What is size_t for? How do I iterate over an object in C?

The size_t type is used to represent the size of objects in memory. As examples, it is the type of the return value of the sizeof operator, and of the strlen function. This means that it is an unsigned integral type. Its specific size is platform-dependent; the size is chosen to be large enough to represent all sizes on that platform.

Here’s an example from Modern C:

for (size_t i = 0; i < 5; ++i) {
    "element %zu is %g, \tits square is %g\n",

I found the size_t i interesting, because I would have just used int. Using size_t for an array index seems slightly odd, because the index is not “the size of an object”.

Why then are we using size_t to index into an array? Because size_t is guaranteed to be large enough to represent all possible indices into the array. Consider the worst case: array A is the largest possible object, and is an array of bytes (the shortest addressable value). Then the largest index into A is the number of bytes in the largest possible object - which is precisely SIZE_MAX, the largest value of type size_t. So size_t is the smallest type which is guaranteed to always be large enough. We could use a smaller type than size_t if we have specific information about the size of A. Otherwise, use size_t.

(Other sources say we can use size_t to count things in memory. I’m not so sure. This assumes that the largest object size is the entire address space.)

Tagged #c, #programming.

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