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When is a Volatile Object Accessed?

Both the C and C++ standard have the concept of volatile objects. These are normally accessed by pointers and used for accessing hardware. The standards encourage compilers to refrain from optimizations concerning accesses to volatile objects that it might perform on non-volatile objects. The C standard leaves it implementation defined as to what constitutes a volatile access. The C++ standard omits to specify this, except to say that C++ should behave in a similar manner to C with respect to volatiles, where possible. The minimum either standard specifies is that at a sequence point all previous accesses to volatile objects have stabilized and no subsequent accesses have occurred. Thus an implementation is free to reorder and combine volatile accesses which occur between sequence points, but cannot do so for accesses across a sequence point. The use of volatiles does not allow you to violate the restriction on updating objects multiple times within a sequence point.

In most expressions, it is intuitively obvious what is a read and what is a write. For instance

     volatile int *dst = somevalue;
     volatile int *src = someothervalue;
     *dst = *src;

will cause a read of the volatile object pointed to by src and stores the value into the volatile object pointed to by dst. There is no guarantee that these reads and writes are atomic, especially for objects larger than int.

Less obvious expressions are where something which looks like an access is used in a void context. An example would be,

     volatile int *src = somevalue;

With C, such expressions are rvalues, and as rvalues cause a read of the object, GCC interprets this as a read of the volatile being pointed to. The C++ standard specifies that such expressions do not undergo lvalue to rvalue conversion, and that the type of the dereferenced object may be incomplete. The C++ standard does not specify explicitly that it is this lvalue to rvalue conversion which is responsible for causing an access. However, there is reason to believe that it is, because otherwise certain simple expressions become undefined. However, because it would surprise most programmers, G++ treats dereferencing a pointer to volatile object of complete type in a void context as a read of the object. When the object has incomplete type, G++ issues a warning.

     struct S;
     struct T {int m;};
     volatile S *ptr1 = somevalue;
     volatile T *ptr2 = somevalue;

In this example, a warning is issued for *ptr1, and *ptr2 causes a read of the object pointed to. If you wish to force an error on the first case, you must force a conversion to rvalue with, for instance a static cast, static_cast<S>(*ptr1).

When using a reference to volatile, G++ does not treat equivalent expressions as accesses to volatiles, but instead issues a warning that no volatile is accessed. The rationale for this is that otherwise it becomes difficult to determine where volatile access occur, and not possible to ignore the return value from functions returning volatile references. Again, if you wish to force a read, cast the reference to an rvalue.