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# need a bit of explanation here

## need a bit of explanation here

(OP)
I am new at C++ and I was wondering what we really use pointer for?

Do we absolutely need them? I understand how they work but I see no point in using them.

Could anyone give a concret example of a situation where we really need pointers?

GroundZero

Life is difficult...

Now guess why we're here

Replies continue below

### RE: need a bit of explanation here

Pointer is very useful...
You can do thing like this..

Without Pointer :
int a,b=7;
a=b; // Value in a=7 and in b=5;
b=5; // value in a=7 and in b=5;

if we want to make a is always replaced with value from b, we have to use pointer;
int *a,*b=7;
a=b; // Value *a=7,*b=7;
*b=5; // Value in *a=5,*b=5;
*b=9; // Value in *a=9,*b=9;

It's very simple example, but it's very useful.

### RE: need a bit of explanation here

That last example is not inclusive by any means.  Pointers are very helpful, and also make it very easy to shoot yourself in the foot.  There are many examples of things that you can easily do with pointers that are nearly impossible to do without them, including dynamic memroy allocation, linked lists (and other data structures), and so on and so forth.

Disclaimer:
Beware: Studies have shown that research causes cancer in lab rats.

### RE: need a bit of explanation here

Here is a concrete example of pointers . Suppose we have a program called MyCopy which copies one file to another. It could copy in binary mode "/b" or ascii "/a". Your program start with something like this . . .

int main (int argc, char *argv[])
{
.
.
.
return 0
}

You could call the program like "MyCopy C:\File D:\File2 /b". MyCopy would copy the file named "File" on the C: drive to the D: drive with the name "File2" using binary mode. In your program, argc is the number of arguments being passed to your program. If the number of arguments is less than expected, you could produce an error condition.

The real key is *argv. This is a pointer to the array that holds the arguments being passed. In this example, they are "C:\File," "D:\File2," and "/b." Your program would take these pointers and look up the arguments and do whatever you need to with them. This is very difficult (impossible?) without pointers.

James P. Cottingham
www.ivcusa.com

### RE: need a bit of explanation here

Hi!

Well, this is a long mail. I took the trouble of elaborating a long answer to your interesting question.

Hope it helps!

The concept of pointers comes from the machine language, where variables are handled as memory locations ("address").The same concept has been imported into the C language, and later into C++. The ability to use pointers in C and C++ is in my opinion the originality of these languages because it brings the power of assembly language in a high level language (the ability to manage memory). Any programmer in C++ must master the concept of pointers. If you want to skip pointers, just go to Java.

To understand the reason why pointers are so powerful, you need to enter into details. So please forgive me here to recall the basics.

For each variable you are obliged to make a clear difference between

a) its name;
b) its value;
c) its address, i.e the location in memory where the value is stored.

In order to handle addresses, you are obliged to introduce a new type of variable devoted to address storage, which is called pointer.

A pointer is itself a variable, with a value, a name and an associated address.
The value of a pointer is the address where the value of ANOTHER variable can be found.

The association between a name and an address is done in C++ by means of the operator & "address of".
The association between a value and an address is done in C++ by means of the operator * "content of location".

Ex A:

int MyVar=12 ;     // declare an integer named "MyVar" and assign a value to it. This integer will be stored in memory, let's say at address 43411D4B.

int * pMyVar ;     // declare a pointer named "pMyVar", which will hold the location of an integer. Be careful here that * means "pointer to", it is not a "content of".

pMyVar=&MyVar;     // assign the address of MyVar in pMyVar. The value of variable pMyVar is therefore 43411D4B. Operator "address of".

int c;               // declare an integer named "c" and allocate 4 bytes in memory to store its future value. These four bytes are located at address, let's say 4587abbf.

c=*pMyVar;         // take the value stored in pMyVar, ie at location 43411D4B, and store it into c, ie at location 4587abbf. Then c=12. Operator "content of".

At locations 43411D4B ("c") and 4587abbf ("myVar") the same value 12 is stocked. Therefore c is a copy of MyVar.

Now if you change the value of MyVar,

MyVar=15;

c and MyVar now holds two different values at two different locations.

But *pMyVar automatically holds 15. In my example, MyVar and *pMyVar are two different names for the same location, and thus possess the same value. This is an important reason of using pointers; it offers new possibilities of manipulating data, such as in the following, more elaborate example.

Ex B:

Suppose you are dealing with a structure or an object or a table, ie. an entity occupying a large amount of RAM, and say, you want to transmit it to a function. Let us call O this entity, and func, the function.

if you declare the function like this:

void func (entity 0)  // transmission by value;

you are actually giving A FULL COPY of O to func. O may be several bytes long, and it takes processor time for the transmission. Second, if func makes any modification to its argument, it will make it on the copy of O. When the function returns, the modifications will not be impacted on the original O.

if you declare the function like this:

void func (entity *O) // transmission by address;

you are telling func WHERE it can find the original O. The address takes up only 4 bytes, so it takes less processor time to transmit the argument. And any modification to O are directly impacted to the original, because you are actually manipulating the original.

The drawback is that you are handling a pointer, and any access to, let's say, a field in the structure O must be done with a special syntax (use of -> and * operators). Once you know the rules, it is very easy to live with this drawback!

I have a poor knowledge of Java, but I have read somewhere (please correct me if I'm wrong) that in Java, all function declarations are of the first type, but the arguments are implicit pointers (called references).
it means that when you call func(O) the address of O is substituted to O, and all calls are implicitely done "by address" (actually "by reference"), without the programmer noticing that he is using pointers.

C/C++ have the advantage that you know precisely what you are dealing with; but you need to take the trouble of understanding the underlying concepts.

Ex C:

C and C++ are naturally using pointers when dealing with tables.

When you declare a table

int MyTable[12];

you are:
allocating 12 consecutive integers;
declaring a pointer to an int, called MyTable;
assigning to the pointer MyTable, the address of the first integer in the table.

later, an assignment such as:
c=MyTable[6];

means:
take the address stored in MyTable;
take the value stored in the resulting address;
assign this value to c.

Ex D:

Consider the entry point in C++:

int main( int argc, char **argv);  // (you can replace this by either OwlMain or WinMain, depending on your application framework)

What does char **argv mean?

It means that argv is a pointer to a variable of type char *.

what is a variable of type char * ? This means: the address where you can find a variable of type char.

If now you look Ex C: you see that there is no difference between types

char MyString[ANY_LENGTH];

and char * MyString.  Because a table of characters (i.e, a string) is handled in C/C++ as a pointer to the first character of the string.

Therefore char **argv means:

the address where I can find a table of pointers to the first characters of several strings !!

In our case, these strings are the command line arguments that are passed to the function.

ex:

"My first string"

"The second string"

"Etc..."

Let's say the M of first string is located at memory 47853666;
T    second                            78566ffd;
E    third                             a456ee23;

Now argv is a pointer that contains the address, let's say 2321dde1;

and at address 2321dde1 you find the following consecutive bytes:
47853666
78566ffd
a456ee23

Ex E:

More sophisticated uses of pointers.
Advanced data structures such as chained lists;
Associations between classes in objet oriented programming;
etc...

Enough now! If you have interest in Ex E, I can tell you more about it, in a separate mail!

Woliwol

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