Don’t call me pedantic!

A few weeks ago in a class, the professor mentioned that C does not support nested functions. He wrote an example on the board that he claimed would not compile.

A student quickly typed up the program on his laptop and said, “GCC compiled it just fine.” The professor replied, “Well, I’ve never heard of that. It must be a compiler feature unless they changed the standard.”

The student then said, “Well, I added -ansi and GCC still compiles it.” The professor caved in — “I guess they changed the standard recently.”

I was sure they most certainly didn’t. This incident bothered me since I knew nested functions couldn’t possibly be in C99. When I got home I reproduced the scenario, and sure enough, the student was right. GCC was compiling completely invalid syntax even with the “-ansi” setting. After digging through the documentation, I was able to find two things:

  • GCC has its own custom extensions to the C language, which includes nested functions.
  • This custom extension is enabled by default even if you choose a language specification where it does not exist.

As if that weren’t strange enough, GCC’s option to disable its custom additions appears to be called “-pedantic.” Uh, I don’t think it’s pedantic if I want the language to conform to the actual standard. As much as I like GCC and its custom extensions (many of which are pretty cool), they should be opt-in, not opt-out, in compliance modes.

I frequently see people say “Microsoft’s stupid compiler doesn’t conform to ANSI.” Well, after this, I’m not so convinced GCC is innocent either.

That said, GCC’s nested function feature and its implementation are both very cool. Taking a look at the disassembly, it does run-time code generation on the stack. Simple example:

Select All Code:
include <stdio.h>
int blah(int (*g)())
int main()
    int i = 0;
    int g()
    printf("%d\n", i);

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