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6.2. Structures

Arrays allow for a named collection of identical objects. This is suitable for a number of tasks, but isn't really very flexible. Most real data objects are complicated things with an inherent structure that does not fit well on to array style storage. Let's use a concrete example.

Imagine that the job is something to do with a typesetting package. In this system, the individual characters have not only their character values but also some additional attributes like font and point size. The font doesn't affect the character as such, but only the way that it is displayed: this is the normal font, this is in italics and this is in bold font. Point size is similar. It describes the size of the characters when they are printed. For example, the point size of this text increases now. It goes back again now. If our characters have three independent attributes, how can they be represented in a single object?

With C it's easy. First work out how to represent the individual attributes in the basic types. Let's assume that we can still store the character itself in a char, that the font can be encoded into a short (1 for regular, 2 italic, 3 bold etc.) and that the point size will also fit a short. These are all quite reasonable assumptions. Most systems only support a few tens of fonts even if they are very sophisticated, and point sizes are normally in the range 6 to the small hundreds. Below 6 is almost invisible, above 50 is bigger than the biggest newspaper banner headlines. So we have a char and two shorts that are to be treated as a single entity. Here's how to declare it in C.

struct wp_char{
      char wp_cval;
      short wp_font;
      short wp_psize;
};

That effectively declares a new type of object which can be used in your program. The whole thing is introduced by the struct keyword, which is followed by an optional identifier known as the tag, wp_char in this case. The tag only serves the purpose of giving a name to this type of structure and allows us to refer to the type later on. After a declaration like the one just seen, the tag can be used like this:

struct wp_char x, y;

That defines two variables called x and y just as it would have done if the definition had been

int x, y;

but of course in the first example the variables are of type struct wp_char, and in the second their type is int. The tag is a name for the new type that we have introduced.

It's worth remembering that structure tags can safely be used as ordinary identifiers as well. They only mean something special when they are preceded by the keyword struct. It is quite common to see a structured object being defined with the same name as its structure tag.

struct wp_char wp_char;

That defines a variable called wp_char of type struct wp_char. This is described by saying that structure tags have their own ‘name space’ and cannot collide with other names. We'll investigate tags some more in the discussion of ‘incomplete types’.

Variables can also be defined immediately following a structure declaration.

struct wp_char{
      char wp_cval;
      short wp_font;
      short wp_psize;
}v1;

struct wp_char v2;

We now have two variables, v1 and v2. If all the necessary objects are defined at the end of the structure declaration, the way that v1 was, then the tag becomes unneccessary (except if it is needed later for use with sizeof and in casts) and is often not present.

The two variables are structured objects, each containing three separate members called wp_cval, wp_font and wp_psize. To access the individual members of the structures, the ‘dot’ operator is used:

v1.wp_cval = 'x';
v1.wp_font = 1;
v1.wp_psize = 10;

v2 = v1;

The individual members of v1 are initialized to suitable values, then the whole of v1 is copied into v2 in an assignment.

In fact the only operation permitted on whole structures is assignment: they can be assigned to each other, passed as arguments to functions and returned by functions. However, it is not a very efficient operation to copy structures and most programs avoid structure copying by manipulating pointers to structures instead. It is generally quicker to copy pointers around than structures. A surprising omission from the language is the facility to compare structures for equality, but there is a good reason for this which will be mentioned shortly.

Here is an example using an array of structures like the one before. A function is used to read characters from the program's standard input and return an appropriately initialized structure. When a newline has been read or the array is full, the structures are sorted into order depending on the character value, and then printed out.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

#define ARSIZE 10

struct wp_char{
      char wp_cval;
      short wp_font;
      short wp_psize;
}ar[ARSIZE];

/*
* type of the input function -
* could equally have been declared above;
* it returns a structure and takes no arguments.
*/
struct wp_char infun(void);

main(){
      int icount, lo_indx, hi_indx;

      for(icount = 0; icount < ARSIZE; icount++){
              ar[icount] = infun();
              if(ar[icount].wp_cval == '\n'){
                      /*
                       * Leave the loop.
                       * not incrementing icount means that the
                       * '\n' is ignored in the sort
                       */
                      break;
              }
      }

      /* now a simple exchange sort */

      for(lo_indx = 0; lo_indx <= icount-2; lo_indx++)
              for(hi_indx = lo_indx+1; hi_indx <= icount-1; hi_indx++){
                      if(ar[lo_indx].wp_cval > ar[hi_indx].wp_cval){
                              /*
                               * Swap the two structures.
                               */
                              struct wp_char wp_tmp = ar[lo_indx];
                              ar[lo_indx] = ar[hi_indx];
                              ar[hi_indx] = wp_tmp;
                      }
              }

      /* now print */
      for(lo_indx = 0; lo_indx < icount; lo_indx++){
              printf("%c %d %d\n", ar[lo_indx].wp_cval,
                              ar[lo_indx].wp_font,
                              ar[lo_indx].wp_psize);
      }
      exit(EXIT_SUCCESS);
}

struct wp_char
infun(void){
      struct wp_char wp_char;

      wp_char.wp_cval = getchar();
      wp_char.wp_font = 2;
      wp_char.wp_psize = 10;

      return(wp_char);
}
Example 6.1

Once it is possible to declare structures it seems pretty natural to declare arrays of them, use them as members of other structures and so on. In fact the only restriction is that a structure cannot contain an example of itself as a member—in which case its size would be an interesting concept for philosophers to debate, but hardly useful to a C programmer.

6.2.1. Pointers and structures

If what the last paragraph says is true—that it is more common to use pointers to structures than to use the structures directly—we need to know how to do it. Declaring pointers is easy of course:

struct wp_char *wp_p;

gives us one straight away. But how do we access the members of the structure? One way might be to look through the pointer to get the whole structure, then select the member:

/* get the structure, then select a member */
(*wp_p).wp_cval

that would certainly work (the parentheses are there because . has a higher precedence than *). It's not an easy notation to work with though, so C introduces a new operator to clean things up; it is usually known as the ‘pointing-to’ operator. Here it is being used:

/* the wp_cval in the structure wp_p points to */
wp_p->wp_cval = 'x';

and although it might not look a lot easier than its alternative, it pays off when the structure contains pointers, as in a linked list. The pointing-to syntax is much easier if you want to follow two or three stages down the links of a linked list. If you haven't come across linked lists before, you're going to learn a lot more than just the use of structures before this chapter finishes!

If the thing on the left of the . or -> operator is qualified (with const or volatile) then the result is also has those qualifiers associated with it. Here it is, illustrated with pointers; when the pointer points to a qualified type the result that you get is also qualified:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

struct somestruct{
      int i;
};

main(){
      struct somestruct *ssp, s_item;
      const struct somestruct *cssp;

      s_item.i = 1;   /* fine */
      ssp = &s_item;
      ssp->i += 2;    /* fine */
      cssp = &s_item;
      cssp->i = 0;    /* not permitted - cssp points to const objects */

      exit(EXIT_SUCCESS);
}

Not all compiler writers seem to have noticed that requirement—the compiler that we used to test the last example failed to warn that the final assignment violated a constraint.

Here is the Example 6.1 rewritten using pointers, and with the input function infun changed to accept a pointer to a structure rather than returning one. This is much more likely to be what would be seen in practice.

(It is fair to say that, for a really efficient implementation, even the copying of structures would probably be dropped, especially if they were large. Instead, an array of pointers would be used, and the pointers exchanged until the sorted data could be found by traversing the pointer array in index order. That would complicate things too much for a simple example.)

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

#define ARSIZE 10

struct wp_char{
      char wp_cval;
      short wp_font;
      short wp_psize;
}ar[ARSIZE];

void infun(struct wp_char *);

main(){
      struct wp_char wp_tmp, *lo_indx, *hi_indx, *in_p;

      for(in_p = ar; in_p < &ar[ARSIZE]; in_p++){
              infun(in_p);
              if(in_p->wp_cval == '\n'){
                      /*
                       * Leave the loop.
                       * not incrementing in_p means that the
                       * '\n' is ignored in the sort
                       */
                      break;
              }
      }

      /*
       * Now a simple exchange sort.
       * We must be careful to avoid the danger of pointer underflow,
       * so check that there are at least two entries to sort.
       */

      if(in_p-ar > 1) for(lo_indx = ar; lo_indx <= in_p-2; lo_indx++){
              for(hi_indx = lo_indx+1; hi_indx <= in_p-1; hi_indx++){
                      if(lo_indx->wp_cval > hi_indx->wp_cval){
                              /*
                               * Swap the structures.
                               */
                              struct wp_char wp_tmp = *lo_indx;
                              *lo_indx = *hi_indx;
                              *hi_indx = wp_tmp;
                      }
              }
      }

      /* now print */
      for(lo_indx = ar; lo_indx < in_p; lo_indx++){
              printf("%c %d %d\n", lo_indx->wp_cval,
                              lo_indx->wp_font,
                              lo_indx->wp_psize);
      }
      exit(EXIT_SUCCESS);
}

void
infun( struct wp_char *inp){

      inp->wp_cval = getchar();
      inp->wp_font = 2;
      inp->wp_psize = 10;

      return;
}
Example 6.2

The next issue is to consider what a structure looks like in terms of storage layout. It's best not to worry about this too much, but it is sometimes useful if you have to use C to access record-structured data written by other programs. The wp_char structure will be allocated storage as shown in Figure 6.1.

Diagram showing the layout of the values in 'struct wp_char',            with boxes containing 'wp_cval', an empty space of padding,            'wp_font' and 'wp_psize'.

Figure 6.1. Storage Layout of a Structure

The diagram assumes a number of things: that a char takes 1 byte of storage; that a short needs 2 bytes; and that shorts must be aligned on even byte addresses in this architecture. As a result the structure contains an unnamed 1-byte member inserted by the compiler for architectural reasons. Such addressing restrictions are quite common and can often result in structures containing ‘holes’.

The Standard makes some guarantees about the layout of structures and unions:

6.2.2. Linked lists and other structures

The combination of structures and pointers opens up a lot of interesting possibilities. This is not a textbook on complex linked data structures, but it will go on to describe two very common examples of the breed: linked lists and trees. Both have a feature in common: they consist of structures containing pointers to other structures, all the structures typically being of the same type. Figure 6.2 shows a picture of a linked list.

Diagram showing a linked list of three items, with a pointer            labelled 'list head' pointing to the first item, and each item            containing a 'data' value and a 'pointer' value which points to            the next item (the last pointer is null).

Figure 6.2. List linked by pointers

The sort of declaration needed for that is this:

struct list_ele{
      int data;       /* or whatever you like here */
      struct list_ele *ele_p;
};

Now, at first glance, it seems to contain itself—which is forbidden—but in fact it only contains a pointer to itself. How come the pointer declaration is allowed? Well, by the time the compiler reaches the pointer declaration it already knows that there is such a thing as a struct list_ele so the declaration is permitted. In fact, it is possible to make a incomplete declaration of a structure by saying

struct list_ele;

at some point before the full declaration. A declaration like that declares an incomplete type. This will allow the declaration of pointers before the full declaration is seen. It is also important in the case of cross-referencing structures where each must contain a pointer to the other, as shown in the following example.

struct s_1;     /* incomplete type */

struct s_2{
      int something;
      struct s_1 *sp;
};

struct s_1{     /* now the full declaration */
      float something;
      struct s_2 *sp;
};
Example 6.3

This illustrates the need for incomplete types. It also illustrates an important thing about the names of structure members: they inhabit a name-space per structure, so element names can be the same in different structures without causing any problems.

Incomplete types may only be used where the size of the structure isn't needed yet. A full declaration must have been given by the time that the size is used. The later full declaration mustn't be in an inner block because then it becomes a new declaration of a different structure.

struct x;       /* incomplete type */

/* valid uses of the tag */
struct x *p, func(void);

void f1(void){
      struct x{int i;};       /* redeclaration! */
}

/* full declaration now */
struct x{
      float f;
}s_x;

void f2(void){
      /* valid statements */
      p = &s_x;
      *p = func();
      s_x = func();
}

struct x
func(void){
      struct x tmp;
      tmp.f = 0;
      return (tmp);
}
Example 6.4

There's one thing to watch out for: you get a incomplete type of a structure simply by mentioning its name! That means that this works:

struct abc{ struct xyz *p;};
      /* the incomplete type 'struct xyz' now declared */
struct xyz{ struct abc *p;};
      /* the incomplete type is now completed */

There's a horrible danger in the last example, though, as this shows:

struct xyz{float x;} var1;

main(){
      struct abc{ struct xyz *p;} var2;

      /* AAAGH - struct xyz REDECLARED */
      struct xyz{ struct abc *p;} var3;
}

The result is that var2.p can hold the address of var1, but emphatically not the address of var3 which is of a different type! It can be fixed (assuming that it's not what you wanted) like this:

struct xyz{float x;} var1;

main(){
      struct xyz;     /* new incomplete type 'struct xyz' */
      struct abc{ struct xyz *p;} var2;
      struct xyz{ struct abc *p;} var3;
}

The type of a structure or union is completed when the closing } of its declaration is seen; it must contain at least one member or the behaviour is undefined.

The other principal way to get incomplete types is to declare arrays without specifying their size—their type is incomplete until a later declaration provides the missing information:

int ar[];       /* incomplete type */
int ar[5];      /* completes the type */

If you try that out, it will only work if the declarations are outside any blocks (external declarations), but that's for other reasons.

Back to the linked list. There were three elements linked into the list, which could have been built like this:

struct list_ele{
      int data;
      struct list_ele *pointer;
}ar[3];

main(){

      ar[0].data = 5;
      ar[0].pointer = &ar[1];
      ar[1].data = 99;
      ar[1].pointer = &ar[2];
      ar[2].data = -7;
      ar[2].pointer = 0;      /* mark end of list */
      return(0);
}
Example 6.5

and the contents of the list can be printed in two ways. The array can be traversed in order of index, or the pointers can be used as in the following example.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

struct list_ele{
      int data;
      struct list_ele *pointer;
}ar[3];

main(){

      struct list_ele *lp;

      ar[0].data = 5;
      ar[0].pointer = &ar[1];
      ar[1].data = 99;
      ar[1].pointer = &ar[2];
      ar[2].data = -7;
      ar[2].pointer = 0;      /* mark end of list */

      /* follow pointers */
      lp = ar;
      while(lp){
              printf("contents %d\n", lp->data);
              lp = lp->pointer;
      }
      exit(EXIT_SUCCESS);
}
Example 6.6

It's the way that the pointers are followed which makes the example interesting. Notice how the pointer in each element is used to refer to the next one, until the pointer whose value is 0 is found. That value causes the while loop to stop. Of course the pointers can be arranged in any order at all, which is what makes the list such a flexible structure. Here is a function which could be included as part of the last program to sort the linked list into numeric order of its data fields. It rearranges the pointers so that the list, when traversed in pointer sequence, is found to be in order. It is important to note that the data itself is not copied. The function must return a pointer to the head of the list, because that is not necessarily at ar[0] any more.

struct list_ele *
sortfun( struct list_ele *list )
{

      int exchange;
      struct list_ele *nextp, *thisp, dummy;

      /*
       * Algorithm is this:
       * Repeatedly scan list.
       * If two list items are out of order,
       * link them in the other way round.
       * Stop if a full pass is made and no
       * exchanges are required.
       * The whole business is confused by
       * working one element behind the
       * first one of interest.
       * This is because of the simple mechanics of
       * linking and unlinking elements.
       */

      dummy.pointer = list;
      do{
              exchange = 0;
              thisp = &dummy;
              while( (nextp = thisp->pointer)
                      && nextp->pointer){
                      if(nextp->data < nextp->pointer->data){
                              /* exchange */
                              exchange = 1;
                              thisp->pointer = nextp->pointer;
                              nextp->pointer =
                                      thisp->pointer->pointer;
                              thisp->pointer->pointer = nextp;
                      }
                      thisp = thisp->pointer;
              }
      }while(exchange);

      return(dummy.pointer);
}
Example 6.7

Expressions such as thisp->pointer->pointer are commonplace in list processing. It's worth making sure that you understand it; the notation emphasizes the way that links are followed.

6.2.3. Trees

Another very popular data structure is the tree. It's actually a linked list with branches; a common type is the binary tree which has elements (nodes) looking like this:

struct tree_node{
      int data;
      struct tree_node *left_p, *right_p;
};

For historical and essentially irrelevant reasons, trees in computer science work upside down. They have their root node at the top and their branches spread out downwards. In Figure 6.3, the ‘data’ members of the nodes are replaced by values which will be used in the discussion that follows.

A tree structure, made up of 7 items, each of which is labelled            with a different number.  Each item has two pointer values,            labelled 'left_p' and 'right_p', which point to child items.            One item is labelled 'root' and isn't a child of any of the other            items.

Figure 6.3. A tree

Trees may not seem very exciting if your main interest lies in routine character handling and processing, but they are extremely important to the designers of databases, compilers and other complex tools.

The advantage of a tree is that, if it is properly arranged, the layout of the data can support binary searching very simply. It is always possible to add new nodes to a tree at the appropriate place and a tree is basically a flexible and useful data structure.

Look at Figure 6.3. The tree is carefully constructed so that it can be searched to find whether a given value can be found in the data portions of the nodes. Let's say we want to find if a value x is already present in the tree. The algorithm is this:

Start at the root of the tree:
if the tree is empty (no nodes)
        then return ‘failure’.
else if the data in the current node is equal
        to the value being searched for
        then return ‘success’.
else if the data in the current node is greater than the
        value being searched for
        then search the tree indicated by the left pointer
else search the tree indicated by the right pointer.

Here it is in C:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
struct tree_node{
      int data;
      struct tree_node *left_p, *right_p;
}tree[7];
/*
* Tree search algorithm.
* Searches for value 'v' in tree,
* returns pointer to first node found containing
* the value otherwise 0.
*/
struct tree_node *
t_search(struct tree_node *root, int v){

      while(root){
              if(root->data == v)
                      return(root);
              if(root->data > v)
                      root = root->left_p;
              else
                      root = root->right_p;
      }
      /* value not found, no tree left */
      return(0);
}

main(){
      /* construct tree by hand */
      struct tree_node *tp, *root_p;
      int i;
      for(i = 0; i < 7; i++){
              int j;
              j = i+1;

              tree[i].data = j;
              if(j == 2 || j == 6){
                      tree[i].left_p = &tree[i-1];
                      tree[i].right_p = &tree[i+1];
              }
      }
      /* root */
      root_p = &tree[3];
      root_p->left_p = &tree[1];
      root_p->right_p = &tree[5];

      /* try the search */
      tp = t_search(root_p, 9);
      if(tp)
              printf("found at position %d\n", tp-tree);
      else
              printf("value not found\n");
      exit(EXIT_SUCCESS);
}
Example 6.8

So that works fine. It is also interesting to note that, given a value, it can always be inserted at the appropriate point in the tree. The same search algorithm is used, but, instead of giving up when it finds that the value is not already in the tree, a new node is allocated by malloc, and is hung on the tree at the very place where the first null pointer was found. This is a mite more complicated to do because of the problem of handling the root pointer itself, and so a pointer to a pointer is used. Read the example carefully; it is not likely that you ever find anything more complicated than this in practice. If you can understand it, there is not much that should worry you about the vast majority of C language programs.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

struct tree_node{
      int data;
      struct tree_node *left_p, *right_p;
};

/*
* Tree search algorithm.
* Searches for value 'v' in tree,
* returns pointer to first node found containing
* the value otherwise 0.
*/
struct tree_node *
t_search(struct tree_node *root, int v){

      while(root){
              printf("looking for %d, looking at %d\n",
                      v, root->data);
              if(root->data == v)
                      return(root);
              if(root->data > v)
                      root = root->left_p;
              else
                      root = root->right_p;
      }
      /* value not found, no tree left */
      return(0);
}
/*
* Insert node into tree.
* Return 0 for success,
* 1 for value already in tree,
* 2 for malloc error
*/
int
t_insert(struct tree_node **root, int v){

      while(*root){
              if((*root)->data == v)
                      return(1);
              if((*root)->data > v)
                      root = &((*root)->left_p);
              else
                      root = &((*root)->right_p);
      }
      /* value not found, no tree left */
      if((*root = (struct tree_node *)
              malloc(sizeof (struct tree_node)))
                      == 0)
              return(2);
      (*root)->data = v;
      (*root)->left_p = 0;
      (*root)->right_p = 0;
      return(0);
}

main(){
      /* construct tree by hand */
      struct tree_node *tp, *root_p = 0;
      int i;

      /* we ingore the return value of t_insert */
      t_insert(&root_p, 4);
      t_insert(&root_p, 2);
      t_insert(&root_p, 6);
      t_insert(&root_p, 1);
      t_insert(&root_p, 3);
      t_insert(&root_p, 5);
      t_insert(&root_p, 7);

      /* try the search */
      for(i = 1; i < 9; i++){
              tp = t_search(root_p, i);
              if(tp)
                      printf("%d found\n", i);
              else
                      printf("%d not found\n", i);
      }
      exit(EXIT_SUCCESS);
}
Example 6.9

Finally, the algorithm that allows you to walk along the tree visiting all the nodes in order is beautiful. It is the cleanest example of recursion that you are likely to see. Look at it and work out what it does.

void
t_walk(struct tree_node *root_p){

      if(root_p == 0)
              return;
      t_walk(root_p->left_p);
      printf("%d\n", root_p->data);
      t_walk(root_p->right_p);
}
Example 6.10