C Storage Class

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In this tutorial, you will learn about the scope and lifetime of local and global variables.

What is C Storage Class?

A storage class represents the visibility and location of a variable. It tells from what part of code we can access a variable. A storage class in C is used to describe the following things:

  • The variable scope.
  • The location where the variable will be stored.
  • The initialized value of a variable.
  • A lifetime of a variable.
  • Who can access a variable

Every variable in C programming has two properties: type and storage class.

Type refers to the data type of a variable. And, the storage class determines the scope, visibility, and lifetime of a variable.

There are 4 types of standard storage classes. The table below represents the storage classes in C.

Storage classPurpose
autoIt is a default storage class.
externIt is a global variable.
staticIt is a local variable which is capable of returning a value even when control is transferred to the function call.
registerIt is a variable which is stored inside a Register.

The auto Storage Class

The auto storage class is the default storage class for all local variables.

{
   int mount;
   auto int month;
}

The example above defines two variables with in the same storage class. ‘auto’ can only be used within functions, i.e., local variables.

The register Storage Class

The register storage class is used to define local variables that should be stored in a register instead of RAM. This means that the variable has a maximum size equal to the register size (usually one word) and can’t have the unary ‘&’ operator applied to it (as it does not have a memory location).

{
   register int  miles;
}

The register should only be used for variables that require quick access such as counters. It should also be noted that defining ‘register’ does not mean that the variable will be stored in a register. It means that it MIGHT be stored in a register depending on hardware and implementation restrictions.

The static Storage Class

The static storage class instructs the compiler to keep a local variable in existence during the life-time of the program instead of creating and destroying it each time it comes into and goes out of scope. Therefore, making local variables static allows them to maintain their values between function calls.

The static modifier may also be applied to global variables. When this is done, it causes that variable’s scope to be restricted to the file in which it is declared.

In C programming, when static is used on a global variable, it causes only one copy of that member to be shared by all the objects of its class.

#include <stdio.h>
 
/* function declaration */
void func(void);
 
static int count = 5; /* global variable */
 
main() {

   while(count--) {
      func();
   }
	
   return 0;
}

/* function definition */
void func( void ) {

   static int i = 5; /* local static variable */
   i++;

   printf("i is %d and count is %d\n", i, count);
}

When the above code is compiled and executed, it produces the following result −

i is 6 and count is 4
i is 7 and count is 3
i is 8 and count is 2
i is 9 and count is 1
i is 10 and count is 0

The extern Storage Class

The extern storage class is used to give a reference of a global variable that is visible to ALL the program files. When you use ‘extern’, the variable cannot be initialized however, it points the variable name at a storage location that has been previously defined.

When you have multiple files and you define a global variable or function, which will also be used in other files, then extern will be used in another file to provide the reference of defined variable or function. Just for understanding, extern is used to declare a global variable or function in another file.

The extern modifier is most commonly used when there are two or more files sharing the same global variables or functions as explained below.

First File: main.c

#include <stdio.h>
 
int count ;
extern void write_extern();
 
main() {
   count = 5;
   write_extern();
}

Second File: support.c

#include <stdio.h>
 
extern int count;
 
void write_extern(void) {
   printf("count is %d\n", count);
}

Here, extern is being used to declare count in the second file, where as it has its definition in the first file, main.c. Now, compile these two files as follows −

$gcc main.c support.c

It will produce the executable program a.out. When this program is executed, it produces the following result −

count is 5

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