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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Some details about Pointers to Arrays in C

A pointer is a variable that holds a memory address, usually of another variable in memory. The pointers are one of the most powerful and strongest features of C language. The correct understanding and use of pointers is critical to successful programming in C. pointer’s support C’s dynamic memory allocation routines. Pointers provide the means through which the memory location of a variable can be directly accessed and hence can be manipulated in the required way. Lastly, pointers can improve the efficiency of certain routines. Arrays and pointers are very loosely linked. C treats the name of array as if it were a pointer.
Consider the following code snippet:

Int *a ; // a is a pointer to an integer
Int age [10] ; //age is an array holding ten integers
For (int I = 0; I < 10 ; I ++)
a = age ; // makes a to point to the location where age points to. Age is a pointer pointing to age [0].

In the above code a is a pointer and age is an array holding 10 integers. The pointer a is made to point where age is pointing to. Since the name of an array is a pointer to its first element, the array name + 1 gives the address of the second element of the array, array name + 2 gives the address of the 3rd element, and so forth.

Pointers also may be arrayed like any other data type. To declare an array holding 10 integer pointers, the declaration would be as follows:

Int *ip [10] ; // array of 10 int pointers

After this declaration, contiguous memory would be allocated for 10 pointers that can point to integers. Now each of the pointers, the elements of pointer array, may be initialized. We can use the following statement:

Ip [3] = &a ;

To find the value of a, you can use the below given statement:
*ip [3] ;

The name of an array is actually a pointer to the first element of the array, the same holds true for the array of pointers also. Most often, an operation is carried on successive elements of an array. Using a loop for it and using the array elements indices. Consider the following code fragment that initializes an array to 0:

Const int abc = 20 ;
Int arr [ abc ] ;
For ( int I = 0 ; I < abc ; i++ )
Arr [ I ] = 0 ;

To execute the above code snippet, the compiler computes the address of array [ I ] every time by multiplying the index I by the size of an array element. That is, the compiler performs the multiplication for each element. A faster alternative would be to use a pointer as shown below:

Const int abc = 20 ;
Int arr [ abc ] ;
Int * arr2 ;
For ( arr2 = arr ; arr2 < &arr [ abc ] ; arr2++ )
*arr2 = 0;

Now the compiler only needs to evaluate a subscript once, when setting up the loop, and so saves 19 multiplication operations. So it is faster to use an element pointer than an index when you need to scan the arrays in a program. Pointers in c are defined by their data type and values. The data type determines the increment or decrements of the pointer value. The value is the address of the memory location to which the pointer is pointing. If you are using array notation, you don’t need to pass the dimensions.

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