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Variable Length Arrays in C/C++

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Variable length arrays are also known as runtime sized or variable sized arrays. The size of such arrays is defined at run-time. 

Variably modified types include variable length arrays and pointers to variable length arrays. Variably changed types must be declared at either block scope or function prototype scope.

Variable length arrays is a feature where we can allocate an auto array (on stack) of variable size. It can be used in a typedef statement. C supports variable sized arrays from C99 standard. For example, the below program compiles and runs fine in C.

void fun(int n)
 int arr[n];
 // ......
int main()

NOTE: In C99 or C11 standards, there is feature called flexible array members, which works same as the above. 

But C++ standard (till C++11) doesn’t support variable sized arrays. The C++11 standard mentions array size as a constant-expression. So the above program may not be a valid C++ program. The program may work in GCC compiler, because GCC compiler provides an extension to support them.
As a side note, the latest C++14 mentions array size as a simple expression (not constant-expression). 


// C program for variable length members in structures in
// GCC before C99
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>
// Structure of type student
struct student {
    int stud_id;
    int name_len;
    int struct_size;
    char stud_name[0];
    // variable length array must be
    // last.
// Memory allocation and initialisation of structure
struct student* createStudent(struct student* s, int id,
                              char a[])
    s = malloc(sizeof(*s) + sizeof(char) * strlen(a));
    s->stud_id = id;
    s->name_len = strlen(a);
    strcpy(s->stud_name, a);
        = (sizeof(*s)
           + sizeof(char) * strlen(s->stud_name));
    return s;
// Print student details
void printStudent(struct student* s)
    printf("Student_id : %d\n"
           "Stud_Name : %s\n"
           "Name_Length: %d\n"
           "Allocated_Struct_size: %d\n\n",
           s->stud_id, s->stud_name, s->name_len,
    // Value of Allocated_Struct_size here is in bytes.
// Driver Code
int main()
    struct student *s1, *s2;
    s1 = createStudent(s1, 523, "Sanjayulsha");
    s2 = createStudent(s2, 535, "Cherry");
    // size in bytes
    printf("Size of Struct student: %lu\n",
           sizeof(struct student));
    // size in bytes
    printf("Size of Struct pointer: %lu", sizeof(s1));
    return 0;


Student_id : 523
Stud_Name : Sanjayulsha
Name_Length: 11
Allocated_Struct_size: 23

Student_id : 535
Stud_Name : Cherry
Name_Length: 6
Allocated_Struct_size: 18

Size of Struct student: 12
Size of Struct pointer: 8

Please write comments if you find anything incorrect, or you want to share more information about the topic discussed above.

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Last Updated : 07 Jan, 2022
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