I know that in C code using L after a number tells the compiler that the respective number is L.

However I do not see any practical use for this. Do modern compilers still have a use for this language construct?

If there are still use cases what would be those cases?

  • @gnat However I am not looking for a right answer but for a practical use case of a language construct.
    – yoyo_fun
    Oct 11, 2017 at 12:36
  • 1
    long fileSize = 12345L; In many languages the default, unadorned number is assumed to be an int. Many languages hide that fact by providing implicit up-converts. Still some languages don't and you have to be specific. What really makes a suffix required is when the default type is larger than what you need. For example in many languages floating point numbers in code default to a double. To down-convert you either need an explicit cast, or the suffix to fix it. float smallPi = 3.14159F;. Depends on your language honestly. Oct 11, 2017 at 12:42
  • given that more literal suffixes have been introduced: Yes, modern compilers still have a use for specifying types in literals
    – Caleth
    Oct 11, 2017 at 12:47

1 Answer 1


In the C language expressions are typed inside-out: literals have types. E.g. 123 is an int, and 123U is an unsigned int, 123L is a long int and so on. The type of an expression depends on the types of the subexpressions: the type of a + b depends on the types of a and b.

Ensuring the correct type is particularly important when doing bit-fiddling. You also have to take care for large literals that do not fit into an int (or the type of a variable you are assigning the expression value to – narrowing conversions are a common source of bugs).

However, most code should not explicitly use a long type or the L literal suffix because the size of long integers is platform dependent. Integers and long integers may even have the same size.

For portable code that needs a specific size, it is more correct to use the C99 fixed width integer types (like int64_t). They do not have corresponding literal suffixes, instead you have to use the literal macros like INT64_C(123) from stdint.h. These macros will apply the correct casts or platform-dependent type suffixes if necessary.

In C++ the type of an expression may affect with overloads are invoked. Notably 0, '\0', false and nullptr often behave very differently, despite all being “null” and to some degree being implicitly convertible to each other.

  • I don't know abour more recent standards, but in C89, the type of character literals is int. Oct 11, 2017 at 15:49
  • @SebastianRedl Thanks, you're right. The character literal 'c' would have type int in C, though it seems its range is limited to that of a char. I never noticed this because of the implicit narrowing conversions. C++ is more sane and actually uses the char type for char literals.
    – amon
    Oct 11, 2017 at 15:55

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