C++ Implementation-defined behavior

Char might be unsigned or signed

The standard doesn't specify if char should be signed or unsigned. Different compilers implement it differently, or might allow to change it using a command line switch.

Size of integral types

The following types are defined as integral types:

  • char
  • Signed integer types
  • Unsigned integer types
  • char16_t and char32_t
  • bool
  • wchar_t

With the exception of sizeof(char) / sizeof(signed char) / sizeof(unsigned char), which is split between § [basic.fundamental/1] and § [expr.sizeof], and sizeof(bool), which is entirely implementation-defined and has no minimum size, the minimum size requirements of these types are given in section § 3.9.1 [basic.fundamental] of the standard, and shall be detailed below.

Size of char

All versions of the C++ standard specify, in §, that sizeof yields 1 for unsigned char, signed char, and char (it is implementation defined whether the char type is signed or unsigned).


char is large enough to represent 256 different values, to be suitable for storing UTF-8 code units.

Size of signed and unsigned integer types

The standard specifies, in §, that in the list of standard signed integer types, consisting of signed char, short int, int, long int, and long long int, each type will provide at least as much storage as those preceding it in the list. Furthermore, as specified in §, each of these types has a corresponding standard unsigned integer type, unsigned char, unsigned short int, unsigned int, unsigned long int, and unsigned long long int, which has the same size and alignment as its corresponding signed type. Additionally, as specified in §, char has the same size and alignment requirements as both signed char and unsigned char.


Prior to C++11, long long and unsigned long long were not officially part of the C++ standard. However, after their introduction to C, in C99, many compilers supported long long as an extended signed integer type, and unsigned long long as an extended unsigned integer type, with the same rules as the C types.

The standard thus guarantees that:

1 == sizeof(char)  == sizeof(signed char) == sizeof(unsigned char)
  <= sizeof(short) == sizeof(unsigned short)
  <= sizeof(int)   == sizeof(unsigned int)
  <= sizeof(long)  == sizeof(unsigned long)
 <= sizeof(long long) == sizeof(unsigned long long)

Specific minimum sizes for each type are not given by the standard. Instead, each type has a minimum range of values it can support, which is, as specified in §, inherited from the C standard, in § The minimum size of each type can be roughly inferred from this range, by determining the minimum number of bits required; note that for any given platform, any type's actual supported range may be larger than the minimum. Note that for signed types, ranges correspond to one's complement, not the more commonly used two's complement; this is to allow a wider range of platforms to comply with the standard.

TypeMinimum rangeMinimum bits required
signed char-127 to 127 (-(27 - 1) to (27 - 1))8
unsigned char0 to 255 (0 to 28 - 1)8
signed short-32,767 to 32,767 (-(215 - 1) to (215 - 1))16
unsigned short0 to 65,535 (0 to 216 - 1)16
signed int-32,767 to 32,767 (-(215 - 1) to (215 - 1))16
unsigned int0 to 65,535 (0 to 216 - 1)16
signed long-2,147,483,647 to 2,147,483,647 (-(231 - 1) to (231 - 1))32
unsigned long0 to 4,294,967,295 (0 to 232 - 1)32
TypeMinimum rangeMinimum bits required
signed long long-9,223,372,036,854,775,807 to 9,223,372,036,854,775,807 (-(263 - 1) to (263 - 1))64
unsigned long long0 to 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 (0 to 264 - 1)64

As each type is allowed to be greater than its minimum size requirement, types may differ in size between implementations. The most notable example of this is with the 64-bit data models LP64 and LLP64, where LLP64 systems (such as 64-bit Windows) have 32-bit ints and longs, and LP64 systems (such as 64-bit Linux) have 32-bit ints and 64-bit longs. Due to this, integer types cannot be assumed to have a fixed width across all platforms.


If integer types with fixed width are required, use types from the <cstdint> header, but note that the standard makes it optional for implementations to support the exact-width types int8_t, int16_t, int32_t, int64_t, intptr_t, uint8_t, uint16_t, uint32_t, uint64_t and uintptr_t.


Size of char16_t and char32_t

The sizes of char16_t and char32_t are implementation-defined, as specified in §, with the stipulations given in §

  • char16_t is large enough to represent any UTF-16 code unit, and has the same size, signedness, and alignment as uint_least16_t; it is thus required to be at least 16 bits in size.

  • char32_t is large enough to represent any UTF-32 code unit, and has the same size, signedness, and alignment as uint_least32_t; it is thus required to be at least 32 bits in size.

Size of bool

The size of bool is implementation defined, and may or may not be 1.

Size of wchar_t

wchar_t, as specified in §, is a distinct type, whose range of values can represent every distinct code unit of the largest extended character set among the supported locales. It has the same size, signedness, and alignment as one of the other integral types, which is known as its underlying type. This type's size is implementation-defined, as specified in §, and may be, for example, at least 8, 16, or 32 bits; if a system supports Unicode, for example, wchar_t is required to be at least 32 bits (an exception to this rule is Windows, where wchar_t is 16 bits for compatibility purposes). It is inherited from the C90 standard, ISO 9899:1990 § 4.1.5, with only minor rewording.

Depending on the implementation, the size of wchar_t is often, but not always, 8, 16, or 32 bits. The most common examples of these are:

  • In Unix and Unix-like systems, wchar_t is 32-bit, and is usually used for UTF-32.
  • In Windows, wchar_t is 16-bit, and is used for UTF-16.
  • On a system which only has 8-bit support, wchar_t is 8 bit.

If Unicode support is desired, it is recommended to use char for UTF-8, char16_t for UTF-16, or char32_t for UTF-32, instead of using wchar_t.

Data Models

As mentioned above, the widths of integer types can differ between platforms. The most common models are as follows, with sizes specified in bits:

LP32 (2/4/4)163232
ILP32 (4/4/4)323232
LLP64 (4/4/8)323264
LP64 (4/8/8)326464

Out of these models:

  • 16-bit Windows used LP32.
  • 32-bit *nix systems (Unix, Linux, Mac OSX, and other Unix-like OSes) and Windows use ILP32.
  • 64-bit Windows uses LLP64.
  • 64-bit *nix systems use LP64.

Note, however, that these models aren't specifically mentioned in the standard itself.

Number of bits in a byte

In C++, a byte is the space occupied by a char object. The number of bits in a byte is given by CHAR_BIT, which is defined in climits and required to be at least 8. While most modern systems have 8-bit bytes, and POSIX requires CHAR_BIT to be exactly 8, there are some systems where CHAR_BIT is greater than 8 i.e a single byte may be comprised of 8, 16, 32 or 64 bits.

Numeric value of a pointer

The result of casting a pointer to an integer using reinterpret_cast is implementation-defined, but "... is intended to be unsurprising to those who know the addressing structure of the underlying machine."

int x = 42;
int* p = &x;
long addr = reinterpret_cast<long>(p);
std::cout << addr << "\n"; // prints some numeric address,
                           // probably in the architecture's native address format

Likewise, the pointer obtained by conversion from an integer is also implementation-defined.

The right way to store a pointer as an integer is using the uintptr_t or intptr_t types:

// `uintptr_t` was not in C++03. It's in C99, in <stdint.h>, as an optional type
#include <stdint.h>

uintptr_t uip;
// There is an optional `std::uintptr_t` in C++11
#include <cstdint>

std::uintptr_t uip;

C++11 refers to C99 for the definition uintptr_t (C99 standard,

an unsigned integer type with the property that any valid pointer to void can be converted to this type, then converted back to pointer to void, and the result will compare equal to the original pointer.

While, for the majority of modern platforms, you can assume a flat address space and that arithmetic on uintptr_t is equivalent to arithmetic on char *, it's entirely possible for an implementation to perform any transformation when casting void * to uintptr_t as long the transformation can be reversed when casting back from uintptr_t to void *.


  • On XSI-conformant (X/Open System Interfaces) systems, intptr_t and uintptr_t types are required, otherwise they are optional.

  • Within the meaning of the C standard, functions aren't objects; it isn't guaranteed by the C standard that uintptr_t can hold a function pointer. Anyway POSIX (2.12.3) conformance requires that:

    All function pointer types shall have the same representation as the type pointer to void. Conversion of a function pointer to void * shall not alter the representation. A void * value resulting from such a conversion can be converted back to the original function pointer type, using an explicit cast, without loss of information.

  • C99 §7.18.1:

    When typedef names differing only in the absence or presence of the initial u are defined, they shall denote corresponding signed and unsigned types as described in 6.2.5; an implementation providing one of these corresponding types shall also provide the other.

    uintptr_t might make sense if you want to do things to the bits of the pointer that you can't do as sensibly with a signed integer.

Ranges of numeric types

The ranges of the integer types are implementation-defined. The header <limits> provides the std::numeric_limits<T> template which provides the minimum and maximum values of all fundamental types. The values satisfy guarantees provided by the C standard through the <climits> and (>= C++11) <cinttypes> headers.

  • std::numeric_limits<signed char>::min() equals SCHAR_MIN, which is less than or equal to -127.
  • std::numeric_limits<signed char>::max() equals SCHAR_MAX, which is greater than or equal to 127.
  • std::numeric_limits<unsigned char>::max() equals UCHAR_MAX, which is greater than or equal to 255.
  • std::numeric_limits<short>::min() equals SHRT_MIN, which is less than or equal to -32767.
  • std::numeric_limits<short>::max() equals SHRT_MAX, which is greater than or equal to 32767.
  • std::numeric_limits<unsigned short>::max() equals USHRT_MAX, which is greater than or equal to 65535.
  • std::numeric_limits<int>::min() equals INT_MIN, which is less than or equal to -32767.
  • std::numeric_limits<int>::max() equals INT_MAX, which is greater than or equal to 32767.
  • std::numeric_limits<unsigned int>::max() equals UINT_MAX, which is greater than or equal to 65535.
  • std::numeric_limits<long>::min() equals LONG_MIN, which is less than or equal to -2147483647.
  • std::numeric_limits<long>::max() equals LONG_MAX, which is greater than or equal to 2147483647.
  • std::numeric_limits<unsigned long>::max() equals ULONG_MAX, which is greater than or equal to 4294967295.
  • std::numeric_limits<long long>::min() equals LLONG_MIN, which is less than or equal to -9223372036854775807.
  • std::numeric_limits<long long>::max() equals LLONG_MAX, which is greater than or equal to 9223372036854775807.
  • std::numeric_limits<unsigned long long>::max() equals ULLONG_MAX, which is greater than or equal to 18446744073709551615.

For floating-point types T, max() is the maximum finite value while min() is the minimum positive normalized value. Additional members are provided for floating-point types, which are also implementation-defined but satisfy certain guarantees provided by the C standard through the <cfloat> header.

  • The member digits10 gives the number of decimal digits of precision.
    • std::numeric_limits<float>::digits10 equals FLT_DIG, which is at least 6.
    • std::numeric_limits<double>::digits10 equals DBL_DIG, which is at least 10.
    • std::numeric_limits<long double>::digits10 equals LDBL_DIG, which is at least 10.
  • The member min_exponent10 is the minimum negative E such that 10 to the power E is normal.
    • std::numeric_limits<float>::min_exponent10 equals FLT_MIN_10_EXP, which is at most -37.
    • std::numeric_limits<double>::min_exponent10 equals DBL_MIN_10_EXP, which is at most -37. std::numeric_limits<long double>::min_exponent10 equals LDBL_MIN_10_EXP, which is at most -37.
  • The member max_exponent10 is the maximum E such that 10 to the power E is finite.
    • std::numeric_limits<float>::max_exponent10 equals FLT_MIN_10_EXP, which is at least 37.
    • std::numeric_limits<double>::max_exponent10 equals DBL_MIN_10_EXP, which is at least 37.
    • std::numeric_limits<long double>::max_exponent10 equals LDBL_MIN_10_EXP, which is at least 37.
  • If the member is_iec559 is true, the type conforms to IEC 559 / IEEE 754, and its range is therefore determined by that standard.

Value representation of floating point types

The standard requires that long double provides at least as much precision as double, which provides at least as much precision as float; and that a long double can represent any value that a double can represent, while a double can represent any value that a float can represent. The details of the representation are, however, implementation-defined.

For a floating point type T, std::numeric_limits<T>::radix specifies the radix used by the representation of T.

If std::numeric_limits<T>::is_iec559 is true, then the representation of T matches one of the formats defined by IEC 559 / IEEE 754.

Overflow when converting from integer to signed integer

When either a signed or unsigned integer is converted to a signed integer type, and its value is not representable in the destination type, the value produced is implementation-defined. Example:

// Suppose that on this implementation, the range of signed char is -128 to +127 and
// the range of unsigned char is 0 to 255
int x = 12345;
signed char sc = x;   // sc has an implementation-defined value
unsigned char uc = x; // uc is initialized to 57 (i.e., 12345 modulo 256)

Underlying type (and hence size) of an enum

If the underlying type is not explicitly specified for an unscoped enumeration type, it is determined in an implementation-defined manner.

enum E {
using T = std::underlying_type<E>::type; // implementation-defined

However, the standard does require the underlying type of an enumeration to be no larger than int unless both int and unsigned int are unable to represent all the values of the enumeration. Therefore, in the above code, T could be int, unsigned int, or short, but not long long, to give a few examples.

Note that an enum has the same size (as returned by sizeof) as its underlying type.