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Re: lib/34516: size_t should be equivalent to unsigned long

The following reply was made to PR lib/34516; it has been noted by GNATS.

From: David Holland <>
Cc:,,, Christian Biere 
Subject: Re: lib/34516: size_t should be equivalent to unsigned long
Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2008 02:17:09 +0000

 On Sun, Jan 20, 2008 at 10:45:05AM +0000, Christian Biere wrote:
  >  David Holland wrote:
  >  > Subject: Re: lib/34516: size_t should be equivalent to unsigned long
  >  >  size_t is not, however, the *same* as unsigned long. Code that
  >  >  indiscriminately mixes size_t with unsigned long is no better than
  >  >  code that indiscriminately mixes size_t with unsigned int; it is not
  >  >  portable.
  >  Code which incorrectly uses unsigned long instead of size_t is
  >  comparatively rare and it's unlikely to happen by accident. Abuse of
  >  int instead of proper use of size_t is wide-spread and the result of
  >  implicit integer promotion is very often int.
 But because int is signed, and size_t is unsigned, mixing them will
 generate warnings or errors regardless of whether size_t is unsigned
 int or unsigned long. So this is a red herring.
 The real question is whether more people think they can properly mix
 size_t with unsigned int or unsigned long, and if anything, I would
 say far more people believe the latter. This is partly because it's
 true (at least as far as size is concerned) on all common platforms
 and partly because it's an explicit assumption and/or guarantee in
 Therefore, where the choice exists, making size_t unsigned int rather
 than unsigned long will cause the compiler to reject, if anything,
 *more* incorrect code rather than less.
  >  > C does not support newtypes, so there is no way to avoid masking some
  >  > such set of coding errors.
  >  The conclusion is incorrect.
 Hardly. size_t *must* be the same as some unsigned integer type, and
 there is therefore no way to persuade the compiler to distinguish it
 from that specific type, whatever type that is.
 That is, if I have a function foo(size_t *), and size_t is unsigned
 long, I can write "unsigned long x; foo(&x);" and the compiler will
 not complain. If size_t is unsigned int, I can write "unsigned x;
 foo(&x);" and the compiler will not complain.
 The best defense, if anything, is to compile your code on multiple
 platforms with different definitions of size_t.
 Note that mistakes like
    size_t somefunc(void);
    int x = somefunc(); /* loses data on 64-bit platforms */
 can't be caught at all with gcc regardless of one's choice of
 typedefs. (Catching these without generating tons of bogus warnings or
 requiring lots of undesirable typecasts needs some fairly
 sophisticated program analysis that's the domain of a program
 verifier, not of a compiler.)
  >  I provided some examples in the initial report.
 Your initial report contains code that mixes pointers to int and
 pointers to size_t; this generates compiler diagnostics on any
 conforming implementation.
 Part of the problem appears to be that (some versions of?) gcc 3
 silently allow mixing incompatible pointers. This is (was?) a fairly
 serious gcc bug, but seems to no longer be an issue in gcc 4.
  >  >  Furthermore, the precise expansion of size_t is gcc's choice, because
  >  >  gcc "knows" the type signatures of various standard functions, so we
  >  >  can't or shouldn't change it in NetBSD even if there were a good
  >  >  argument in favor.
  >  It's not so much GCC's choice because other 32-bit targets don't have
  >  size_t as unsigned int. It's simply a question of editing machine/ansi.h.
 It is gcc's choice, because gcc knows what the type signatures of
 various standard functions involving size_t are, in terms of real
 types. mrg says we can change what gcc believes easily enough, though,
 and he'd know, so this part doesn't matter.
 I remain unconvinced that there's any reason to change, and in fact
 there seems to be some reason to think that keeping the current
 behavior (size_t == unsigned int) is more desirable than changing
 would be.
 David A. Holland

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