C-Style Conversion Routines

C++ uses the << operator for formatted output and the >> operator for formatted input. C has its own set of output functions (the pstd::printf family) and input conversion functions (the std::scanf functions). This section goes into the details of these C-style conversion routines.

The std::printf Family of Output Functions

C uses the std::printf function call and related functions for output. A std::printf call consists of two parts: a format that describes how to print the data and a list of data to print.

The general form of the std::printf call is:

std::printf(format, parameter-1, parameter-2, ...);

The format string is printed exactly. For example:

std::printf("Hello World\n");


Hello World

To print a number, you must put a % conversion in the format string. For example, when C sees %d in the format string, it takes the next parameter from the parameter list (which must be an integer) and prints it.

Figure 16-1 shows how the elements of the std::printf statement work to generate the final result.

Figure 16-1. std::printf structure


The conversion %d is used for integers. Other types of parameters use different conversions. For example, if you want to print a floating-point number, you need a %f conversion. Table 16-9 lists the conversions.

Table 16-9: C-style conversions


Variable type




long int


short int






unsigned int


unsigned long int


unsigned short int


char * (C-style string)




int (prints octal)


int (prints hexadecimal)


float (in the form d.dddE+dd)

Many additional conversions also can be used in the std::printf statement. See your reference manual for details.

The std::printf function does not check for the correct number of parameters on each line. If you add too many, the extra parameters are ignored. If you add too few, C will make up values for the missing parameters. Also C does not type check parameters, so if you use a %d on a floating point number, you will get strange results.

Why does 2 + 2 = 5986? (Your results may vary.)

Example 16-7: two/two.c

#include <cstdio>
int main(  )
    int answer;   
    answer = 2 + 2;
    std::printf("The answer is %d\n");
    return (0);

Why does 21 / 7 = 0? (Your results may vary.)

Example 16-8: float3/float3.c

#include <cstdio>
int main(  )
    float result;
    result = 21.0 / 7.0;
    std::printf("The result is %d\n", result);
    return (0);

The function std::fprintf is similar to std::printf except that it takes one additional argument, the file to print to:

std::fprintf(file, format, parameter-1, parameter-2, ...); 

Another flavor of the std::printf family is the std::sprintf call. The first parameter of std::sprintf is a C-style string. The function formats the output and stores the result in the given string:

std::sprintf(string, format, parameter-1, parameter-2, ...); 

For example:

char file_name[40];        /* The filename */ 
/* Current file number for this segment */ 
int file_number = 0;     
std::sprintf(file_name, "file.%d", file_number); 
out_file = std::fopen(file_name, "w"); 

WARNING:   The return value of std::sprintf differs from system to system. The ANSI standard defines it as the number of characters stored in the string; however, some implementations of Unix C define it to be a pointer to the string.

The std::scanf Family of Input Functions

Reading is accomplished through the std::scanf family of calls. The std::scanf function is similar to std::printf in that it has sister functions: std::fscanf and std::sscanf. The std::scanf function reads the standard input (stdin in C terms, cin in C++ terms), parses the input, and stores the results in the parameters in the parameter list.

The format for a scanf function call is:

number = scanf(format, &parameter1, . . .); 
Number of parameters successfully converted.

Describes the data to be read.

First parameter to be read. Note the & in front of the parameter. These parameters must be passed by address.

WARNING:  If you forget to put & in front of each variable for std::scanf, the result can be a "Segmentation violation core dumped" or "Illegal memory access" error. In some cases a random variable or instruction will be modified. This is not common on Unix machines, but MS-DOS/Windows, with its lack of memory protection, cannot easily detect this problem. In MS-DOS/Windows, omitting & can cause a system crash.

There is one problem with this std::scanf: it's next to impossible to get the end-of-line handling right. However, there's a simple way to get around the limitations of std::scanf--don't use it. Instead, use std::fgets followed by the string version of std::scanf, the function std::sscanf:

char line[100];    // Line for data
std::fgets(line, sizeof(line), stdin);    // Read numbers
std::sscanf(line, "%d %d", &number1, &number2);

Finally, there is a file version of std::scanf, the function std::fscanf. It's identical to scanf except the first parameter is the file to be read. Again, this function is extremely difficult and should not be used. Use std::fgets and std::sscanf instead.

Page:  1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   Next 


  • There are no comments yet. Be the first to comment!

Leave a Comment
  • Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.

Top White Papers and Webcasts

  • Live Event Date: December 11, 2014 @ 1:00 p.m. ET / 10:00 a.m. PT Market pressures to move more quickly and develop innovative applications are forcing organizations to rethink how they develop and release applications. The combination of public clouds and physical back-end infrastructures are a means to get applications out faster. However, these hybrid solutions complicate DevOps adoption, with application delivery pipelines that span across complex hybrid cloud and non-cloud environments. Check out this …

  • Relying on outside companies to manage your network and server environments for your business and applications to meet the needs and demands of your users can be stressful. This is especially true as many Managed Hosting organizations fail to meet their service level agreements. Read this Forrester total economic impact report and learn what makes INetU different and how they exceed their customers' managed hosting expectations.

Most Popular Programming Stories

More for Developers

RSS Feeds