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comp.lang.c FAQ list · Question 4.14

Q: How are integers converted to and from pointers? Can I temporarily stuff an integer into a pointer, or vice versa?

A: Once upon a time, it was guaranteed that a pointer could be converted to an integer (though one never knew whether an int or a long might be required), and that an integer could be converted to a pointer, and that a pointer remained unchanged when converted to a (large enough) integer and back again, and that the conversions (and any mapping) were intended to be ``unsurprising to those who know the addressing structure of the machine.'' In other words, there is some precedent and support for integer/pointer conversions, but they have always been machine dependent, and hence nonportable. Explicit casts have always been required (though early compilers rarely complained if you left them out).

The ANSI/ISO C Standard, in order to ensure that C is widely implementable, has weakened those earlier guarantees. Pointer-to-integer and integer-to-pointer conversions are implementation-defined (see question 11.33), and there is no longer any guarantee that pointers can be converted to integers and back, without change.

Forcing pointers into integers, or integers into pointers, has never been good practice. When you need a generic slot that can hold either kind of data, a union is a much better idea.

See also questions 4.15, 5.18, and 19.25.

References: K&R1 Sec. A14.4 p. 210
K&R2 Sec. A6.6 p. 199
ISO Sec. 6.3.4
Rationale Sec. 3.3.4
H&S Sec. 6.2.3 p. 170, Sec. 6.2.7 pp. 171-2

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