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Duration, closely related to storage class, defines the period during which the declared identifiers have real, physical objects allocated in memory. We also distinguish between compile-time and run-time objects. Variables, for instance, unlike typedefs and types, have real memory allocated during run time. There are three kinds of duration: static, local, and dynamic.


Memory is allocated to objects with static duration as soon as execution is underway; this storage allocation lasts until the program terminates. All functions, wherever defined, are objects with static duration. All variables with file scope have static duration. Other variables can be given static duration by using the explicit static or extern storage class specifiers.

Static duration objects are initialized to zero (or null) in the absence of any explicit initializer or, in C++, a class constructor.

Don't confuse static duration with file or global scope. An object can have static duration and local scope.


Local duration objects, also known as automatic objects, lead a more precarious existence. They are created on the stack (or in a register) when the enclosing block or function is entered. They are deallocated when the program exits that block or function. Local duration objects must be explicitly initialized; otherwise, their contents are unpredictable. Local duration objects must always have local or function scope. The storage class specifier auto can be used when declaring local duration variables, but is usually redundant, because auto is the default for variables declared within a block. An object with local duration also has local scope, because it does not exist outside of its enclosing block. The converse is not true: a local scope object can have static duration.

When declaring variables (for example, int, char, float), the storage class specifier register also implies auto; but a request (or hint) is passed to the compiler that the object be allocated a register if possible. The compiler can be set to allocate a register to a local integral or pointer variable, if one is free. If no register is free, the variable is allocated as an auto, local object with no warning or error.

Note: The compiler can ignore requests for register allocation. Register allocation is based on the compiler's analysis of how a variable is used.


Dynamic duration objects are created and destroyed by specific function calls during a program. They are allocated storage from a special memory reserve known as the heap, using either standard library functions such as malloc, or by using the C++ operator new. The corresponding deallocations are made using free or delete.

See Also