R.. R.. - 1 month ago 8
C Question

Programmatically determining max value of a signed integer type

This related question is about determining the max value of a signed type at compile-time:

C question: off_t (and other signed integer types) minimum and maximum values

However, I've since realized that determining the max value of a signed type (e.g.

time_t
or
off_t
) at runtime seems to be a very difficult task.

The closest thing to a solution I can think of is:

uintmax_t x = (uintmax_t)1<<CHAR_BIT*sizeof(type)-2;
while ((type)x<=0) x>>=1;


This avoids any looping as long as
type
has no padding bits, but if
type
does have padding bits, the cast invokes implementation-defined behavior, which could be a signal or a nonsensical implementation-defined conversion (e.g. stripping the sign bit).

I'm beginning to think the problem is unsolvable, which is a bit unsettling and would be a defect in the C standard, in my opinion. Any ideas for proving me wrong?

R.. R..
Answer

Update: Thankfully, my previous answer below was wrong, and there seems to be a solution to this question.

intmax_t x;
for (x=INTMAX_MAX; (T)x!=x; x/=2);

This program either yields x containing the max possible value of type T, or generates an implementation-defined signal.

Working around the signal case may be possible but difficult and computationally infeasible (as in having to install a signal handler for every possible signal number), so I don't think this answer is fully satisfactory. POSIX signal semantics may give enough additional properties to make it feasible; I'm not sure.

The interesting part, especially if you're comfortable assuming you're not on an implementation that will generate a signal, is what happens when (T)x results in an implementation-defined conversion. The trick of the above loop is that it does not rely at all on the implementation's choice of value for the conversion. All it relies upon is that (T)x==x is possible if and only if x fits in type T, since otherwise the value of x is outside the range of possible values of any expression of type T.


Old idea, wrong because it does not account for the above (T)x==x property:

I think I have a sketch of a proof that what I'm looking for is impossible:

  1. Let X be a conforming C implementation and assume INT_MAX>32767.
  2. Define a new C implementation Y identical to X, but where the values of INT_MAX and INT_MIN are each divided by 2.
  3. Prove that Y is a conforming C implementation.

The essential idea of this outline is that, due to the fact that everything related to out-of-bound values with signed types is implementation-defined or undefined behavior, an arbitrary number of the high value bits of a signed integer type can be considered as padding bits without actually making any changes to the implementation except the limit macros in limits.h.

Any thoughts on if this sounds correct or bogus? If it's correct, I'd be happy to award the bounty to whoever can do the best job of making it more rigorous.

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