Are Sub-Arrays Guaranteed to be Allocated Linearly?


I know this answer is in violation of the reinterpret_cast rules but it also presumes that sub-arrays will be allocated linearly.

I believed this was not guaranteed, but as I search the standard, I find my confidence wavering. If I statically allocate a 2D array, like this:

int foo[][4] = { { 5, 7, 8 },
                 { 6, 6 },
                 { 5, 6, 8, 9 } };

Am I allowed to assume that all elements will be allocated linearly? That is to say that if foo[0] is at address 0x00000042, will:

  • foo[1] be at address 0x00000052
  • foo[2] be at address 0x00000062
  • foo[3] be at address 0x00000072

These addresses are in hex, and yes they are providing space for the 4-element sub-array with sizeof(int) == 4; they may and may not be zero-initialized.

asked on Stack Overflow Jun 27, 2016 by Jonathan Mee • edited Aug 17, 2019 by Bhargav Rao

2 Answers


Are Sub-Arrays Guaranteed to be Allocated Linearly?

Yes. Whether the elements of the array are sub-arrays or non-array objects, they are guaranteed to be stored contiguously in memory.

For completeness, here is the standard quote:


  1. [snip] An object of array type contains a contiguously allocated non-empty set of N subobjects of type T. [snip]

There is no exception for the case when T is an array.

So we know this isn't guaranteed to be the case for const char[4].

On the contrary, we do know that this is guaranteed for char[4] objects just like it is guaranteed for other types.

For example: const char first[] = "foo"; char foo[][4] = {"bar", "foo", "", "baz"}

first would be stored like this in memory:

{'f', 'o', 'o', '\0'}

foo would be stored like this:

{'b', 'a', 'r', '\0', 'f', 'o', 'o', '\0', '\0', '\0', '\0', '\0', 'b', 'a', 'z', '\0'}

So why would you say this is guaranteed for ints?

It is guaranteed for int[4], char[4] and any other type that you can imagine.

answered on Stack Overflow Jun 27, 2016 by eerorika • edited Jun 20, 2020 by Community

From the C language standard ISO/IEC 9899 §6.2.5 Types/p20 (Emphasis Mine):

An array type describes a contiguously allocated nonempty set of objects with a particular member object type, called the element type.

Also from the C language standard ISO/IEC 9899 § Array subscripting (Emphasis Mine):

Successive subscript operators designate an element of a multidimensional array object. If E is an n-dimensional array (n >= 2) with dimensions i x j x . . . x k, then E (used as other than an lvalue) is converted to a pointer to an (n - 1)-dimensional array with dimensions j x . . . x k. If the unary * operator is applied to this pointer explicitly, or implicitly as a result of subscripting, the result is the pointed-to (n - 1)-dimensional array, which itself is converted into a pointer if used as other than an lvalue. It follows from this that arrays are stored in row-major order (last subscript varies fastest).

From the above we can conclude that a 2D array is actually a 1D array stored in row-major order.

Consequently, it's safe to assume that elements of a sub-array are stored contiguously in memory.

answered on Stack Overflow Jun 27, 2016 by 101010

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