C++ Pointers


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 the following result −

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 variable. (b) Assign the address of a variable to a pointer. (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

Pointers in C++

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 −

Sr.No Concept & Description
1 Null Pointers

C++ supports null pointer, which is a constant with a value of zero defined in several standard libraries.

2 Pointer Arithmetic

There are four arithmetic operators that can be used on pointers: ++, --, +, -

3 Pointers vs Arrays

There is a close relationship between pointers and arrays.

4 Array of Pointers

You can define arrays to hold a number of pointers.

5 Pointer to Pointer

C++ allows you to have pointer on a pointer and so on.

6 Passing Pointers to Functions

Passing an argument by reference or by address both enable the passed argument to be changed in the calling function by the called function.

7 Return Pointer from Functions

C++ allows a function to return a pointer to local variable, static variable and dynamically allocated memory as well.