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6.3.2 Overflow with Signed Integers

For signed integers, the result of overflow in C is in principle undefined, meaning that anything whatsoever could happen. Therefore, C compilers can do optimizations that treat the overflow case with total unconcern. (Since the result of overflow is undefined in principle, one cannot claim that these optimizations are erroneous.)

Watch out: These optimizations can do surprising things. For instance,

int i;

if (i < i + 1)
  x = 5;

could be optimized to do the assignment unconditionally, because the if-condition is always true if i + 1 does not overflow.

GCC offers compiler options to control handling signed integer overflow. These options operate per module; that is, each module behaves according to the options it was compiled with.

These two options specify particular ways to handle signed integer overflow, other than the default way:


Make signed integer operations well-defined, like unsigned integer operations: they produce the n low-order bits of the true result. The highest of those n bits is the sign bit of the result. With -fwrapv, these out-of-range operations are not considered overflow, so (strictly speaking) integer overflow never happens.

The option -fwrapv enables some optimizations based on the defined values of out-of-range results. In GCC 8, it disables optimizations that are based on assuming signed integer operations will not overflow.


Generate a signal SIGFPE when signed integer overflow occurs. This terminates the program unless the program handles the signal. See Signals.

One other option is useful for finding where overflow occurs:


Output a warning message at run time when signed integer overflow occurs. This checks the ‘+’, ‘*’, and ‘-’ operators. This takes priority over -ftrapv.

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