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The order of evaluation of subexpressions and the order in which side effects take place are frequently defined as unspecified behavior by the C Standard. Counterintuitively, unspecified behavior in behavior for which the standard provides two or more possibilities and imposes no further requirements on which is chosen in any instance. Consequently, unspecified behavior can be a portability issue because different implementations can make different choices. If dynamic scheduling is used, however, there may not be a fixed-code execution sequence over the life of a process. Operations that can be executed in different sequences may in fact be executed in a different order.

According to the C Standard, subclause 6.5 [ISO/IEC 9899:2011],

Except as specified later, side effects and value computations of subexpressions are unsequenced.

Following are specific examples of situations in which the order of evaluation of subexpressions or the order in which side effects take place is unspecified:

  • The order in which the arguments to a function are evaluated (C Standard, subclause 6.5.2.2, "Function Calls")
  • The order of evaluation of the operands in an assignment statement (C Standard, subclause 6.5.16, "Assignment Operators")
  • The order in which any side effects occur among the initialization list expressions is unspecified. In particular, the evaluation order need not be the same as the order of subobject initialization (C Standard, subclause 6.7.9, "Initialization")

This recommendation is related to EXP30-C. Do not depend on the order of evaluation for side effects, but it focuses on behavior that is nonportable or potentially confusing.

Noncompliant Code Example

The order of evaluation of the function designator, the actual arguments, and subexpressions within the actual arguments are unspecified, but there is a sequence point before the actual call. For example, in the function call

(*pf[f1()]) (f2(), f3() + f4())

the functions f1(), f2(), f3(), and f4() may be called in any order. All side effects have to be completed before the function pointed to by pf[f1()] is called.

Consequently, the result of this noncompliant code example depends on unspecified behavior:

#include <stdio.h>

int g;

int f(int i) {
  g = i;
  return i;
}

int main(void) {
  int x = f(1) + f(2);
  printf("g = %d\n", g);
  /* ... */
  return 0;
}

This code may result in g being assigned the value 1, or equally likely, being assigned the value 2.

Compliant Solution

This compliant solution is independent of the order of evaluation of the operands and can be interpreted in only one way:

#include <stdio.h>

int g;

int f(int i) {
  g = i;
  return i;
}

int main(void) {
  int x = f(1); 
  x += f(2);
  printf("g = %d\n", g);
  /* ... */
  return 0;
}

This code always results in g being assigned the value 2.

Exceptions

EXP10-C-EX1: The && and || operators guarantee left-to-right evaluation; there is a sequence point after the evaluation of the first operand.

EXP10-C-EX2: The first operand of a condition expression is evaluated; there is a sequence point after its evaluation. The second operand is evaluated only if the first compares unequal to 0; the third operand is evaluated only if the first compares equal to 0.

EXP10-C-EX3: There is a sequence point before function calls, meaning that the function designator, the actual arguments, and subexpressions within the actual arguments are evaluated before the function is invoked.

EXP10-C-EX4: The left operand of a comma operator is evaluated before the right operand is evaluated. There is a sequence point in between.

Note that whereas commas serve to delimit multiple arguments in a function call, these commas are not considered comma operators. Multiple arguments of a function call may be evaluated in any order, with no sequence points between each other.

Risk Assessment

Recommendation

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

EXP10-C

Medium

Probable

Medium

P8

L2

Automated Detection

Tool

Version

Checker

Description

Astrée
19.04
evaluation-order
multiple-volatile-accesses
Partially checked
Axivion Bauhaus Suite

6.9.0

CertC-EXP10Fully implemented
Compass/ROSE



Could detect violations of this recommendation by searching for the following pattern:

    • Any expression that calls two functions between the same sequence points
    • Those two functions both modify the value of a static variable
    • That static variable's value is referenced by code following the expression

Coverity

2017.07

EVALUATION_ORDER

Can detect the specific instance where a statement contains multiple side effects on the same value with an undefined evaluation order because the statement may behave differently with different compiler flags or different compilers or platforms

LDRA tool suite
9.7.1
35 D, 72 D, 1 Q, 134 S

Fully implemented

Parasoft C/C++test
10.4.2

CERT_C-EXP10-a
CERT_C-EXP10-b
CERT_C-EXP10-c
CERT_C-EXP10-d

The value of an expression shall be the same under any order of evaluation that the standard permits
Don't write code that depends on the order of evaluation of function arguments
Don't write code that depends on the order of evaluation of function designator and function arguments
Don't write code that depends on the order of evaluation of expression that involves a function call

Polyspace Bug Finder

R2018a

MISRA C:2012 Rule 13.2

The value of an expression and its persistent side effects shall be the same under all permitted evaluation orders

PRQA QA-C
9.5

0400 [U], 0401 [U],

0402 [U], 0403 [U],

0404 [U], 0405 [U],

3226, 3326

Partially implemented
PVS-Studio

6.23

V521, V681
RuleChecker
19.04
evaluation-order
multiple-volatile-accesses
Partially checked

A programmer could also violate the recommendation using dynamic memory passed to both functions, but that would be extremely difficult to detect using static analysis.

Related Vulnerabilities

Search for vulnerabilities resulting from the violation of this rule on the CERT website.

Related Guidelines

SEI CERT C++ Coding StandardEXP50-CPP. Do not depend on the order of evaluation for side effects
ISO/IEC TR 24772:2013Operator Precedence/Order of Evaluation [JCW]
Side-effects and Order of Evaluation [SAM]
MISRA C:2012Rule 13.5 (required)

Bibliography

[ISO/IEC 9899:2011]Subclause 6.5, "Expressions"