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SubjectRe: Why is the kfree() argument const?
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On Wednesday, January 16, 2008 8:39:48 PM UTC+2, Linus Torvalds wrote:

> "const" has *never* been about the thing not being modified. Forget all
> that claptrap. C does not have such a notion.

I beg your pardon?!

C has had that very notion ever since its first standard (1989). Here is an excerpt from that standard (ISO/IEC 9899:1990, section 6.5.3):

"If an attempt is made to modify an object defined with a const-qualified type through use of an lvalue with non-const-qualified type, the behavior is undefined."


> "const" is a pointer type issue, and is meant to make certain mis-uses
> more visible at compile time. It has *no* other meaning, and anybody who
> thinks it has is just setting himself up for problems.

'const' is also a pointer issue, but not only - see above quote from the C Standard.


Defining an object 'const' can have an impact on optimization (and also on whether the object is placed in read-only memory). Here are trivial examples to illustrate:

<Program1>

<foo1.c>
void foo1(const int* pi)
{
*(int*)pi = 1;
}
</foo1.c>
<main1.c>
#include <stdio.h>
void foo1(const int* pi);
int main(void)
{
int i = 0;
foo1(&i);
printf("i = %d\n", i);
return 0;
}
</main1.c>
</Program1>

Program1 defines 'i' non-const, and modifies it through a const pointer, by casting const away in foo1(). This is allowed - although not necessarily wise.

Program1 has well defined behavior: it prints "i = 1". The generated code dutifully retrieves the value of 'i' before passing it to printf().


<Program2>

<foo2.c>
void foo2(const int* pi)
{
}
</foo2.c>
<main2.c>
#include <stdio.h>
void foo2(const int* pi);
int main(void)
{
const int i = 0;
foo2(&i);
printf("i = %d\n", i);
return 0;
}
</main2.c>
</Program2>

Program2 defines 'i' const. A pointer to 'i' is passed to foo2(), which does not modify 'i'.

Program2 has well defined behavior: it prints "i = 0". When it generates code for main1.c, the compiler can assume that 'i' is not modified, because 'i' is defined const.

When compiling main2.c with gcc 4.4.7 with optimizations turned off (-O0), the generated code retrieves the value of 'i' before passing it to printf(). With optimizations turned on (-O3), it inlines the value of 'i', 0, in the call to printf(). Both versions have the same, correct behavior.


<Program3>

<foo3.c>
void foo3(const int* pi)
{
*(int*)pi = 1;
}
</foo3.c>
<main3.c>
#include <stdio.h>
void foo3(const int* pi);
int main(void)
{
const int i = 0;
foo3(&i);
printf("i = %d\n", i);
return 0;
}
</main3.c>
</Program3>

Program3 defines 'i' const, and attempts to modify it through a const pointer, by casting const away in foo3().

On my particular system, when compiling Program3 with gcc 4.4.7 with optimizations turned off (-O0), the program prints "i = 1". With optimizations turned on (-O3), it prints "i = 0".

The question of which of these two behaviors is "correct" would be pointless, since Program3 has undefined behavior.


Antoine


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