Union Declarations


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The latest version of this topic can be found at Union Declarations.

A "union declaration" specifies a set of variable values and, optionally, a tag naming the union. The variable values are called "members" of the union and can have different types. Unions are similar to "variant records" in other languages.

struct-or-union identifier opt{ struct-declaration-list }

struct-or-union identifier




struct-declaration-list struct-declaration

The union content is defined to be

specifier-qualifier-list struct-declarator-list  ;

type-specifier specifier-qualifier-list opt

type-qualifier specifier-qualifier-list opt


struct-declarator-list  ,  struct-declarator

A variable with union type stores one of the values defined by that type. The same rules govern structure and union declarations. Unions can also have bit fields.

Members of unions cannot have an incomplete type, type void, or function type. Therefore members cannot be an instance of the union but can be pointers to the union type being declared.

A union type declaration is a template only. Memory is not reserved until the variable is declared.

System_CAPS_ICON_note.jpg Note

If a union of two types is declared and one value is stored, but the union is accessed with the other type, the results are unreliable. For example, a union of float and int is declared. A float value is stored, but the program later accesses the value as an int. In such a situation, the value would depend on the internal storage of float values. The integer value would not be reliable.

The following are examples of unions:

union sign   /* A definition and a declaration */  
    int svar;  
    unsigned uvar;  
} number;  

This example defines a union variable with sign type and declares a variable named number that has two members: svar, a signed integer, and uvar, an unsigned integer. This declaration allows the current value of number to be stored as either a signed or an unsigned value. The tag associated with this union type is sign.

union               /* Defines a two-dimensional */  
{                   /*  array named screen */  
      unsigned int icon : 8;    
      unsigned color : 4;  
    } window1;  
    int screenval;  
} screen[25][80];  

The screen array contains 2,000 elements. Each element of the array is an individual union with two members: window1 and screenval. The window1 member is a structure with two bit-field members, icon and color. The screenval member is an int. At any given time, each union element holds either the int represented by screenval or the structure represented by window1.

Microsoft Specific

Nested unions can be declared anonymously when they are members of another structure or union. This is an example of a nameless union:

struct str  
    int a, b;  
    union            / * Unnamed union */  
      char c[4];  
      long l;  
      float f;  
   char c_array[10];  
} my_str;  
my_str.l == 0L;  /* A reference to a field in the my_str union */  

Unions are often nested within a structure that includes a field giving the type of data contained in the union at any particular time. This is an example of a declaration for such a union:

struct x  
    int type_tag;  
      int x;  
      float y;  

See Structure and Union Members for information about referencing unions.

END Microsoft Specific

Declarators and Variable Declarations