C++ Undefined Behavior Using an uninitialized local variable


int a;
std::cout << a; // Undefined behavior!

This results in undefined behavior, because a is uninitialised.

It is often, incorrectly, claimed that this is because the value is "indeterminate", or "whatever value was in that memory location before". However, it is the act of accessing the value of a in the above example that gives undefined behaviour. In practice, printing a "garbage value" is a common symptom in this case, but that is only one possible form of undefined behaviour.

Although highly unlikely in practice (since it is reliant on specific hardware support) the compiler could equally well electrocute the programmer when compiling the code sample above. With such a compiler and hardware support, such a response to undefined behaviour would markedly increase average (living) programmer understanding of the true meaning of undefined behaviour - which is that the standard places no constraint on the resultant behaviour.


Using an indeterminate value of unsigned char type does not produce undefined behavior if the value is used as:

  • the second or third operand of the ternary conditional operator;
  • the right operand of the built-in comma operator;
  • the operand of a conversion to unsigned char;
  • the right operand of the assignment operator, if the left operand is also of type unsigned char;
  • the initializer for an unsigned char object;

or if the value is discarded. In such cases, the indeterminate value simply propagates to the result of the expression, if applicable.

Note that a static variable is always zero-initialized (if possible):

static int a;
std::cout << a; // Defined behavior, 'a' is 0