Monday, November 21, 2016

C Storage Classes -- Where Do You Store Your Foo?

In investigating the proper means to declare a global variable, I found myself reviewing some C documentation that I had long forgotten, concerning the Storage Class.

To briefly review, each variable declaration consists of 3 elements: the storage class, the type, and the variable name. For example:

auto int x;
static int y;

The storage class can take the form of auto, extern, static, or register. If not specified, the implicit storage class is that of auto.

The auto storage class is the most frequently used of the classes, primarily because it is the implicit default. Local variables take this form, where the storage is not allocated until the block in which the variable is defined is entered.

The extern storage class specified simply a reference to a variable that is defined elsewhere. Space is therefore not allocated upon encountering this reference, since the storage is allocated elsewhere. This as you may recall is the means to declare a global variable.

The static storage class specifies that the variable cannot be access by functions outside the translation unit in which it was defined. A common error is declaration of a static variable in a header file, which is imported by more than one translation unit not understand that each translation unit essentially created independent copies of the variable. A common practice of declaring a static constant in a header, used by multiple translation units results in multiple copies of the constant, in each translation unit. However, if the static variable simply defines a constant....generally, no-harm-no-foul. It is however worth understanding that it is not a shared reference.

The last storage class is that of register, which notifies the compiler to make the variable as efficient as possible. Ideally, the variable will retain it's location in a cpu register for optimal performance.

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