A number of answers for the Stack Overflow question Getting the IEEE Single-precision bits for a float suggest using a
union structure for type punning (e.g.: turning the bits of a
float into a
un.f = your_float;
uint32_t target = un.u;
However, the value of the
uint32_t member of the union appears to be unspecified according to the C99 standard (at least draft n1124), where section 220.127.116.11.7 states:
When a value is stored in a member of an object of union type, the bytes of the object representation that do not correspond to that member but do correspond to other members take unspecified values.
At least one footnote of the C11 n1570 draft seems to imply that this is no longer the case (see footnote 95 in 18.104.22.168):
If the member used to read the contents of a union object is not the same as the member last used to store a value in the object, the appropriate part of the object representation of the value is reinterpreted as an object representation in the new type as described in 6.2.6 (a process sometimes called ‘‘type punning’’). This might be a trap representation.
However, the text to section 22.214.171.124.7 is the same in the C99 draft as in the C11 draft.
Is this behavior actually unspecified under C99? Has it become specified in C11? I realize that most compilers seem to support this, but it would be nice to know if it's specified in the standard, or just a very common extension.
The behavior of type punning with union changed from C89 to C99. The behavior in C99 is the same as C11.
As Wug noted in his answer, type punning is allowed in C99 / C11. An unspecified value that could be a trap is read when the union members are of different size.
The footnote was added in C99 after Clive D.W. Feather Defect Report #257:
Finally, one of the changes from C90 to C99 was to remove any restriction on accessing one member of a union when the last store was to a different one. The rationale was that the behaviour would then depend on the representations of the values. Since this point is often misunderstood, it might well be worth making it clear in the Standard.
To address the issue about "type punning", attach a new footnote 78a to the words "named member" in 126.96.36.199#3: 78a If the member used to access the contents of a union object is not the same as the member last used to store a value in the object, the appropriate part of the object representation of the value is reinterpreted as an object representation in the new type as described in 6.2.6 (a process sometimes called "type punning"). This might be a trap representation.
The wording of Clive D.W. Feather was accepted for a Technical Corrigendum in the answer by the C Committee for Defect Report #283.