Fread(): Reading From A File (without Alignment) Results In Skipping Of Bytes

I have a file and using C I want to read the contents of it using fread() (from stdio.h) and write it into the members of a struct. (In my case there is a 2 byte int at the start followed by a 4 byte int.) But after writing the contents of the file correctly into the first two byte variable of the struct, it skips two bytes before continuing with the second four byte variable.

To demonstrate, I have created a 16 byte file to read from. In Hex it looks like this (Little-endian): 22 11 66 55 44 33 11 11 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00

With the following code I expect the first variable, twobytes, to be 0x1122 and the second, fourbytes, to be 0x33445566. But instead it prints:

twobytes: 0x1122 
fourbytes: 0x11113344

sizeof(FOO) = 8
&foo     : 0061FF14
&foo.two : 0061FF14
&foo.four: 0061FF18

Skipping bytes 3 and 4 (0x66 & 0x55). Code:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdint.h>

int main(void) {

    FILE* file = fopen("216543110.txt", "r");
    if (file==NULL) { return 1; }

    typedef struct
        uint16_t twobytes;
        uint32_t fourbytes;
    }__attribute__((__packed__)) // removing this attribute or just the underscores around packed does not change the outcome
    FOO foo;
    fread(&foo, sizeof(FOO), 1, file);
    printf("twobytes: 0x%x \n", foo.twobytes);
    printf("fourbytes: 0x%x \n\n", foo.fourbytes);

    printf("sizeof(FOO) = %d\n", sizeof(FOO));
    printf("&foo     : %p\n", &foo);
    printf("&foo.two : %p\n", &foo.twobytes);
    printf("&foo.four: %p\n", &foo.fourbytes);
    return 0;

Using a struct with two same size integers works as expected.

So: Using fread() to write into different size variables causes skipping bytes:

22 11.. ..44 33 11 11...

instead of

22 1166 55 44 33...

I am aware that something about byte alignment is playing a role here, but how does that affect the reading of bytes? If C wants to add padding to the structs, how does that affect the reading from a file? I don't care if C is storing the struct members as 22 11.. ..66 55 44 33... or 22 1166 55 44 33..., I'm confused about why it fails to read my file correctly.

Also, I am using gcc version 6.3.0 ( GCC-6.3.0-1)



On GCC, when targetting x86 platforms, the


only works on structs with


However, when targetting Microsoft Windows platforms, the default attribute for structs is


Therefore, I see three ways to accomplish what you want:

  1. Use the compiler command-line option -mno-ms-bitfields to make all structs default to __attribute__((gcc_struct)).
  2. Explicitly use __attribute__((gcc_struct)) on your struct.
  3. Use #pragma pack instead of __attribute__((__packed__)).

Also, as pointed out in the answer by @chqrlie, there are some other things not ideal in your code. Especially when reading binary data, you should normally open the file in binary mode and not text mode, unless you know what you are doing (which you possibly are, since the file has a .txt extension).