I saw the following example in the C standard draft (n1570):
$3.14 paragraph 4 : A structure declared as:
int b:5, c:11, :0, d:8;
First of all, let's see chapter §22.214.171.124/ P11. It says,
An implementation may allocate any addressable storage unit large enough to hold a bitfield. If enough space remains, a bit-field that immediately follows another bit-field in a structure shall be packed into adjacent bits of the same unit. [...]
But, in case, we explicitly want two consecutive bit-field member to reside on separate memory location (i.e., addressable storage unit ), this is the way to force it.
The next paragraph, P12, mentions,
A bit-field declaration with no declarator, but only a colon and a width, indicates an unnamed bit-field.126) As a special case, a bit-field structure member with a width of 0 indicates that no further bit-field is to be packed into the unit in which the previous bit-field, if any, was placed.
following your example, this makes sure that the two bit-field members surrounding the
:0 will be residing in separate memory location (not inside a single addressable storage unit, even if sufficient memory remains to pack them into one). This has the similar effect of having a non-bit-field member in between two bit-fields, to force the separation of the memory location.
C11, chapter §3.14,
NOTE 2 (emphasis mine)
A bit-field and an adjacent non-bit-field member are in separate memory locations. The same applies to two bit-fields, if one is declared inside a nested structure declaration and the other is not, or if the two are separated by a zero-length bit-field declaration, or if they are separated by a non-bit-field member declaration.
Also, regarding the usage ("why it is needed" part)
[...] The bit-fields
ccannot be concurrently modified, but
a, for example, can be.