Benoit Benoit - 4 months ago 20
C Question

What are the common undefined/unspecified behavior for C that you run into?

An example of unspecified behavior in the C language is the order of evaluation of arguments to a function. It might be left to right or right to left, you just don't know. This would affect how

foo(c++, c)
foo(++c, c)
gets evaluated.

What other unspecified behavior is there that can surprise the unaware programmer?


A language lawyer question. Hmkay.

My personal top3:

  1. violating the strict aliasing rule
  2. violating the strict aliasing rule
  3. violating the strict aliasing rule


Edit Here is a little example that does it wrong twice:

(assume 32 bit ints and little endian)

float funky_float_abs (float a)
  unsigned int temp = *(unsigned int *)&a;
  temp &= 0x7fffffff;
  return *(float *)&temp;

That code tries to get the absolute value of a float by bit-twiddling with the sign bit directly in the representation of a float.

However, the result of creating a pointer to an object by casting from one type to another is not valid C. The compiler may assume that pointers to different types don't point to the same chunk of memory. This is true for all kind of pointers except void* and char* (sign-ness does not matter).

In the case above I do that twice. Once to get an int-alias for the float a, and once to convert the value back to float.

There are three valid ways to do the same.

Use a char or void pointer during the cast. These always alias to anything, so they are safe.

float funky_float_abs (float a)
  float temp_float = a;
  // valid, because it's a char pointer. These are special.
  unsigned char * temp = (unsigned char *)&temp_float;
  temp[3] &= 0x7f;
  return temp_float;

Use memcopy. Memcpy takes void pointers, so it will force aliasing as well.

float funky_float_abs (float a)
  int i;
  float result;
  memcpy (&i, &a, sizeof (int));
  i &= 0x7fffffff;
  memcpy (&result, &i, sizeof (int));
  return result;

The third valid way: use unions. This is explicitly not undefined since C99:

float funky_float_abs (float a)
     unsigned int i;
     float f;
  } cast_helper;

  cast_helper.f = a;
  cast_helper.i &= 0x7fffffff;
  return cast_helper.f;