The Root of the Dependency Tree

The hobby debugger I am working on, Spray, features custom syntax highlighting of C source code. To implement this, I had to recursively parse all the type definitions in the current source file and in its dependencies.

C is not a context-free language, which leads to the so-called typedef-name problem 1. The problem is that typedef can be used to make types look like regular identifiers. This creates some situations where context is needed to determine whether the given identifier is a type. Since types and identifiers should be highlighted with different colors, I had to get that context.

While slowly iterating on the logic required to solve this problem, I got to a point where I could inspect the entire public dependency tree of all the header files included in a single source file. Header files are all I need to worry about here, since that is where all public type definitions live.

This revealed some pretty interesting patterns, some of which I have already shared on Twitter/X. What I found most interesting is that basically every program you will every write2 will somehow include the bits/wordsize.h header file. Here is what it looks like on my machine:

/* Determine the wordsize from the preprocessor defines.  */

#if defined __x86_64__ && !defined __ILP32__
# define __WORDSIZE	64
# define __WORDSIZE	32
#define __WORDSIZE32_SIZE_ULONG		0

#ifdef __x86_64__
# define __WORDSIZE_TIME64_COMPAT32	1
/* Both x86-64 and x32 use the 64-bit system call interface.  */
# define __SYSCALL_WORDSIZE		64
# define __WORDSIZE_TIME64_COMPAT32	0

As you can see, it simply defines the word size of the host processor. This information is then used all over the C standard library.

So, if you want your code to be used by the largest number of developers possible, contributing to this file is a great way to start!

  1. Actually, I haven’t gotten around to implementing typedefs yet. For now it would be sufficient to scan for struct, enum, etc. to check if something is type. 

  2. At least if you’re working on a Linux (and possibly other UNIX too) machine. But where else would one every write software, right?