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Is there a way to make the type size_t 32-bit in a 64-bit program?

, 2 Apr 2012 CPOL
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While porting code from a 32-bit system to a 64-bit one, you may want to make the types size_t/ptrdiff_t 32-bit again
This is an old version of the currently published tip/trick.

While porting code from a 32-bit system to a 64-bit one, you may want to make the types size_t/ptrdiff_t 32-bit again to reduce the number of errors and warnings generated by the compiler. This wish is usually justified by the supposition that the program will not have to deal with much memory and many objects. Here is an instance of such a dispute on the forum: "Can use 32 bit size_t in x64 VC2008 STL?".

This is a brief answer to begin with: you must not and should not think that way. Concentrate on correcting errors and warnings. There are a lot of reasons for this answer. Here are some of them.

Suppose you managed to redefine the type size_t as a 32-bit one in your code by resorting to some tricks (typedef, #define). Then:

1) The code will become incompatible with libraries built with the size_t of the standard size.

2) You will get more errors. For example:

#define size_t unsigned
void Errors(void *ptr, CArray<int> &arr)
{
  size_t a = (size_t)ptr;
  ptr = (void *)a; //Invalid pointer
  //Infinity loop if array size > UINT_MAX
  for (size_t i = 0; i != arr.GetSize(); i++)
    arr[i] = 0;
}

3) Many operations will lead to warnings and become potentially incorrect. For example:

#define size_t unsigned
void A(float *p1, float *p2)
{
  size_t s = p1 - p2; //Warning C4244
}

Let us summarize. You should not try to "hack" the types size_t/ptrdiff_t and change their sizes. You might need more person-hours to solve the problem of linking your code with libraries and correcting new errors and compiler-generated warnings than to perform refactoring of the code to provide it with the full 64-bit support. Resorting to such a "hacking" you are risking to bring a lot of hidden defects into the code that will be difficult to detect for a long time. For example, a code where a pointer is stored in a 32-bit integer variable may work quite well for a long time while the pointer refers to an object lying inside the four low-order Gbytes of memory. But the object may be created outside these four low-order Gbytes at any point. And this is most likely to happen while you are actively exploiting the program rather than testing it.

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This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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