g++ may fail to compile __packed structures

Harti Brandt harti at freebsd.org
Wed Sep 8 05:06:42 PDT 2004

On Tue, 7 Sep 2004, Pavlin Radoslavov wrote:

PR>> On Mon, Sep 06, 2004 at 01:24:15PM -0700, Pavlin Radoslavov wrote:
PR>> > It appears that the lastest g++ compiler that comes with FreeBSD may
PR>> > fail to compile a __packed structure when one of its fields is
PR>> > passed by reference. At the end of this email is a sample program
PR>> > that demonstrates the problem. The compilation error is:
PR>> > 
PR>> > pavlin at carp[14] g++34 test.cc
PR>> > test.cc: In function `int main()':
PR>> > test.cc:22: error: cannot bind packed field `f1.foo::f' to `int&'
PR>> > Exit 1
PR>> > 
PR>> > The problem appears to exist only with the recent g++ compiler that
PR>> > comes with FreeBSD:
PR>> This change was made recently to gcc:
PR>> http://gcc.gnu.org/ml/gcc-patches/2003-07/msg01664.html
PR>Yes, I am aware of that patch (when I did some search on the subject
PR>before posting my email). However, again, when I use the vanilla g++
PR>3.4.1 which is 2 months old, or even the vanilla 3.4.2 which was
PR>just released today, I don't get the compilation error.
PR>Hence, why the disparity between the vanilla gcc and the lastest
PR>gcc that comes with FreeBSD?
PR>> Apparently in C++, you are not allowed to  have non-const references
PR>> to packed fields.  See:
PR>> http://www.comnets.rwth-aachen.de/doc/c++std/decl.html#dcl.init.ref
PR>The above URL doesn't say anything about packed fields.
PR>Please correct me if I am wrong, but I think that __packed is not
PR>part of the C or C++ standart, hence this leaves some gray area for
PR>interpretation. Anyway, this is a subject for the gcc ML...
PR>However, I am trying to find-out why the FreeBSD gcc behaves
PR>different from the vanilla gcc, and which compiler has the "right"

Neither. As you said __packed is not part of any standard. If you take 
into account that a reference is essentially a pointer (at least in the 
case of a function argument) this pointer could easily have the wrong 
alignment, because your packed field may have the wrong alignment. To 
catch this case the compiler would need to propagate that information at 
run-time to the function. In short: don't use such features. If you need 
packed (because you're accessing hardware) pass by value not by reference.


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