C Language Formatted Input/Output

Printing the Value of a Pointer to an Object

To print the value of a pointer to an object (as opposed to a function pointer) use the p conversion specifier. It is defined to print void-pointers only, so to print out the value of a non void-pointer it needs to be explicitly converted ("casted*") to void*.

#include <stdlib.h> /* for EXIT_SUCCESS */
#include <stdio.h>  /* for printf() */

int main(void)
  int i;
  int * p = &i;

  printf("The address of i is %p.\n", (void*) p);

  return EXIT_SUCCESS;

Using <inttypes.h> and uintptr_t

Another way to print pointers in C99 or later uses the uintptr_t type and the macros from <inttypes.h>:

#include <inttypes.h> /* for uintptr_t and PRIXPTR */
#include <stdio.h>    /* for printf() */

int main(void)
  int  i;
  int *p = &i;

  printf("The address of i is 0x%" PRIXPTR ".\n", (uintptr_t)p);

  return 0;

In theory, there might not be an integer type that can hold any pointer converted to an integer (so the type uintptr_t might not exist). In practice, it does exist. Pointers to functions need not be convertible to the uintptr_t type — though again they most often are convertible.

If the uintptr_t type exists, so does the intptr_t type. It is not clear why you'd ever want to treat addresses as signed integers, though.


Pre-Standard History:

Prior to C89 during K&R-C times there was no type void* (nor header <stdlib.h>, nor prototypes, and hence no int main(void) notation), so the pointer was cast to long unsigned int and printed using the lx length modifier/conversion specifier.

The example below is just for informational purpose. Nowadays this is invalid code, which very well might provoke the infamous Undefined Behaviour.

#include <stdio.h> /* optional in pre-standard C - for printf() */

int main()
  int  i;
  int *p = &i;

  printf("The address of i is 0x%lx.\n", (long unsigned) p);

  return 0;

Printing the Difference of the Values of two Pointers to an Object

Subtracting the values of two pointers to an object results in a signed integer *1. So it would be printed using at least the d conversion specifier.

To make sure there is a type being wide enough to hold such a "pointer-difference", since C99 <stddef.h> defines the type ptrdiff_t. To print a ptrdiff_t use the t length modifier.

#include <stdlib.h> /* for EXIT_SUCCESS */
#include <stdio.h> /* for printf() */
#include <stddef.h> /* for ptrdiff_t */

int main(void)
  int a[2];
  int * p1 = &a[0], * p2 = &a[1];
  ptrdiff_t pd = p2 - p1;

  printf("p1 = %p\n", (void*) p1);
  printf("p2 = %p\n", (void*) p2);
  printf("p2 - p1 = %td\n", pd);

  return EXIT_SUCCESS;

The result might look like this:

p1 = 0x7fff6679f430
p2 = 0x7fff6679f434
p2 - p1 = 1

Please note that the resulting value of the difference is scaled by the size of the type the pointers subtracted point to, an int here. The size of an int for this example is 4.

*1If the two pointers to be subtracted do not point to the same object the behaviour is undefined.

Conversion Specifiers for printing

Conversion SpecifierType of ArgumentDescription
i, dintprints decimal
uunsigned intprints decimal
ounsigned intprints octal
xunsigned intprints hexadecimal, lower-case
Xunsigned intprints hexadecimal, upper-case
fdoubleprints float with a default precision of 6, if no precision is given (lower-case used for special numbers nan and inf or infinity)
Fdoubleprints float with a default precision of 6, if no precision is given (upper-case used for special numbers NAN and INF or INFINITY)
edoubleprints float with a default precision of 6, if no precision is given, using scientific notation using mantissa/exponent; lower-case exponent and special numbers
Edoubleprints float with a default precision of 6, if no precision is given, using scientific notation using mantissa/exponent; upper-case exponent and special numbers
gdoubleuses either f or e [see below]
Gdoubleuses either F or E [see below]
adoubleprints hexadecimal, lower-case
Adoubleprints hexadecimal, upper-case
ccharprints single character
schar*prints string of characters up to a NUL terminator, or truncated to length given by precision, if specified
pvoid*prints void-pointer value; a nonvoid-pointer should be explicitly converted ("cast") to void*; pointer to object only, not a function-pointer
%n/aprints the % character
nint *write the number of bytes printed so far into the int pointed at.

Note that length modifiers can be applied to %n (e.g. %hhn indicates that a following n conversion specifier applies to a pointer to a signed char argument, according to the ISO/IEC 9899:2011 § ¶7).

Note that the floating point conversions apply to types float and double because of default promotion rules — § Function calls, ¶7 The ellipsis notation in a function prototype declarator causes argument type conversion to stop after the last declared parameter. The default argument promotions are performed on trailing arguments.) Thus, functions such as printf() are only ever passed double values, even if the variable referenced is of type float.

With the g and G formats, the choice between e and f (or E and F) notation is documented in the C standard and in the POSIX specification for printf():

The double argument representing a floating-point number shall be converted in the style f or e (or in the style F or E in the case of a G conversion specifier), depending on the value converted and the precision. Let P equal the precision if non-zero, 6 if the precision is omitted, or 1 if the precision is zero. Then, if a conversion with style E would have an exponent of X:

  • If P > X >= -4, the conversion shall be with style f (or F) and precision P - (X+1).
  • Otherwise, the conversion shall be with style e (or E) and precision P - 1.

Finally, unless the '#' flag is used, any trailing zeros shall be removed from the fractional portion of the result and the decimal-point character shall be removed if there is no fractional portion remaining.

The printf() Function

Accessed through including <stdio.h>, the function printf() is the primary tool used for printing text to the console in C.

printf("Hello world!");
// Hello world!

Normal, unformatted character arrays can be printed by themselves by placing them directly in between the parentheses.

printf("%d is the answer to life, the universe, and everything.", 42);
// 42 is the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

int x = 3;
char y = 'Z';
char* z = "Example";
printf("Int: %d, Char: %c, String: %s", x, y, z);
// Int: 3, Char: Z, String: Example

Alternatively, integers, floating-point numbers, characters, and more can be printed using the escape character %, followed by a character or sequence of characters denoting the format, known as the format specifier.

All additional arguments to the function printf() are separated by commas, and these arguments should be in the same order as the format specifiers. Additional arguments are ignored, while incorrectly typed arguments or a lack of arguments will cause errors or undefined behavior. Each argument can be either a literal value or a variable.

After successful execution, the number of characters printed is returned with type int. Otherwise, a failure returns a negative value.

Length modifiers

The C99 and C11 standards specify the following length modifiers for printf(); their meanings are:

ModifierModifiesApplies to
hhd, i, o, u, x, or Xchar, signed char or unsigned char
hd, i, o, u, x, or Xshort int or unsigned short int
ld, i, o, u, x, or Xlong int or unsigned long int
la, A, e, E, f, F, g, or Gdouble (for compatibility with scanf(); undefined in C90)
lld, i, o, u, x, or Xlong long int or unsigned long long int
jd, i, o, u, x, or Xintmax_t or uintmax_t
zd, i, o, u, x, or Xsize_t or the corresponding signed type (ssize_t in POSIX)
td, i, o, u, x, or Xptrdiff_t or the corresponding unsigned integer type
La, A, e, E, f, F, g, or Glong double

If a length modifier appears with any conversion specifier other than as specified above, the behavior is undefined.

Microsoft specifies some different length modifiers, and explicitly does not support hh, j, z, or t.

ModifierModifiesApplies to
I32d, i, o, x, or X__int32
I32o, u, x, or Xunsigned __int32
I64d, i, o, x, or X__int64
I64o, u, x, or Xunsigned __int64
Id, i, o, x, or Xptrdiff_t (that is, __int32 on 32-bit platforms, __int64 on 64-bit platforms)
Io, u, x, or Xsize_t (that is, unsigned __int32 on 32-bit platforms, unsigned __int64 on 64-bit platforms)
l or La, A, e, E, f, g, or Glong double (In Visual C++, although long double is a distinct type, it has the same internal representation as double.)
l or wc or CWide character with printf and wprintf functions. (An lc, lC, wc or wC type specifier is synonymous with C in printf functions and with c in wprintf functions.)
l or ws, S, or ZWide-character string with printf and wprintf functions. (An ls, lS, ws or wS type specifier is synonymous with S in printf functions and with s in wprintf functions.)

Note that the C, S, and Z conversion specifiers and the I, I32, I64, and w length modifiers are Microsoft extensions. Treating l as a modifier for long double rather than double is different from the standard, though you'll be hard-pressed to spot the difference unless long double has a different representation from double.

Printing format flags

The C standard (C11, and C99 too) defines the following flags for printf():

-allThe result of the conversion shall be left-justified within the field. The conversion is right-justified if this flag is not specified.
+signed numericThe result of a signed conversion shall always begin with a sign ( '+' or '-' ). The conversion shall begin with a sign only when a negative value is converted if this flag is not specified.
<space>signed numericIf the first character of a signed conversion is not a sign or if a signed conversion results in no characters, a <space> shall be prefixed to the result. This means that if the <space> and '+' flags both appear, the <space> flag shall be ignored.
#allSpecifies that the value is to be converted to an alternative form. For o conversion, it shall increase the precision, if and only if necessary, to force the first digit of the result to be a zero (if the value and precision are both 0, a single 0 is printed). For x or X conversion specifiers, a non-zero result shall have 0x (or 0X) prefixed to it. For a, A, e, E, f, F, g, and G conversion specifiers, the result shall always contain a radix character, even if no digits follow the radix character. Without this flag, a radix character appears in the result of these conversions only if a digit follows it. For g and G conversion specifiers, trailing zeros shall not be removed from the result as they normally are. For other conversion specifiers, the behavior is undefined.
0numericFor d, i, o, u, x, X, a, A, e, E, f, F, g, and G conversion specifiers, leading zeros (following any indication of sign or base) are used to pad to the field width rather than performing space padding, except when converting an infinity or NaN. If the '0' and '-' flags both appear, the '0' flag is ignored. For d, i, o, u, x, and X conversion specifiers, if a precision is specified, the '0' flag shall be ignored. ⌦ If the '0' and <apostrophe> flags both appear, the grouping characters are inserted before zero padding. For other conversions, the behavior is undefined. ⌫

These flags are also supported by Microsoft with the same meanings.

The POSIX specification for printf() adds:

'i, d, u, f, F, g, GThe integer portion of the result of a decimal conversion shall be formatted with thousands' grouping characters. For other conversions the behavior is undefined. The non-monetary grouping character is used.