Submitter: Nick Stoughton (US)
Submission Date: 2013-06-19
Source: Austin Group
Reference Document: N1719
Date: April 2014
C11 (and C99 before it) state for clock() that
If the processor time used is not available or its value cannot be represented, the function returns the value (clock_t)(-1).(C11 220.127.116.11 p3). Footnote 319 also states
In order to measure the time spent in a program, the clock function should be called at the start of the program and its return value subtracted from the value returned by subsequent calls.
The normative requirement implies that if more processor time has passed than can be fit into a variable of type clock_t the function must fail and return (clock_t)-1.
However, existing implementations almost exclusively ignore this requirement and if more ticks pass than can fit into a clock_t the implementation simply truncates the value and return the lowermost bits of the actual value. In programming environments where clock_t is a 32-bit integer type and CLOCKS_PER_SEC is one million (a very common implementation), clock() will start misreporting in less than 36 minutes of processor time for signed clock_t, or 72 minutes for unsigned clock_t.
Question 1: Are such implementations conforming? If not, should the standard be altered in any way to permit this de-facto standard implementation?
Question 2: Should the standard define some limit macros for clock_t (effectively defining new values in limits.h for CLOCK_MAX, the minimum maximum value for a clock_t)?
Question 3: If the value is truncated and clock_t is a signed type, the recommended application usage n footnote 319 (subtracting clock_t values to measure intervals) can cause the application to invoke undefined behavior via integer overflow. In particular, if the initial call to clock() returned A > 0 (by virtue of some processor time having been consumed before the start of main() or the point of first measurement), and a subsequent call returned B=INT_MIN just after overflow, then the recommended practice of computing B-A invokes undefined behavior. Should there be any warning of this included in the footnote?
Given that the vast majority of surveyed implementations appear to have implemented clock with a simple incrementing counter with no check for overflow, the requirement for clock() to return (clock_t)-1 when the number of clock ticks cannot be represented in a variable of type clock_t should be relaxed:
At 18.104.22.168 paragraph 3, change:
If the processor time used is not available or its value cannot be represented, the function returns the value (clock_t)(-1).to:
If the processor time used is not available, the function returns the value (clock_t)-1.(thus leaving the behavior on overflow unspecified). Change footnote 319 to:
In order to measure the time spent in a program, the clock function should be called at the start of the program and its return value subtracted from the value returned by subsequent calls. Note, however, that such a subtraction may result in undefined behavior if clock_t is an unsigned integer type.
Implementations commonly use an integer clock_t type that can overflow in as little as 36 minutes. All uses of clock() to measure a duration of time must address the issue of possible overflow.
Apr 2014 meeting
The author will be solicited for a revised technical corrigendum.
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