C Language Pre/Post Increment/Decrement operators

Example

In C, there are two unary operators - '++' and '--' that are very common source of confusion. The operator ++ is called the increment operator and the operator -- is called the decrement operator. Both of them can be used used in either prefix form or postfix form. The syntax for prefix form for ++ operator is ++operand and the syntax for postfix form is operand++. When used in the prefix form, the operand is incremented first by 1 and the resultant value of the operand is used in the evaluation of the expression. Consider the following example:

int n, x = 5;
n = ++x; /* x is incremented  by 1(x=6), and result is assigned to n(6) */
         /* this is a short form for two statements: */
         /* x = x + 1; */ 
         /* n = x ; */

When used in the postfix form, the operand's current value is used in the expression and then the value of the operand is incremented by 1. Consider the following example:

int n, x = 5;
n = x++; /* value of x(5) is assigned first to n(5), and then x is incremented by 1; x(6) */
         /* this is a short form for two statements: */
         /* n = x; */
         /* x = x + 1; */

The working of the decrement operator -- can be understood similarly.

The following code demonstrates what each one does

    int main()
    {
        int a, b, x = 42;
        a = ++x; /* a and x are 43 */
        b = x++; /* b is 43, x is 44 */
        a = x--; /* a is is 44, x is 43 */
        b = --x; /* b and x are 42 */
        
        return 0;
    }

From the above it is clear that post operators return the current value of a variable and then modify it, but pre operators modify the variable and then return the modified value.

In all versions of C, the order of evaluation of pre and post operators are not defined, hence the following code can return unexpected outputs:

    int main()
    {
        int a, x = 42;
        a = x++ + x; /* wrong */
        a = x + x; /* right */
        ++x;

        int ar[10];
        x = 0;
        ar[x] = x++; /* wrong */
        ar[x++] = x; /* wrong */
        ar[x] = x; /* right */
        ++x;
        return 0;
    }

Note that it is also good practice to use pre over post operators when used alone in a statement. Look at the above code for this.

Note also, that when a function is called, all side effects on arguments must take place before the function runs.

    int foo(int x)
    {
        return x;
    }

    int main()
    {
        int a = 42;
        int b = foo(a++);  /* This returns 43, even if it seems like it should return 42 */
        return 0;
    }