CS 50 Software Design and Implementation

Lecture 9

Pointers and Dynamic Memory Allocation

In this lecture, we carr on our introduction to the C language.


We plan to learn the following from today’s lecture:

Pointer Arithmetic on Structs

When you incremet and decrement a pointer it adjust based on the data type pointed to by the pointer. In the previous examples the data type pointed to was a char - which is a byte (8 bits) in terms of strorage. So p++ (where char *p) increments by obe byte of 8 bits. But what happens if the pointer p points to a structure?

C code: pointers.c

The contents of pointers.c looks like this:


 File: pointers.c

 Description: Creates an array of struct types. Initialises and computes
 on an array of structs. The code is written to study the address of
 pointers and to look at what happens when pointers are incremented
 and decremented.

 Input: None

 Output: Prints various contents of pointers to the display


#include <stdio.h>

#define NUMPEOPLE  100

  // Note the struct array in a little different from one defined in
  // Lecture 6. Here the array definitions for name and address are
  // pointers to characters. Note, we use typedef to define the structure
  // type. Saves use using the name struct when defining instances of
  // this type.

typedef struct _person {
     char *name;
     char *addr;
     int age;
} person;

// How big is person struct?

person people[NUMPEOPLE];
person *p;
int age;

char *myname = "Andrew T. Campbell";
char *myadr =  "People’s Republic of Norwich";

int main() {

  // intiatlise p to the address of the people array
  // of struct person (which is the tag)

  p = people;

  int i;

  // how much storage is needed for a pointer?
  // how much storage is needed for a struct of person?

  printf("pointer needs %ld bytes, struct people 0x%x (HEX) bytes\n", sizeof(p), (unsigned int)sizeof(person));

  // how much storage for the array of people?
  // what is the address in memory of the p and people variables?

  printf("The address of p is %p, it’s contes are (i.e., it points to) %p\n",(void *)&p,(void *)p);

  printf("The address of people is %p\n", (void *)people);

  // increment to next person in the table


  printf("after incrementing p its value is %p\n", (void *)p);

  // decrement to the previous person


  printf("after decrementing p its value is %p\n", (void *)p);

  // Let’s initialise our array

  for (i=0; i < NUMPEOPLE; i++) {
     people[i].age = 21;
     people[i].name = myname;
     people[i].addr = myadr;

  // Let’s reset p (even though it points to people already)

  p = people;

  // Let’s compute the total age for people.
  // NOTE, that we use the pointer p and incremet p to move through
  // the array of structs. Importantly we use the "->" symbol to
  // index elements in the struct.

  for (i=0; i < NUMPEOPLE; i++) {
     age += p->age;  // note the -> not . is used

  p = people;

  printf("%s is %d years old (again) and lives in %s\n", p->name, p->age, p->addr);

  printf("The accumulative age of all people is %d years\n", age);

  return 0;


If you compile and run pointers then you get the following. Look closely at the pointer values and the address of the people array of structs and the various sizes of data types including a pointer and the size of the person struct.

[atc@dhcp-210-161 l8] ./pointers
pointer needs 4 bytes, struct people 0xc (HEX) bytes
The address of p is 0x2070, it’s contes are (i.e., it points to) 0x2080
The address of people is 0x2080
after incrementing p its value is 0x208c
after decrementing p its value is 0x2080
Andrew T. Campbell is 21 years old (again) and lives in People’s Republic of Norwich
The accumulative age of all people is 2100 years

Sorting an array of values

A frequently required operation is to sort an array of, say, integers or characters. The standard C library provides a generic function named qsort() to help with this, but we must write a pointer-based function to perform the comparison of the arrays elements:

  #include <stdlib.h>

  #define N 100

  int compare(const int *ip, const int *jp) {

      return(*i - *j);


  int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {

    int i;
    int values[N];

    srandom( getpid() );

    for(i=0 ; i<N ; i++)
        values[i] = random();

    qsort((void *)values, (size_t)N,sizeof(values[0]), compare);


Dynamic memory allocation

The function malloc() returns a requested number of bytes from the operating systems heap. If insufficient memory is available malloc returns NULL. When we are finished using the space returned by malloc(), our program should be returned to the heap with a call to free(). If a process continues to malloc() memory and fails to deallocate it using free(), the process will quickly run out of memory and terminate ungracefully.

The dynamic memory management functions are supported by the standard C library and their detailed function protypes are found in stdlib.h. Memor allocation functions allow programmers to dynamically allocate memory from the heap for variables, arrays, and structures; rather that statically allocating space on the stack. Many times it is not possible to know in advance of run time of a program what the memory demands for the program are. People that use static allocation somewhat have to second guess what the worst case memory needs are and statically allocation that at compile time. This is not a good programming principle. Better to make your program general and capable of dealing with a wide variety of demands - the message, but the smarts into the program and don’t second guess.

The following memory management prototypes are supported:

Note:Unlike Java, C has no garbage collection of heap objects, and so programs must be very careful about deallocating memory that is no longer required.

The memory management functions use “pointer to void” (void *) which allows the programmer to assign the returned pointer to memory to any struct, array, variable without casting. This is a very good example of the use of pointer to void.

Consider the following example which allocates space for a new copy of a given string. This is very similar to the standard function named strdup():

// malloc returns a pointer to void for the number of bytes requested

  void *malloc(unsigned int nbytes);

  char *newstr(const char *s) {

      char *p;

      if( (p=malloc(strlen(s)+1)) == NULL ) {
          fprintf(stderr,"out of memory!\n");



malloc() is also frequently used to allocate memory for structures.

  #define NEW(t) malloc(sizeof(t))

  struct l {
      char *line;
      struct l *next;

 struct l *hd = malloc( sizeof(struct l) ), *p;

 fgets(buf, MAX, fp);

 while( !feof(fp) ) {
    p =NEW(struct l);
    p->line = newstr(buf);
    p->next = hd;
    hd = p;


The program below uses malloc to dynamically create an array of integers based on the user input n. The program allocates the memory, fills it with random integers scaled between 18 and -9, displays the array and frees the memory. It does this forever.

C code: memory.c

The contents of memory.c looks like this:

Compilie the code and run it.


 File: memory.c

 Description: Uses malloc to dynamically create an array of n ints. The
 user enters n. The program allocates the memory, fills it with random integers
 scaled between 18 and -9, displays the array and frees the memory. It does
 this forever

 Input: User enters size of the array.

 Output: Displays the contents of the full array and sums up all the elements.

 This problem is adapted from A Book on C (Kelly, Pohl) pg. 261.



// local header file for memory with various useful macros.

#include "header.h"

// prototypes

void initArray(int *, int );
int  sumArray(int *, int );
void displayArray(int *, int );

int main (void) {

  int *ip, n;


 "This program does the following repeatedly:\n"
 "     1) Create space for an array of size n\n"
 "     2) Fill the array with randomly distributed digits\n"
 "     3) Prints the array and the sum of its elements\n"
 "     4) Frees the allocated memory\n");

  for ( ; ; ) { // do forever

    printf("Input the size of array you want created. n: ");
    if (scanf("%d", &n) !=1 || n < 1) {
      LOG("Usage: n has to be > 0\n\n");
      continue;  // try again

    // User enters size of array. We dynamically allocate memory using the
    // MALLOC_CHECK and display the array. Note, that malloc() allocate
    // unused space for an object whose size in bytes is specified by n
    // and whose value is unspecified. Because of that it is a good idea
    //to zeroise the returned memory.


    // allocate memory - n bytes; that is n*sizeof(int) bytes

    ip = malloc(n*sizeof(int));

    // display malloc’d array, recall memory not specified could be any value

    displayArray(ip, n);

    // display BZERO’d array

    BZERO(ip, n*sizeof(int));
    displayArray(ip, n);

    // display initialed array and sum

    initArray(ip, n);
    displayArray(ip, n);
    printf("Sum = %d\n\n", sumArray(ip, n));

    // don’t forget to free the memory or we will have memory leaks


  return 0;

void initArray(int *a, int n) {

  int i;

  for (i = 0; i < n; i++)
    a[i] = rand()%19 - 9; // scales between 18 and - 9


int sumArray(int *a, int n) {

  int i, sum =0;

  for (i = 0; i < n; i++)
    sum += a[i];



void displayArray(int *a, int n) {

  int i;

  printf("a = [");

  for (i = 0; i < n; i++)
    printf("%d%s", a[i], ((i < n - 1) ? ", " : "]\n"));


Use macros and header files

Here is the header file header.h. It defines a number of useful macros that you can use in the TinySearch Engine project.

C code: header.h

The contents of header.c looks like this:

//    Filename: header.h
//    Description: Some utilites for the TinySearchEngine engine project - MACROs for
//              general memory allocation and initialization and some
//              program exceptions processing

// Note, the header check below makes sure you do not include a header file twice. Use it.

#ifndef _HEADER_H_
#define _HEADER_H_

#define min(x,y)   ((x)>(y))?(y):(x)

// Print  s together with the source file name and the current line number.
#define LOG(s)  printf("[%s:%d]%s\n", __FILE__, __LINE__, s)

// malloc a new data structure t

#define NEW(t) malloc(sizeof(t))

// Check whether  s is NULL or not. Quit this program if it is NULL.
#define MYASSERT(s)  if (!(s))   {                                      \
    printf("General Assert Error at %s:line%d\n", __FILE__, __LINE__);  \
    exit(-1); \

// Check whether s is NULL or not on a memory allocation. Quit this program if it is NULL.
#define MALLOC_CHECK(s)  if ((s) == NULL)   {                     \
    printf("No enough memory at %s:line%d ", __FILE__, __LINE__); \
    perror(":");                                                  \
    exit(-1); \

// Set memory space starts at pointer \a n of size \a m to zero.
#define BZERO(n,m)  memset(n, 0, m)


Examples of mallocing crawler data structures

We have discuss pointers and we have looked at simple allocation of arrays using dynamic memory. Note that malloc (which we will use through the course) returns a “pointer to void” (void *) allowing the returning pointer to be “cast” to any data structure. In what follows, we use sample code that is relevant to the crawler and allocate memory for some important data structures, including, the dictionary, DNODE and URLNODE. Don’t worry that you do not know the meaning of these structures at this point. You will become very familiar with them.

So let’s write some code to dynamically create the dictionary. After that we will allocate a URLNODE and DNODE and link them into the structure. This is similar to what you need to do in the real crawler code - so take a close look.

C code: dictionary-example.c

The contents of header.c looks like this:

// Filename: dictionary-example.c
// Descriptions: The main goal of this code is to show malloc in use - dynamically allocating memory
//               to dat structures.
//               Some example code that shows how malloc and return from void/ casting pointers
//               can be used. The code below is drawn from the crawler implementation.
//               While it is imcomplete code it illustrates how important data structures
//               such as the DICTIONARY, DNODE and URLNODE dynamically created using malloc.
//               A note on the dictionary:
//               A dictionary provides general purpose data structure based on a hash table
//               where data elements (in this case URLNODEs) are assigned with a key and stored in DNODE.
//               The full blown dictionary functions (not presented below) provide the code for
//               adding/removing/searching data elements (URLNODEs) inside the dictionary
//               at super fast  speed.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <memory.h>
//#include "dictionary.h"
#include "header.h"

// Unlikely to have more than an a URL longer that 1000 chars.
// The KEY is the same as a URL. The term KEY is just a
// general Dictionary/hash function term

#define KEY_LENGTH 1000

// Maximum number of hash slot in the hash table within dictionary

#define MAX_HASH_SLOT 10000

// These structures are defined in the header file dictionary.h but I put them here for ease of
// discussion.

typedef struct _DNODE {
  struct _DNODE* next;
  struct _DNODE* prev;
  void* data;            // actual data, in this case pointer to a URLNODE
  char key[KEY_LENGTH];  // the actual key, in this case the URL
} __DNODE;

typedef struct _DNODE DNODE;

// The DICTIONARY holds the hash table and the start and end pointers into a double
// link list. This is a unordered list with the exception that DNODES with the same key (URL)
// are clusters along the list. So you hash into the list. Check for uniqueness of the URL.
// If not found add to the end of the cluster associated wit the same URL. You will have
// to write an addElement function.

typedef struct _DICTIONARY {
  DNODE* hash[MAX_HASH_SLOT]; // the hash table of slots, each slot points to a DNODE
  DNODE* start;               // start of double link list of DNODES terminated by NULL pointer
  DNODE* end;                 // points to the last DNODE on this list


// The max length of each URL path.
#define MAX_URL_LENGTH 1000

// store the information of each URL.
typedef struct _URL{
  char url[MAX_URL_LENGTH];      //!< e.g., www.cs.dartmouth.edu
  int depth;                     //!<  depth associated with this URL.
  int visited;                   //!<  crawled or not, marked true(1), otherwise false(0)
} __URL;

typedef struct _URL URLNODE;

// These dummy routine just return a fixed value to keep the main code happy

unsigned long hash=20;

int make_hash(char *c)

int  main(void){

  // Set up a dummy URL and depth

  char  *url="http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~campbell/";
  int   depth = 1;

  // Initialise the dictionary data structure

  DICTIONARY *dict = (DICTIONARY *)malloc(sizeof(DICTIONARY));
  BZERO(dict, sizeof(DICTIONARY));

  // Set up a URLNODE

  URLNODE *n = (URLNODE *)malloc(sizeof(URLNODE));
  n->depth = depth;
  n->visited = 0;
  BZERO(n->url, sizeof(n->url));
  strncpy(n->url, url, strlen(url));

  //  At this point we would call a function that would add the URLNODE to
  //  the dictionary if it did not already exist; for example, DAdd(dict, n, url);
  //  Here is a little of the code in that function. It is of course incomplete.

  int h = make_hash(url);

  if (dict->start == NULL) {
    MYASSERT(dict->end == NULL);
    DNODE *d = (DNODE *)malloc(sizeof(DNODE));
    BZERO(d, sizeof(DNODE));
    dict->hash[h] = d;
    d->next = d->prev = NULL;
    d->data = n;
    // you would need to copy the key over here
    dict->start = dict->end = d;

    printf("The DICTIONARY structure dict:\n");
    printf("dict %p\n",(void *)dict);
    printf("hash %lu\n", hash);
    printf("dict->hash[hash] %p\n",(void *)dict->hash[hash]);
    printf("dict->start %p\n",(void *)dict->start);
    printf("dict->end %p\n",(void *)dict->end);

    printf("The DNODE structure d:\n");
    printf("d %p\n",(void *)d);
    printf("d->next %p\n",(void *)d->next);
    printf("d->prev %p\n",(void *)d->prev);
    printf("d->data %p\n",(void *)d->data);
    printf("d->key is not initialized in this example");

    printf("The URLNODE structure:\n");
    printf("n %p\n",(void *)n);
    printf("n->url %s\n",n->url);
    printf("n->visited %d\n",n->depth);
    printf("n->visited %d\n",n->visited);

  } else {
    // need to check if the DNODE already exists
    // If it does not exist then initial DNODE and
    // link in URLNODE
  return 0;