I'm new to Arduino and embedded, but understand that it is often better to use global instead of local variables (such as here or here).

I have this simple code (from here):

#include <DHT.h>;

#define DHTPIN 2     // what pin we're connected to
#define DHTTYPE DHT22   // DHT 22  (AM2302)
DHT dht(DHTPIN, DHTTYPE); //// Initialize DHT sensor for normal 16mhz Arduino

float hum;  //Stores humidity value
float temp; //Stores temperature value

void setup()


void loop()
    //Read data and store it to variables hum and temp
    hum = dht.readHumidity();
    temp= dht.readTemperature();
    //Print temp and humidity values to serial monitor
    Serial.print("Humidity: ");
    Serial.print(" %, Temp: ");
    Serial.println(" Celsius");
    delay(2000); //Delay 2 sec.

My ancient C programmer training (Unix servers) says I must move variables hum and temp to loop(), or is it better on Arduino to leave them as globals?

  • This depends on how you define "better". For instance, when is "global" necessary? When can a "local" work just as well? Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 9:24
  • 4
    Since the AVR CPU is a register-rich system, putting the variables in loop may well cause the compiler to go "Oh, I have enough registers to store this information. I don't need these variables in memory since they get thrown away straight after using them. I'll delete them and just use internal registers instead.". Optimizations are great :)
    – Majenko
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 10:02
  • 1
    If you are an ancient C programmer, then try functions with parameters "by reference". The compiler can do more optimizations with that. Passing a global variable by reference is almost the same for the compiler as using the global variable in the function, but with the parameter by reference it still does look good because the used variables are nicely declared as parameters. By the way, the dht22 is not accurate, try something better.
    – Jot
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 10:57
  • @Jot - it's cheap! And my project is not critical. Or is there something better in the same price bracket?
    – minisaurus
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 13:45
  • 1
    The humidity that the dht22 returns is not accurate, it is only an indication and can be used to check if the humidity goes up or down. When it measures 60%, the relative humidity can be between 40% and 80%. The good sensors with i2c are still 2% or 3% inaccurate. Those sensors are for example the bme280, bme680, htu21d, sht31-d, si7021. Those sensors are 3.3v and the arduino uno is 5. You might need level shifters for the i2c bus. For just the temperature, the ds18b20 is the best choice, good and cheap.
    – Jot
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 16:03

3 Answers 3


No. If you have the choice, locals are usually better, because they minimize the risk of name collision, and they help make the program clearer by keeping the variable definition close to the place where it is used. In your example, hum and temp should be locals, as there is no good reason to make them globals.

However, sometimes you don't have the choice. If a variable is used in both setup() and loop(), then it needs to be global. This is the case of dht in your example.

Sometimes a variable is used in many functions. Even if you can make it local, by passing it around through function parameters, doing so doesn't make the program more readable. In that case you may also prefer to keep it global.

Sometimes a variable that is used in only one function needs to be statically allocated in order to preserve its value across calls to the function. In this case the variable could be a static local. However, since the static keyword is somewhat obscure for beginner programmers, Arduino tutorials tend to use globals whenever static storage is needed. You are not required to follow this practice, although you may want to if you are writing for an audience of novices.

In any case, the take away of your first two links is not that you should prefer globals: it's that sometimes there is a good reason for making a variable global, and that's fine.

  • Thanks for all your answers, I've changed the code, and it's good to know I don't need to change my practices too much :) (Global variables were banned in all the development environments I worked in in the 1990s) So am I right to conclude that I only NEED to use a global if I refer to it in setup() and loop()? Everything else can be local and passed around?
    – minisaurus
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 10:21
  • 1
    @minisaurus: Yes, that's right. However, now that he ban is lifted, I suggest you try to avoid thinking of globals as evil. If you find yourself passing a variable around through many functions, consider making it global: does that hurt the program's readability? If the answer is “no”, then a global is probably a good choice. Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 10:32
  • I'm out of touch, but is the ban really lifted in professional environments with several developers, APIs, libraries and who knows how many files of source code? But I can see how globals maybe aren't a big problem in these single file small Arduino projects.
    – minisaurus
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 13:50
  • 1
    @minisaurus: I don't know on these environments. My answer is specifically for the kind of programs you write on smallish embedded devices. Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 15:36

The general rule of good practice is to minimize the scope of a variable to necessary minimum. Write the code to be readable and maintainable, don't do premature optimization.

The variables hum and temp should be defined only in loop(). The compiler can optimize it by putting them to global space or using MCU registers only, to avoid repeated creation on stack.


Not an answer, but I thought some of you may be interested in the C coding standards of some projects in the 1990s (based on the EDS standards, if I remember correctly).

A summary of the rules is:

  • No goto
  • No global variables
  • All functions (including main) to return an integer which is either SUCCESS or FAILURE
  • All variables declared at start of function
  • All variables declared on a separate line
  • No "in-line" initialising of variables
  • All variables initialised, usually to zero, including mallocs
  • No in-line if's
  • Probably more things that I can't remember

An example program:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

#define SUCCESS 0

int log_error(char *msg) {
  int rv;

  rv = SUCCESS;

  fprintf(stderr, "%s\n", msg);


int function2(void) {
  int rv;

  rv = SUCCESS;


int function1(void) {
  int rv;
  int i;
  char *mem;

  rv = FAILURE;
  i = 0;
  mem = 0;

  if(NULL == (mem = malloc(400))) {
    log_error("Malloc error");
  } else {
    for(i=0; i<400; i++) {
      mem[i] = 0;
    if(SUCCESS != (rv = function2())) {
    } else {
      rv = SUCCESS;

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
  int rv;

  rv = FAILURE;

  if(SUCCESS != (rv = function1())) {
    log_error("function1 error");


Bit different to the way K&R wrote UNIX, and perhaps not too relevant to embedded? I'm not sure which I prefer, I guess both styles have their place depending on the makeup of a team :)

  • You very wisely pointed out that not all of these rules are universal. Just to provide an illustration, the Linux kernel coding style contradicts several of the above, including the bans on gotos (sec. 7) and global variables (sec. 4), having to always return a status code (sec. 16), and variable initialization within the declaration (example on sec. 7). Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 20:28

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