Retired Documents Library Developer
Search

Next: , Previous: Zero Length, Up: C Extensions


5.14 Arrays of Variable Length

Variable-length automatic arrays are allowed in ISO C99, and as an extension GCC accepts them in C89 mode and in C++. (However, GCC's implementation of variable-length arrays does not yet conform in detail to the ISO C99 standard.) These arrays are declared like any other automatic arrays, but with a length that is not a constant expression. The storage is allocated at the point of declaration and deallocated when the brace-level is exited. For example:

     FILE *
     concat_fopen (char *s1, char *s2, char *mode)
     {
       char str[strlen (s1) + strlen (s2) + 1];
       strcpy (str, s1);
       strcat (str, s2);
       return fopen (str, mode);
     }

Jumping or breaking out of the scope of the array name deallocates the storage. Jumping into the scope is not allowed; you get an error message for it.

You can use the function alloca to get an effect much like variable-length arrays. The function alloca is available in many other C implementations (but not in all). On the other hand, variable-length arrays are more elegant.

There are other differences between these two methods. Space allocated with alloca exists until the containing function returns. The space for a variable-length array is deallocated as soon as the array name's scope ends. (If you use both variable-length arrays and alloca in the same function, deallocation of a variable-length array will also deallocate anything more recently allocated with alloca.)

You can also use variable-length arrays as arguments to functions:

     struct entry
     tester (int len, char data[len][len])
     {
       /* ... */
     }

The length of an array is computed once when the storage is allocated and is remembered for the scope of the array in case you access it with sizeof.

If you want to pass the array first and the length afterward, you can use a forward declaration in the parameter list—another GNU extension.

     struct entry
     tester (int len; char data[len][len], int len)
     {
       /* ... */
     }

The `int len' before the semicolon is a parameter forward declaration, and it serves the purpose of making the name len known when the declaration of data is parsed.

You can write any number of such parameter forward declarations in the parameter list. They can be separated by commas or semicolons, but the last one must end with a semicolon, which is followed by the “real” parameter declarations. Each forward declaration must match a “real” declaration in parameter name and data type. ISO C99 does not support parameter forward declarations.