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C variable

last modified March 1, 2021

C variable tutorial shows how to work with variables in C language.

A variable is a storage location. A variable has a name and a data type. A data type determines what values can be assigned to the variable, for instance integers, strings, or boolean values. Over the time of the program variables can obtain various values of the same data type.

int x = 5;

The x is the variable name. The int is the data type that determines what values can the x variable hold. The = is an operator that assigns a value on the right side to the variable on the left side. The 5 is an integer literal that is assigned to x. Finally, the ; is used to end a C statement.

Variable names must adhere to the rules for valid C identifiers. Variable names must start with a letter, or _. Otherwise, they can consist of alhphanumeric characters. In C, variable names are case sensitive.

C variable example

In the following example, we define several variables.

simple.c
#include <stdio.h>

int main() {

    int x;
    int y, z;

    x = 5;
    y = 6;
    z = 7;

    float w = 4.5;
    double h = 5.5;

    printf("%d %d %d\n", x, y, z);
    printf("%f %f\n", w, h);

    x = 55;

    printf("%d\n", x);
}

In the example we have five variables.

int x;
int y, z;

We define three variables. They are of integer data type. It is possible to define multiple variables on one line.

x = 5;
y = 6;
z = 7;

The x, y, and z variables are initialized to their values.

float w = 4.5;
double h = 5.5;

We define and initialize two variables in one go.

printf("%d %d %d\n", x, y, z);
printf("%f %f\n", w, h);

We print the values of the five variables.

x = 55;

We assign a new value to the x variable.

$ ./simple 
5 6 7
4.500000 5.500000
55

C variable initialization

In the next example, we show several ways of initializing C variables.

init.c
#include <stdio.h>

int main() {

    int x, y = 5;

    printf("x: %d\n", x);
    printf("y: %d\n", y);

    int m = 6, n = 7;

    printf("m: %d\n", m);
    printf("n: %d\n", n);

    int v, w;

    v = w = 8;
    printf("v: %d\n", v);
    printf("w: %d\n", w);
}

We have six integer variables.

int x, y = 5;

In this line, we define two integer variables. However, only y is assigned value 5. The x variable has value 0.

int m = 6, n = 7;

This is the way to define and initialize variables in one go.

int v, w;

We define two integers.

v = w = 8;

We assign value 8 to both variables.

$ ./init 
x: 0
y: 5
m: 6
n: 7
v: 8
w: 8

C local variable

A C local variable is defined within the bounds of a function. A local variable is only valid in the function where it is defined.

local_var.c
#include <stdio.h>

int max(int, int);

int main() {

    int x = 4;
    int y = 5;

    printf("%d + %d = %d\n", x, y, x + y);

    int _max = max(x, y);
    printf("%d\n", _max);
}

int max(int x, int y) {

    return x > y ? x : y;
}

We have two pairs of x and y variables defined in main and max functions. These variables do not clash because they are valid only in the bodies of their functions.

$  ./local_var 
4 + 5 = 9
5

C global variable

A global variable is a variable that is defined outside a function. It is accessible in all functions. Global variables should be used with caution.

global_var.c
#include <stdio.h>

void f();

int x = 10;

int main() {

    printf("x: %d\n", x);
    x = 11;

    printf("x: %d\n", x);

    f();

    printf("x: %d\n", x);
}

void f() {

    printf("x: %d\n", x);
    x = 12;
    printf("x: %d\n", x);
}

We have an x global variable defined. We can access it and modify it in main and f functions.

$ ./global_var 
x: 10
x: 11
x: 11
x: 12
x: 12

C static local variable

A static local variable is initialized only once and it retains its value across function calls.

static_var.c
#include <stdio.h>

void f();

int main() {

    f();
    f();
    f();
    f();
    f();
    f();
}

void f() {

    static int n = 0;
    int c = 0;

    n++;
    c++;

    printf("n: %d, c: %d\n", n, c);
}

We have a static n local variable and a normal local c variable defined inside the f function. We call the f function several times. Each time we call the function, we increment the variables.

$ ./static_var 
n: 1, c: 1
n: 2, c: 1
n: 3, c: 1
n: 4, c: 1
n: 5, c: 1
n: 6, c: 1

While the n variable increases its value, the c variable is always 1.

C variable - function parameters

Value parameters come into existence upon invocation of a function. It is initialized with the value of the argument given in the invocation.

function_params.c
#include <stdio.h>

int add(int, int);

int main() {

    printf("%d\n", add(4, 5));
    printf("%d\n", add(8, 9));

    return 0;
}

int add(int x, int y) {

    return x + y;
}

We have two function parameters: x and y. They are valid within the bounds of the add function.

$ ./function_params 
9
17

C extern variable

An extern variable means that a variable is defined in a different file. The extern keyword declares a variable; it informs the compiler that it exist. But it does not define it; i.e. it does not allocate the storage for the variable at that point.

myfile.h
int x = 5;
int y = 6;

In the myfile.h file, we define two variables: x and y.

extern_var.c
#include <stdio.h>
#include "myfile.h"

extern int x;
extern int y;

int main() {

    printf("x: %d\n", x);
    printf("y: %d\n", y);
}

In the extern_var.c, we print the x and y variables from the header file.

#include "myfile.h"

First, we include the file.

extern int x;
extern int y;

We declare the variables. We tell the compiler that the two variables are defined outside the current file.

$ ./extern_var 
x: 5
y: 6

In this tutorial we have worked with variables in C language.