Implementation-defined behaviour

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The C standard describes the language syntax, the functions provided by the standard library, and the behavior of conforming C processors (roughly speaking, compilers) and conforming C programs. With respect to behavior, the standard for the most part specifies particular behaviors for programs and processors. On the other hand, some operations have explicit or implicit undefined behavior – such operations are always to be avoided, as you cannot rely on anything about them. In between, there are a variety of implementation defined behaviors. These behaviors may vary between C processors, runtimes, and standard libraries (collectively, implementations), but they are consistent and reliable for any given implementation, and conforming implementations document their behavior in each of these areas.

It is sometimes reasonable for a program to rely on implementation-defined behavior. For example, if the program is anyway specific to a particular operating environment then relying on implementation-defined behaviors general to the common processors for that environment is unlikely to be a problem. Alternatively, one can use conditional compilation directives to select implementation-defined behaviors appropriate for the implementation in use. In any case, it is essential to know which operations have implementation defined behavior, so as to either avoid them or to make an informed decision about whether and how to use them.

The balance of these remarks constitute a list of all the implementation-defined behaviors and characteristics specified in the C2011 standard, with references to the standard. Many of them use the terminology of the standard. Some others rely more generally on the context of the standard, such as the eight stages of translating source code into a program, or the difference between hosted and freestanding implementations. Some that may be particularly surprising or notable are presented in bold typeface. Not all the behaviors described are supported by earlier C standards, but generally speaking, they have implementation-defined behavior in all versions of the standard that support them.

Programs and Processors


Source translation

Operating environment


Source form


Runtime behavior


Standard Library


Floating-point environment functions

Locale-related functions

Math functions



File-handling functions

I/O functions

Memory allocation functions

System environment functions

Date and time functions

Wide-character I/O functions

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