Why “not all control paths return a value” is warning and not an error?

Failing to return a value from a function that has a non-void return type results in undefined behaviour, but is not a semantic error.

The reason for this, as far as I can determine, is largely historical.

C originally didn’t have void and implicit int meant that most functions returned an int unless explicitly declared to return something else even if there was no intention to use the return value.

This means that a lot of functions returned an int but without explicitly setting a return value, but that was OK becase the callers would never use the return value for these functions.

Some functions did return a value, but used the implicit int because int was a suitable return type.

This means that pre-void code had lots of functions which nominally returned int but which could be declared to return void and lots of other functions that should return an int with no clear way to tell the difference. Enforcing return on all code paths of all non-void functions at any stage would break legacy code.

There is also the argument that some code paths in a function may be unreachable but this may not be easy to determine from a simple static analysis so why enforce an unnecessary return?

Leave a Comment