Home The C Preprocessor www.imodulo.com · 2003-11-10
Imodulo

Swallowing the Semicolon

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Often it is desirable to define a macro that expands into a compound statement. Consider, for example, the following macro, that advances a pointer (the argument p says where to find it) across whitespace characters:

#define SKIP_SPACES(p, limit)  \
{ char *lim = (limit);         \
  while (p < lim) {            \
    if (*p++ != ' ') {         \
      p--; break; }}}

Here backslash-newline is used to split the macro definition, which must be a single logical line, so that it resembles the way such code would be laid out if not part of a macro definition.

A call to this macro might be SKIP_SPACES (p, lim). Strictly speaking, the call expands to a compound statement, which is a complete statement with no need for a semicolon to end it. However, since it looks like a function call, it minimizes confusion if you can use it like a function call, writing a semicolon afterward, as in SKIP_SPACES (p, lim);

This can cause trouble before else statements, because the semicolon is actually a null statement. Suppose you write

if (*p != 0)
  SKIP_SPACES (p, lim);
else ...

The presence of two statements--the compound statement and a null statement--in between the if condition and the else makes invalid C code.

The definition of the macro SKIP_SPACES can be altered to solve this problem, using a do ... while statement. Here is how:

#define SKIP_SPACES(p, limit)     \
do { char *lim = (limit);         \
     while (p < lim) {            \
       if (*p++ != ' ') {         \
         p--; break; }}}          \
while (0)

Now SKIP_SPACES (p, lim); expands into

do {...} while (0);

which is one statement. The loop executes exactly once; most compilers generate no extra code for it.