16 December 2010

"Offsetof" Macros in C : What it is and why it is


The following is the offset macros which is used many a times. Lets figure out what is it trying to do and what is the advantage of using it.


offsetof tells you where in the memory allocation of the structure you will find a particular member.

Consider the example,

The structure defined takes up 12 bytes:

* byte 0: singlechar
* byte 1: arraymember[0]
* byte 2: arraymember[1]
* byte 3: arraymember[2]
* ...
* byte 10: arraymember[9]
* byte 11: anotherchar

The output will be:

offsetof(mystruct,singlechar) is 0
offsetof(mystruct,arraymember) is 1
offsetof(mystruct,anotherchar) is 11

If you allocate an object of type, and get a byte* to the start of the structure, you can use offsetof to find out where each member is. If you use that pointer offset, and convert it back to the correct type, it will give you a pointer to the member.

The output will be:

anotherchar is 17

The reason you can't assume that each member will be a specific offset from the beginning of the struct is complicated, and compiler dependent. If you must do something like this (which is really low-level stuff which you should avoid unless you have to), then use a macro like offsetof, rather than trying to manually specify the offset yourself.

Hope you learnt something.


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