Initial sequence and common alignment

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While thinking of a counter-example for this question, I came up with:

struct A
{
    alignas(2) char byte;
};

But if that's legal and standard-layout, is it layout-compatible to this struct B?

struct B
{
    char byte;
};

Furthermore, if we have

struct A
{
    alignas(2) char x;
    alignas(4) char y;
};
// possible alignment, - is padding
// 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15
//  x  -  -  -  y  -  -  -  x  -  -  -  y  -  -  -

struct B
{
    char x;
    char y;
}; // no padding required

union U
{
    A a;
    B b;
} u;

Is there a common initial sequence for A and B? If so, does it include A::y & B::y? I.e., may we write the following w/o invoking UB?

u.a.y = 42;
std::cout << u.b.y;

(answers for C++1y / "fixed C++11" also welcome)


  • See [basic.align] for alignment and [dcl.align] for the alignment-specifier.

  • [basic.types]/11 says for fundamental types "If two types T1 and T2 are the same type, then T1 and T2 are layout-compatible types." (an underlying question is whether A::byte and B::byte have layout-compatible types)

  • [class.mem]/16 "Two standard-layout struct types are layout-compatible if they have the same number of non-static data members and corresponding non-static data members (in declaration order) have layout-compatible types."

  • [class.mem]/18 "Two standard-layout structs share a common initial sequence if corresponding members have layout-compatible types and either neither member is a bit-field or both are bit-fields with the same width for a sequence of one or more initial members."

  • [class.mem]/18 "If a standard-layout union contains two or more standard-layout structs that share a common initial sequence, and if the standard-layout union object currently contains one of these standard-layout structs, it is permitted to inspect the common initial part of any of them."

Of course, on a language-lawyer level, another question is what it means that the inspection of the common initial sequence is "permitted". I guess some other paragraph might make the above u.b.x undefined behaviour (reading from an uninitialized object).


It looks like a hole in the standard. The responsible thing would be to file a defect report.

Several things, though:

  • Your first example doesn't really demonstrate a problem. Adding a short after the char would also have the effect of aligning the char to a 2-byte boundary, without changing the common subsequence.
  • alignas is not C++-only; it was added simultaneously to C11. Since the standard-layout property is a cross-language compatibility facility, it is probably preferable to require corresponding alignment specifiers to match than to disqualify a class with a nonstatic member alignment-specifier.
  • There would be no problem if the member alignment specifiers appertained to the types of the members. Other problems may result from the lack of adjustment to types, for example a function parameter ret fn( alignas(4) char ) may need to be mangled for the ABI to process it correctly, but the language might not provide for such adjustment.