?

Answer Source

In C99, 6.7.8/3:

The type of the entity to be initialized shall be an array of unknown size or an object type that is not a variable length array type.


A constant expression can be evaluated during translation rather than runtime


An integer constant expression shall have integer type and shall only have operands that are integer constants, enumeration constants, character constants, sizeof expressions whose results are integer constants, and floating constants that are the immediate operands of casts.

If the size is an integer constant expression and the element type has a known constant size, the array type is not a variable length array type; otherwise, the array type is a variable length array type.

a has variable length array type, because size is not an integer constant expression. Thus, it cannot have an initializer list.

In C90, there are no VLAs, so the code is illegal for that reason.

In C++ there are also no VLAs, but you could make size a const int. That's because in C++ you can use const int variables in ICEs. In C you can't.

Presumably you didn't intend a to have variable length, so what you need is:

#define size 5

If you actually did intend a to have variable length, I suppose you could do something like this:

int a[size];
int initlen = size;
if (initlen > 5) initlen = 5;
memcpy(a, (int[]){1,2,3,4,5}, initlen*sizeof(int));

Or maybe:

int a[size];
for (int i = 0; i < size && i < 5; ++i) {
    a[i] = i+1;

It's difficult to say, though, what "should" happen here in the case where size != 5. It doesn't really make sense to specify a fixed-size initial value for a variable-length array.