I'm trying to understand why sizeof(a)/sizeof(t) is inferior for getting the length of an array to sizeof(a)/sizeof(a[0]) if just as it's possible to have different types, my elements could also be of different lengths. so what makes dividing by the element size uniform?

  • 4
    To help people understand your question, please explain where a and t come from. Give multiple examples. In particular, explain what a and t would be, if someone passes in: (1) an array typedef, (2) an array instance, (3) a pointer. Please remember that most people do not have the same "K.N.King" book as yours. If your question depends on something from that book, be sure to explain it here.
    – rwong
    Apr 28, 2020 at 5:46
  • If it is a C macro, give the definition of the macro, and give examples of how the macro is used.
    – rwong
    Apr 28, 2020 at 5:48
  • An array contains elements of a single type. The size of a type is a constant.
    – Mat
    Apr 28, 2020 at 6:34
  • I'm disappointed with the communities reception of this question. This is not asking us to write or explain code. Apr 28, 2020 at 8:58
  • @candied_orange: nevertheless it is badly written and lacks any sign of improvement by the OP, though the question got some helpful comments.
    – Doc Brown
    Apr 28, 2020 at 10:03

2 Answers 2


The difference between sizeof(a)/sizeof(t) and sizeof(a)/sizeof(a[0]) is that for the first one you need to supply two pieces of information (the array name and the type of its elements) while the second one needs only a single piece of information (the array name).

The more pieces of information you need to provide, the more chance there is that a mistake is made. To make matters worse, if a mistake is made in the element type of the array, there is no safety net to catch that mistake. You will just get incorrect results.

And a mistake does not mean only when the code initially gets written, but also when later on changes are mode to it.

Suppose you start out with

int arr[N];
array_length = sizeof(arr)/sizeof(int);

later on you find that int isn't the right type, because you also need to store fractional numbers, so you change it to double, but you forget the sizeof expression:

double arr[N];
array_length = sizeof(arr)/sizeof(int);

Now suddenly, the value of array_length is no longer correct. If you had written it as array_length = sizeof(arr)/sizeof(arr[0]);, then that mistake could not have happened.

  • It could be argued that a name change is far more likely than a type change. But a name change is an automated refactoring. Even if done by hand, a mistake would produce a compiler error. So I'm strongly in the a[0] camp. Code should welcome refactoring. Apr 28, 2020 at 8:54
  • @candied_orange I personally prefer trimming it down to sizeof a / sizeof *a as I dislike senseless verbosity, not that it changes anything much. Apr 29, 2020 at 6:09
  • @Deduplicator I’ve heard that debased as well. Some like it short. Some think the long one makes it clearer that you’re looking at the size of an element. Personally I wish the whole thing was hidden behind a good abstraction. Apr 29, 2020 at 6:13

Also consider the pros/cons from a reviewer point of view.

size_t a_size1 = sizeof(a)/sizeof(int);
size_t a_size2 = sizeof(a)/sizeof(a[0]);

The type definition of a may not be near these lines of code, perhaps in a .h file.

To check either line of code, we need to know if a is in fact an array and not a pointer. This is a binary consideration that is usually understood in review - not much cost.

Yet sizeof(int) obliges another check: does the type match? For the original coder, this is not much of issue and so may appear inconsequential. Yet for a reviewer who has cursory knowledge of the code, it is a tedious check.

This is a similar concern of @Bart van Ingen Schenau good answer, yet I wanted to emphasize the increased negative impact on reviewers.

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