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6.36 Specifying Attributes of Variables

The keyword __attribute__ allows you to specify special attributes of variables or structure fields. This keyword is followed by an attribute specification inside double parentheses. Some attributes are currently defined generically for variables. Other attributes are defined for variables on particular target systems. Other attributes are available for functions (see section Declaring Attributes of Functions) and for types (see section Specifying Attributes of Types). Other front ends might define more attributes (see section Extensions to the C++ Language).

You may also specify attributes with ‘__’ preceding and following each keyword. This allows you to use them in header files without being concerned about a possible macro of the same name. For example, you may use __aligned__ instead of aligned.

See section Attribute Syntax, for details of the exact syntax for using attributes.

aligned (alignment)

This attribute specifies a minimum alignment for the variable or structure field, measured in bytes. For example, the declaration:

int x __attribute__ ((aligned (16))) = 0;

causes the compiler to allocate the global variable x on a 16-byte boundary. On a 68040, this could be used in conjunction with an asm expression to access the move16 instruction which requires 16-byte aligned operands.

You can also specify the alignment of structure fields. For example, to create a double-word aligned int pair, you could write:

struct foo { int x[2] __attribute__ ((aligned (8))); };

This is an alternative to creating a union with a double member, which forces the union to be double-word aligned.

As in the preceding examples, you can explicitly specify the alignment (in bytes) that you wish the compiler to use for a given variable or structure field. Alternatively, you can leave out the alignment factor and just ask the compiler to align a variable or field to the default alignment for the target architecture you are compiling for. The default alignment is sufficient for all scalar types, but may not be enough for all vector types on a target that supports vector operations. The default alignment is fixed for a particular target ABI.

GCC also provides a target specific macro __BIGGEST_ALIGNMENT__, which is the largest alignment ever used for any data type on the target machine you are compiling for. For example, you could write:

short array[3] __attribute__ ((aligned (__BIGGEST_ALIGNMENT__)));

The compiler automatically sets the alignment for the declared variable or field to __BIGGEST_ALIGNMENT__. Doing this can often make copy operations more efficient, because the compiler can use whatever instructions copy the biggest chunks of memory when performing copies to or from the variables or fields that you have aligned this way. Note that the value of __BIGGEST_ALIGNMENT__ may change depending on command-line options.

When used on a struct, or struct member, the aligned attribute can only increase the alignment; in order to decrease it, the packed attribute must be specified as well. When used as part of a typedef, the aligned attribute can both increase and decrease alignment, and specifying the packed attribute generates a warning.

Note that the effectiveness of aligned attributes may be limited by inherent limitations in your linker. On many systems, the linker is only able to arrange for variables to be aligned up to a certain maximum alignment. (For some linkers, the maximum supported alignment may be very very small.) If your linker is only able to align variables up to a maximum of 8-byte alignment, then specifying aligned(16) in an __attribute__ still only provides you with 8-byte alignment. See your linker documentation for further information.

The aligned attribute can also be used for functions (see section Declaring Attributes of Functions.)

cleanup (cleanup_function)

The cleanup attribute runs a function when the variable goes out of scope. This attribute can only be applied to auto function scope variables; it may not be applied to parameters or variables with static storage duration. The function must take one parameter, a pointer to a type compatible with the variable. The return value of the function (if any) is ignored.

If ‘-fexceptions’ is enabled, then cleanup_function is run during the stack unwinding that happens during the processing of the exception. Note that the cleanup attribute does not allow the exception to be caught, only to perform an action. It is undefined what happens if cleanup_function does not return normally.

common
nocommon

The common attribute requests GCC to place a variable in “common” storage. The nocommon attribute requests the opposite—to allocate space for it directly.

These attributes override the default chosen by the ‘-fno-common’ and ‘-fcommon’ flags respectively.

deprecated
deprecated (msg)

The deprecated attribute results in a warning if the variable is used anywhere in the source file. This is useful when identifying variables that are expected to be removed in a future version of a program. The warning also includes the location of the declaration of the deprecated variable, to enable users to easily find further information about why the variable is deprecated, or what they should do instead. Note that the warning only occurs for uses:

extern int old_var __attribute__ ((deprecated));
extern int old_var;
int new_fn () { return old_var; }

results in a warning on line 3 but not line 2. The optional msg argument, which must be a string, is printed in the warning if present.

The deprecated attribute can also be used for functions and types (see section Declaring Attributes of Functions, see section Specifying Attributes of Types.)

mode (mode)

This attribute specifies the data type for the declaration—whichever type corresponds to the mode mode. This in effect lets you request an integer or floating-point type according to its width.

You may also specify a mode of byte or __byte__ to indicate the mode corresponding to a one-byte integer, word or __word__ for the mode of a one-word integer, and pointer or __pointer__ for the mode used to represent pointers.

packed

The packed attribute specifies that a variable or structure field should have the smallest possible alignment—one byte for a variable, and one bit for a field, unless you specify a larger value with the aligned attribute.

Here is a structure in which the field x is packed, so that it immediately follows a:

struct foo
{
  char a;
  int x[2] __attribute__ ((packed));
};

Note: The 4.1, 4.2 and 4.3 series of GCC ignore the packed attribute on bit-fields of type char. This has been fixed in GCC 4.4 but the change can lead to differences in the structure layout. See the documentation of ‘-Wpacked-bitfield-compat’ for more information.

section ("section-name")

Normally, the compiler places the objects it generates in sections like data and bss. Sometimes, however, you need additional sections, or you need certain particular variables to appear in special sections, for example to map to special hardware. The section attribute specifies that a variable (or function) lives in a particular section. For example, this small program uses several specific section names:

struct duart a __attribute__ ((section ("DUART_A"))) = { 0 };
struct duart b __attribute__ ((section ("DUART_B"))) = { 0 };
char stack[10000] __attribute__ ((section ("STACK"))) = { 0 };
int init_data __attribute__ ((section ("INITDATA")));

main()
{
  /* Initialize stack pointer */
  init_sp (stack + sizeof (stack));

  /* Initialize initialized data */
  memcpy (&init_data, &data, &edata - &data);

  /* Turn on the serial ports */
  init_duart (&a);
  init_duart (&b);
}

Use the section attribute with global variables and not local variables, as shown in the example.

You may use the section attribute with initialized or uninitialized global variables but the linker requires each object be defined once, with the exception that uninitialized variables tentatively go in the common (or bss) section and can be multiply “defined”. Using the section attribute changes what section the variable goes into and may cause the linker to issue an error if an uninitialized variable has multiple definitions. You can force a variable to be initialized with the ‘-fno-common’ flag or the nocommon attribute.

Some file formats do not support arbitrary sections so the section attribute is not available on all platforms. If you need to map the entire contents of a module to a particular section, consider using the facilities of the linker instead.

shared

On Microsoft Windows, in addition to putting variable definitions in a named section, the section can also be shared among all running copies of an executable or DLL. For example, this small program defines shared data by putting it in a named section shared and marking the section shareable:

int foo __attribute__((section ("shared"), shared)) = 0;

int
main()
{
  /* Read and write foo.  All running
     copies see the same value.  */
  return 0;
}

You may only use the shared attribute along with section attribute with a fully-initialized global definition because of the way linkers work. See section attribute for more information.

The shared attribute is only available on Microsoft Windows.

tls_model ("tls_model")

The tls_model attribute sets thread-local storage model (see section Thread-Local Storage) of a particular __thread variable, overriding ‘-ftls-model=’ command-line switch on a per-variable basis. The tls_model argument should be one of global-dynamic, local-dynamic, initial-exec or local-exec.

Not all targets support this attribute.

unused

This attribute, attached to a variable, means that the variable is meant to be possibly unused. GCC does not produce a warning for this variable.

used

This attribute, attached to a variable, means that the variable must be emitted even if it appears that the variable is not referenced.

When applied to a static data member of a C++ class template, the attribute also means that the member is instantiated if the class itself is instantiated.

vector_size (bytes)

This attribute specifies the vector size for the variable, measured in bytes. For example, the declaration:

int foo __attribute__ ((vector_size (16)));

causes the compiler to set the mode for foo, to be 16 bytes, divided into int sized units. Assuming a 32-bit int (a vector of 4 units of 4 bytes), the corresponding mode of foo is V4SI.

This attribute is only applicable to integral and float scalars, although arrays, pointers, and function return values are allowed in conjunction with this construct.

Aggregates with this attribute are invalid, even if they are of the same size as a corresponding scalar. For example, the declaration:

struct S { int a; };
struct S  __attribute__ ((vector_size (16))) foo;

is invalid even if the size of the structure is the same as the size of the int.

selectany

The selectany attribute causes an initialized global variable to have link-once semantics. When multiple definitions of the variable are encountered by the linker, the first is selected and the remainder are discarded. Following usage by the Microsoft compiler, the linker is told not to warn about size or content differences of the multiple definitions.

Although the primary usage of this attribute is for POD types, the attribute can also be applied to global C++ objects that are initialized by a constructor. In this case, the static initialization and destruction code for the object is emitted in each translation defining the object, but the calls to the constructor and destructor are protected by a link-once guard variable.

The selectany attribute is only available on Microsoft Windows targets. You can use __declspec (selectany) as a synonym for __attribute__ ((selectany)) for compatibility with other compilers.

weak

The weak attribute is described in Declaring Attributes of Functions.

dllimport

The dllimport attribute is described in Declaring Attributes of Functions.

dllexport

The dllexport attribute is described in Declaring Attributes of Functions.


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