Understanding Pointers in C++

  • Last updated Apr 25, 2024

Pointers are essential in C++ for a wide range of tasks, from efficient memory management to creating complex data structures. In this tutorial, you will learn what pointers are in C++, how to use them effectively, and their significance in the C++ programming landscape.

What Are Pointers?

In C++, a pointer is a variable that stores the memory address of another variable. Think of it as a GPS for your data, showing you exactly where it's located. Unlike other programming languages, C++ allows for explicit memory management through pointers, giving you more control but also more responsibility.

Symbols and Operators used with Pointers in C++
Symbol Name Description
& (Ampersand)
Address operator
Used to determine the address of a variable.
* (Asterisk)
Indirection operator
Used to access the value of an address.
The Structure of a Pointer

A pointer is defined by the data type it points to. For instance, if you want to create a pointer to an integer, you'd declare it like this:

int* myPointer;

The asterisk (*) in the declaration is the pointer operator, which signifies that myPointer is a pointer to an integer.

Using Pointers

Here's how to use pointers in C++:

  1. Declaring and Initializing Pointers:
  2. To initialize a pointer, assign it the address of a variable of the same data type. For example:

    int myValue = 10;
    int* pointerToValue = &myValue;
  3. Accessing Data:
  4. To access the data a pointer points to, you can use the dereference operator (*). For example:

    int valueFromPointer = *pointerToValue; // valueFromPointer will be 10
  5. Dynamic Memory Allocation:
  6. Pointers allow to allocate memory dynamically. For example:

    int* dynamicArray = new int[5]; // Allocate an array of 5 integers
  7. Pointers to Pointers:
  8. Pointers can point to other pointers, enabling multi-level data structures. For example:

    int** pointerToPointer = &pointerToValue; // Pointer to a pointer
Common Mistakes

Here are some common mistakes to avoid when dealing with Pointers in C++:

  1. Null Pointers: Ensure that pointers are always initialized to prevent undefined behavior.
  2. int* myPointer = nullptr; // Modern C++
  3. Dangling Pointers: Exercise caution regarding the scope of the variable after a pointer has been assigned to it.
  4. Memory Leaks: When you allocate memory dynamically, remember to release it when it's no longer needed.
  5. delete[] dynamicArray; // Free up the memory
Advantage of using Pointers in C++

  • Pointers make us able to access any memory location in the computer's memory.
  • Pointers improve speed performance.
  • Pointers efficiently handle arrays and strings.
  • Functions can return multiple values using Pointers.
  • Pointers can reduce code and save memory.
Example Code

Here's a real-world example of using pointers in C++: managing dynamic memory for an array of integers.

#include <iostream>

int main() {
    // Prompt the user for the size of the array
    int size;
    std::cout << "Enter the size of the array: ";
    std::cin >> size;

    // Dynamically allocate an array of integers of the given size
    int* dynamicArray = new int[size];

    // Populate the array with values
    for (int i = 0; i < size; i++) {
        dynamicArray[i] = i * 2;

    // Display the array using a pointer
    int* ptr = dynamicArray;
    std::cout << "Array elements: ";
    for (int i = 0; i < size; i++) {
        std::cout << *ptr << " ";
    std::cout << std::endl;

    // Deallocate the dynamically allocated memory to prevent memory leaks
    delete[] dynamicArray;

    return 0;

In this example, the user is prompted to enter the desired size of the array for which memory will be allocated. This size is stored in the "size" variable. Subsequently, an array of integers of the specified size is dynamically allocated using the "new" operator, and a pointer to the first element of the array is stored in the "dynamicArray" pointer. The array is then populated with values, in this case, it's filled with even numbers. A separate pointer, "ptr", is used to iterate through the dynamically allocated array and print its elements. Finally, the allocated memory is deallocated using delete[] to prevent memory leaks. This scenario illustrates a common real-world use case for pointers in C++ managing dynamic memory allocation and efficiently accessing elements in an array, emphasizing the importance of pointers in C++ for this purpose.