C++ Pointers

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C++ pointers are easy and fun to learn. Some C++ tasks are performed more easily with pointers, and other C++ tasks, such as dynamic memory allocation, cannot be performed without them.

As you know every variable is a memory location and every memory location has its address defined which can be accessed using ampersand (&) operator which denotes an address in memory. Consider the following which will print the address of the variables defined:

#include <iostream>

using namespace std;

int main ()
{
   int  var1;
   char var2[10];

   cout << "Address of var1 variable: ";
   cout << &var1 << endl;

   cout << "Address of var2 variable: ";
   cout << &var2 << endl;

   return 0;
}

When the above code is compiled and executed, it produces result something as follows:

Address of var1 variable: 0xbfebd5c0
Address of var2 variable: 0xbfebd5b6

What Are Pointers?

A pointer is a variable whose value is the address of another variable. Like any variable or constant, you must declare a pointer before you can work with it. The general form of a pointer variable declaration is:

type *var-name;

Here, type is the pointer's base type; it must be a valid C++ type and var-name is the name of the pointer variable. The asterisk you used to declare a pointer is the same asterisk that you use for multiplication. However, in this statement the asterisk is being used to designate a variable as a pointer. Following are the valid pointer declaration:

int    *ip;    // pointer to an integer
double *dp;    // pointer to a double
float  *fp;    // pointer to a float
char   *ch     // pointer to character

The actual data type of the value of all pointers, whether integer, float, character, or otherwise, is the same, a long hexadecimal number that represents a memory address. The only difference between pointers of different data types is the data type of the variable or constant that the pointer points to.

Using Pointers in C++:

There are few important operations, which we will do with the pointers very frequently. (a) we define a pointer variables (b) assign the address of a variable to a pointer and (c) finally access the value at the address available in the pointer variable. This is done by using unary operator * that returns the value of the variable located at the address specified by its operand. Following example makes use of these operations:

#include <iostream>

using namespace std;

int main ()
{
   int  var = 20;   // actual variable declaration.
   int  *ip;        // pointer variable 

   ip = &var;       // store address of var in pointer variable

   cout << "Value of var variable: ";
   cout << var << endl;

   // print the address stored in ip pointer variable
   cout << "Address stored in ip variable: ";
   cout << ip << endl;

   // access the value at the address available in pointer
   cout << "Value of *ip variable: ";
   cout << *ip << endl;

   return 0;
}

When the above code is compiled and executed, it produces result something as follows:

Value of var variable: 20
Address stored in ip variable: 0xbfc601ac
Value of *ip variable: 20

C++ Pointers in Detail:

Pointers have many but easy concepts and they are very important to C++ programming. There are following few important pointer concepts which should be clear to a C++ programmer:

ConceptDescription
C++ Null PointersC++ supports null pointer, which is a constant with a value of zero defined in several standard libraries.
C++ pointer arithmeticThere are four arithmetic operators that can be used on pointers: ++, --, +, -
C++ pointers vs arraysThere is a close relationship between pointers and arrays. Let us check how?
C++ array of pointersYou can define arrays to hold a number of pointers.
C++ pointer to pointerC++ allows you to have pointer on a pointer and so on.
Passing pointers to functionsPassing an argument by reference or by address both enable the passed argument to be changed in the calling function by the called function.
Return pointer from functionsC++ allows a function to return a pointer to local variable, static variable and dynamically allocated memory as well.



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