Date: 2005-03-04

Defect Report #2dd

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Submitter: UK C Panel
Submission Date: 2005-03-04
Source: Joseph Myers <>
Reference Document: ISO/IEC WG14 N1103
Version: 1.0
Date: 2005-03-04
Subject: Implementation-defined bit-field types


C99 6.7.2#2 lists the valid combinations of type specifiers. 6.7.2#5 says:

[#5] Each of the comma-separated sets designates the same type, except that for bit-fields, it is implementation-defined whether the specifier int designates the same type as signed int or the same type as unsigned int. says:

[#4] A bit-field shall have a type that is a qualified or unqualified version of _Bool, signed int, unsigned int, or some other implementation-defined type.

Some problems arise with use of an "other implementation-defined type", a new addition in C99.

1. Suppose an implementation supports bit-fields of types char, short, long and long long. Bit-fields of type int may be unsigned on that implementation. Must bit-fields of type char nevertheless have the same signedness as ordinary objects of type char, and similarly for those of types short (or short int), long (or long int), long long (or long long int)? The practice in C++ is that all these are implementation-defined (except that C++ does not include long long); it seems an oversight in the addition of implementation-defined bit-field types in C99 not to make such provision for char, short, long and long long bit-fields as is made for int bit-fields. (It might still be appropriate to ensure, for example, that short and short int have the same signedness as bit-field types, although that might be unsigned and so differ from the signedness of signed short and signed short int.) Footnote 104, reiterating that int as a bit-field type may be signed or unsigned, would also need amendment.

2. Suppose an implementation has 32-bit int (with no padding bits) and permits unsigned long long as an implementation-defined bit-field type. Consider the code:

  struct s { unsigned long long a : 37, b : 37; } x;
  // ...
  sizeof(x.a + x.b);

x.a and x.b have 37-bit unsigned integer types, by Such types have an integer conversion rank greater than that of int, so are unchanged by the integer promotions. (That all the bit-field types have integer conversion ranks, and may need to be documented by implementations as extended integer types, is a consequence of the standard that may not be intended and may be surprising to some, but it is a logical consequence of the text of the standard.) Whether or not x.a and x.b have the same 37-bit type, (x.a + x.b) also has a 37-bit unsigned integer type. However, (x.a + x.b) does not designate a bit-field member, so it does not violate the constraints on sizeof. But what should sizeof(x.a + x.b) evaluate to, when (x.a + x.b) has such a bit-field type which does not occupy an integer number of bytes? Must an implementation define representations occupying an integer number of bytes (with some padding bits) for all such types, although such representations would have no use other than to define the result of sizeof?

Changing the promotion rules for bit-fields wider than int to avoid such expressions of bit-field type would create an odd inconsistency in the type system about which types are promoted, although it would be consistent with C++ where bit-fields have narrow representation but are considered to have the declared type rather than a special narrow type and would allow implementations to support bit-fields wider than int without needing special support for arithmetic on such types (alternatively, it could be argued that if an implementor wishes to support bit-fields wider than int it is up to them to implement arithmetic on all bit-field types wider than int as a consequence of their decision); changing the C definition of bit-field types to follow the C++ one would be more radical and probably not suitable for a TC. (C++ then has a special rule so that unsigned int bit-fields promote to int if narrower than int.) The alternative is to be more explicit about the nature of bit-field types and to define when an expression has such a type, and to make the constraint on sizeof apply to expressions with such types and not just to bit-fields themselves.

Suggested Technical Corrigendum

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