Using ssize_t vs int


I've got a function which I can write in one of four possible ways:

    int do_or_die(int retval);
    int do_or_die(ssize_t retval);
    ssize_t do_or_die(int retval);   
    ssize_t do_or_die(ssize_t retval);   

And then it will be called with both of these ways for library functions:

    written = do_or_die(write(...)); // POSIX write returns ssize_t
    printed = do_or_die(printf(...)); // printf returns int


  • Which prototype should I use?
  • What types should I give to written and printed?

I want to have the most robust and standard code, while still having just one do_or_die function.

I am using C99 in this case, but if answer is different for C11, then I'd like to know that too, for future.


There's no guarantee in the POSIX standard that sizeof(int) >= sizeof(ssize_t), nor the other way around. Typically ssize_t is larger than int, but the safe and portable option in C99 is to use intmax_t instead for the argument and the return value.

The only guarantees you have wrt. the relationship between int and ssize_t are:

  • int can store values of at least the range [-2^15 ... 2^15-1] per ISO C
  • ssize_t can store values of at least the range [-1 ... 2^15-1] per POSIX (see _POSIX_SSIZE_MAX).

(Interestingly, there isn't even a guarantee that ssize_t can store the negative counterparts of its positive range. It's not a signed size_t, but a "size type" with an error value.)