Variable Declaration Guidelines

Back in 2000, I came across this Advogato article about proper coding guidelines for the coming wave of 64-bit machines. The most interesting part, I thought, was comment #2 (“C is portable, if you let it be”) which offers some very sane guidelines for declaring variable types to just allow the compiler to do its job effectively. This is why I usually just declare int’s for numbers rather than uint32_t’s everywhere. There is often no reason to try to force particular types.

Don’t think that you’re saving space by declaring a uint8_t instead of an int– chances are that you aren’t. I’ve disassembled enough C code compiled into 32-bit x86 machine code to know that a compiler will usually allocate 32 bits for that 8-bit variable. In fact, here is a small piece of code to drive the point home:


Compile with: gcc -Wall stack.c -o stack
Disassemble with: objdump -d -Mintel stack
Key parts:

080483a0 < main >:
 80483a0:   55                  push   ebp
 80483a1:   89 e5               mov    ebp,esp
 80483a3:   83 ec 08            sub    esp,0x8
 80483a6:   83 e4 f0            and    esp,0xfffffff0
 80483a9:   b8 00 00 00 00      mov    eax,0x0
 80483ae:   29 c4               sub    esp,eax
 80483b0:   e8 07 ff ff ff      call   80482bc < random @plt >
 80483b5:   88 45 ff            mov    BYTE PTR [ebp-1],al
 80483b8:   66 0f be 45 ff      movsx  ax,BYTE PTR [ebp-1]
 80483bd:   40                  inc    eax
 80483be:   66 89 45 fc         mov    WORD PTR [ebp-4],ax

Notice that, despite strictly needing only 3 bytes of local variable storage, 8 bytes were allocated from the stack. 32-bit machines like the i386 really, really like dealing with 32-bit quantities.

2 thoughts on “Variable Declaration Guidelines

  1. VAG

    > 32-bit machines like the i386 really, really like dealing with 32-bit quantities.

    That’s the common rule for most CPUs. It’s always a good thing to use processor-native variable sizes.

  2. Tim Ferguson

    You can do a similar thing with a structure….

    struct test {
    int a;
    char b;

    sizeof(struct test) = 8.

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