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C's offsetof() macro is an ANSI C library feature found in stddef.h. It evaluates to the offset (in bytes) of a given member within a struct or union type, an expression of type size_t. The offsetof() macro takes two parameters, the first being a structure name, and the second being the name of a member within the structure. It cannot be described as a C prototype.[1]


The "traditional" implementation of the macro relied on the compiler being not especially picky about pointers; it obtained the offset of a member by specifying a hypothetical structure that begins at address zero:

#define offsetof(st, m) ((size_t)(&((st *)0)->m))

This works by casting a null pointer into a pointer to structure st, and then obtaining the address of member m within said structure. Some modern compilers (such as GCC) define the macro using a special form instead, e.g.[2]

#define offsetof(st, m) __builtin_offsetof(st, m)

This builtin is especially useful with C++ classes or structs that declare a custom unary operator &.[3]


It is useful when implementing generic data structures in C. For example, the Linux kernel uses offsetof() to implement container_of(), which allows something like a mixin type to find the structure that contains it:[4]

#define container_of(ptr, type, member) ({ \
                const typeof( ((type *)0)->member ) *__mptr = (ptr); \
                (type *)( (char *)__mptr - offsetof(type,member) );})

This macro is used to retrieve an enclosing structure from a pointer to a nested element, such as this iteration of a linked list of my_struct objects:

struct my_struct {
    const char *name;
    struct list_node list;
extern struct list_node * list_next(struct list_node *);
struct list_node *current = /* ... */
while(current != NULL){
    struct my_struct *element = container_of(current, struct my_struct, list);
    printf("%s\n", element->name);
    current = list_next(&element->list);


  1. ^ "offsetof reference". MSDN. Retrieved 2010-09-19. 
  2. ^ "GCC offsetof reference". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2010-09-19. 
  3. ^ "what is the purpose and return type of the __builtin_offsetof operator?". Retrieved 2012-10-20. 
  4. ^ Greg Kroah-Hartman (June 2003). "container_of()". Linux Journal. Retrieved 2010-09-19.