Bit-field alignment

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Bit-fields give an ability to declare structure fields that are smaller than the character width. Bit-fields are implemented with byte-level or word-level mask. The following example results in a structure of 8 bytes.

struct C
    short s;            /* 2 bytes */
    char  c;            /* 1 byte */
    int   bit1 : 1;     /* 1 bit */
    int   nib  : 4;     /* 4 bits padded up to boundary of 8 bits. Thus 3 bits are padded */
    int   sept : 7;     /* 7 Bits septet, padded up to boundary of 32 bits. */

The comments describe one possible layout, but because the standard says the alignment of the addressable storage unit is unspecified, other layouts are also possible.

An unnamed bit-field may be of any size, but they can’t be initialized or referenced.

A zero-width bit-field cannot be given a name and aligns the next field to the boundary defined by the datatype of the bit-field. This is achieved by padding bits between the bit-fields.

The size of structure ‘A’ is 1 byte.

struct A
    unsigned char c1 : 3;
    unsigned char c2 : 4;
    unsigned char c3 : 1;

In structure B, the first unnamed bit-field skips 2 bits; the zero width bit-field after c2 causes c3 to start from the char boundary (so 3 bits are skipped between c2 and c3. There are 3 padding bits after c4. Thus the size of the structure is 2 bytes.

struct B
    unsigned char c1 : 1;
    unsigned char    : 2;    /* Skips 2 bits in the layout */
    unsigned char c2 : 2;
    unsigned char    : 0;    /* Causes padding up to next container boundary */ 
    unsigned char c3 : 4;
    unsigned char c4 : 1;

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