Essay on Understanding and Using C Pointers

Submitted By maxpix
Words: 6098
Pages: 25



A solid understanding of pointers and the ability to effectively use them separates a novice C programmer from a more experienced one. Pointers pervade the language and provide much of its flexibility. They provide important support for dynamic memory allocation, are closely tied to array notation, and, when used to point to functions, add another dimension to flow control in a program. Pointers have long been a stumbling block in learning C. The basic concept of a pointer is simple: it is a variable that stores the address of a memory location. The concept, however, quickly becomes complicated when we start applying pointer operators and try to discern their often cryptic notations. But this does not have to be the case. If we start simple and establish a firm foundation, then the advanced uses of pointers are not hard to follow and apply. The key to comprehending pointers is understanding how memory is managed in a C program. After all, pointers contain addresses in memory. If we don’t understand how memory is organized and managed, it is difficult to understand how pointers work. To address this concern, the organization of memory is illustrated whenever it is useful to explain a pointer concept. Once you have a firm grasp of memory and the ways it can be organized, understanding pointers becomes a lot easier. This chapter presents an introduction to pointers, their operators, and how they interact with memory. The first section examines how they are declared, the basic pointer oper‐ ators, and the concept of null. There are various types of “nulls” supported by C so a careful examination of them can be enlightening. The second section looks more closely at the various memory models you will un‐ doubtedly encounter when working with C. The model used with a given compiler and operating system environment affects how pointers are used. In addition, we closely examine various predefined types related to pointers and the memory models.


Pointer operators are covered in more depth in the next section, including pointer arithmetic and pointer comparisons. The last section examines constants and pointers. The numerous declaration combinations offer many interesting and often very useful possibilities. Whether you are a novice C programmer or an experienced programmer, this book will provide you with a solid understanding of pointers and fill the gaps in your education. The experienced programmer will want to pick and choose the topics of interest. The beginning programmer should probably take a more deliberate approach.

Pointers and Memory
When a C program is compiled, it works with three types of memory: Static/Global Statically declared variables are allocated to this type of memory. Global variables also use this region of memory. They are allocated when the program starts and remain in existence until the program terminates. While all functions have access to global variables, the scope of static variables is restricted to their defining func‐ tion. Automatic These variables are declared within a function and are created when a function is called. Their scope is restricted to the function, and their lifetime is limited to the time the function is executing. Dynamic Memory is allocated from the heap and can be released as necessary. A pointer references the allocated memory. The scope is limited to the pointer or pointers that reference the memory. It exists until it is released. This is the focus of Chapter 2. Table 1-1 summarizes the scope of and lifetime of variables used in these memory regions. Table 1-1. Scope and lifetime
Scope Global Static Dynamic The entire file The function it is declared within Lifetime The lifetime of the application The lifetime of the application While the function is executing

Automatic (local) The function it is declared within

Determined by the pointers that reference this memory Until the memory is freed

Understanding these types of memory…