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Tomislav Kraljic
Tomislav Kraljic

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Storage Classes in C


In this article, I will go over the four storage classes in C: auto, extern, static and register. I will explain how to use them and the specifics of each storage class.

What is a Storage Class?

A storage class is a way to describe the features of a variable or function.

This includes:

  • Scope, visibility, and life-time.
  • Help us trace the existence of a particular variable during the run time of a program.

What Storage Classes Does C Provide?

C provides 4 storage classes:

  • auto
  • extern
  • static
  • extern

These can be divided into 2 storage duration's:

  • automatic storage duration
  • static storage duration

Auto Storage Class

  • The keyword auto is used to declare variables of automatic storage duration.
  • It means it is a local variable.
  • Every local variable created, is implicitly 'auto'
  • Created when the block in which they are defined is entered.
  • Destroyed when the block is exited.

Why use Auto?

  • Automatic storage is a way of conserving memory. We do not want every variable to be global.
  • We only want to use these variables when absolutely necessary.

Example 1

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

int main(int argc, char * argv[]){
    auto int age = 23; // same as int age = 23;
    printf("%d\n", age);

    return EXIT_SUCCESS;

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Extern Storage Class

  • The extern storage class simply tells us that a variable is defined somewhere else.
  • We are telling the compiler "Hey, don't freak out. The variable is defined somewhere else and I am gonna use it.
  • The main purpose of using extern variables is that they can be accessed between different source files in a large program.
  • Functions contained in separate files can communicate through extern variables.
  • Functions are implicitly 'extern' as well.

Example 1


#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

extern int x;
extern int b;
extern void print_x();
extern void print_b();

int main(int argc, char * argv[]){
    print_x(); //32
    print_b(); //8

    x = 50;
    b = 99;

    print_x(); //50
    print_b(); //90

    return EXIT_SUCCESS;
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int x;
int b;
void print_x();
void print_b();

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int x = 32;
int b = 8;

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

void print_x() { printf("%d\n", b); };

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Static Storage Class

  • The static storage class can be used on local and global variables and functions.
  • When applied to local variables, it instructs the compiler to keep the variable alive during the lifetime of the program (just like a global variable).
  • When applied to global variables, it instructs the global variable to only be able to be used/accessed in that file that it was declared in.
  • When applied to functions, it instructs the function to only be able to be called from the same file where it appeared.

Example 1

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

void print_and_increment();

void print_and_increment_with_static();

int main(int argc, char * argv[]) {
    print_and_increment(); //1
    print_and_increment(); //1

    print_and_increment_with_static(); //1
    print_and_increment_with_static(); //2


void print_and_increment(){
    int value_one = 0;
    printf("%d\n", value_one);

void print_and_increment_with_static(){
   static int value_two = 0;
   printf("%d\n", value_two);

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  • Here, we are seeing two different results.
  • The variable value_one only exists within the block of the function print_and_increment. When it leaves the scope, the variable is destroyed. No matter how many times we call it, we will get the same result.
  • The variable value_two is static. Therefore, it exists throughout the entire program. It is not local. Every time we call it, the value changes.

NOTE: Static variables should not be declared inside a struct. The C compiler requires the entire struct element to be placed together.

Register Storage Class

  • A processor register is a local storage space within the CPU that holds instructions, storage addresses, or any kind of data.
  • The register storage class is used to define local variables that should be stored in the register instead of the RAM
  • Makes the use of register variables faster than variables stored in RAM.
  • The keyword 'register' suggests to the compiler to put the variable inside the register.
  • Sometimes the compiler will listen, other times it wont. It is largely dependent on hardware and implementation restrictions.
  • Generally, the compiler will do it by itself regardless if you use this keyword or not.
  • You can not get the address of a register variable.
  • Register variables have the same life-span as an auto variable(local variable).
  • Therefore, register variables can not be declared globally, only locally.

Example 1

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

int main(int argc, char * argv[]) }
    register int age = 23;

    printf("Your age is %d\n", age);

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Top comments (1)

pauljlucas profile image
Paul J. Lucas
  1. You list extern twice.
  2. You omitted register. However, register has been pretty useless for many years since compilers are generally better at optimization than humans.
  3. You never need auto in C. It's a relic from B.