Improved Normal Enumerations

Published Proposal,

Previous Revisions:
None, Derived from N2575 (r2)
Paper Source:
Issue Tracking:
ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22/WG14 9899: Programming Language — C
Proposal Category:
Feature Request
General Developers, Embedded Systems Developers, Stability Enthusiasts


Enumerations should allow values greater than INT_MAX and smaller than INT_MIN.

1. Changelog

1.1. Revision 0 - January 15st, 2022

2. Introduction and Motivation

C always designates int as the type for the enumerators of its enumerations, but it’s entirely unspecified what the (underlying compatible) type for the enum will end up being. These constants (and the initializers for those constants) must fit within an int, otherwise it is a constraint violation. For decades, compilers have been silently providing extensions in their default build modes for enumerations to be larger than int, even if _Generic and friends always detects the type of such an enumerator to be int. It is problematic to only have enumerators which are int, especially since it is only guaranteed to be 16-bits wide. Portability breaks happen between normal 32-bit int environments like typical GCC and Clang x86 platforms vs. 16-bit int environments like SDCC microcontroller targets, which is not desirable.

This proposal provides for enumerations with enumerators of values greater than INT_MAX and smaller than INT_MIN to have enumerators that are of a different type than int, allowing the underlying type and the enumeration constants themselves to be of a different type. It does not change behavior for any enumeration constants which were within the [INT_MAX, INT_MIN] range already.

3. Prior Art

The design of this feature is to enable what has been existing practice on implementations for a long time now, including GCC, SDCC, Clang, and several other compilers. Compilers have allowed for values greater than INT_MAX and values less than INT_MIN for a long time in their default compilation modes. We capture this as part of the design discussion below, for how we structure these proposed changes to the C Standard.

4. Design

This is a very small change that only makes previously ill-formed code now well-formed. It does not provide any other guarantees from the new wording besides allowing constants larger than int to be used with enumerations. Better enumeration types and values are better left with the sister paper on Enhanced Enumerations.

More specifically:

Particularly, this code:

enum a {

int main () {
	return _Generic(a0,
		unsigned long long: 0,
		int: 1,
		default: 2);

Should produce a value of 0 on a normal implementations (but can give other values, so long as the underlying type is big enough to fit a number (264 - 1)). It shall also not produce a diagnostic on even the most strict implementations.

5. Proposed Wording

The following wording is relative to N2731.

5.1. Intent

The intent of the wording is to provide the ability to express enumerations with the underlying type present. In particular:

5.2. Proposed Specification

5.2.1. Modify Section § Enumeration constants   Enumeration constants




An identifier declared as an enumeration constant for an enumeration has type int if the value used to initialize the enumeration constant is representable in an int. Otherwise, it is an implementation-defined signed or unsigned integer type capable of holding all of the values of the enumeration, as defined in

Forward references: enumeration specifiers (

5.2.2. Modify Section § Enumeration constants Enumeration specifiers


enum attribute-specifier-sequenceopt identifieropt { enumerator-list }
enum attribute-specifier-sequenceopt identifieropt { enumerator-list , }
enum identifier
enumerator-list , enumerator
enumeration-constant attribute-specifier-sequenceopt
enumeration-constant attribute-specifier-sequenceopt = constant-expression


The expression that defines the value of an enumeration constant shall be an integer constant expression. that has a value representable as an int. If the values of the integer constant expressions for each enumeration constant of an enumeration are representable as an int, then the enumeration constant’s type shall be an compatible with int. Otherwise, the values of the integer constant expressions for each enumeration constant for the enumeration determine the implementation-defined compatible type for the enumeration constant. The implementation-defined compatible type shall be capable of representing all of the integer constant expressions used to intiialize the enumeration.


The identifiers in an enumerator list are declared as constants and may appear wherever such are permitted.133) An enumerator with = defines its enumeration constant as the value of the constant expression. If the first enumerator has no =, the value of its enumeration constant is 0. Each subsequent enumerator with no = defines its enumeration constant as the value of the constant expression obtained by adding 1 to the value of the previous enumeration constant. (The use of enumerators with = may produce enumeration constants with values that duplicate other values in the same enumeration.) The enumerators of an enumeration are also known as its members.
Each enumerated type shall be compatible with char, a signed integer type, or an unsigned integer type (excluding the bit-precise integer types) . The choice of type is implementation-defined134), but shall be capable of representing the values of all the members of the enumeration.
The enumerated type is incomplete until immediately after the } that terminates the list of enumerator declarations, and complete thereafter.

5.2.3. Add implementation-defined enumeration behavior to Annex J

6. Acknowledgements

Thanks to:

We hope this paper serves you all well.