Asked  7 Months ago    Answers:  5   Viewed   22 times

I am reading a book called "Teach Yourself C in 21 Days" (I have already learned Java and C# so I am moving at a much faster pace). I was reading the chapter on pointers and the -> (arrow) operator came up without explanation. I think that it is used to call members and functions (like the equivalent of the . (dot) operator, but for pointers instead of members). But I am not entirely sure.

Could I please get an explanation and a code sample?



foo->bar is equivalent to (*foo).bar, i.e. it gets the member called bar from the struct that foo points to.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021
answered 7 Months ago

Sydius outlined the types fairly well:

  • Normal pointers are just that - they point to some thing in memory somewhere. Who owns it? Only the comments will let you know. Who frees it? Hopefully the owner at some point.
  • Smart pointers are a blanket term that cover many types; I'll assume you meant scoped pointer which uses the RAII pattern. It is a stack-allocated object that wraps a pointer; when it goes out of scope, it calls delete on the pointer it wraps. It "owns" the contained pointer in that it is in charge of deleteing it at some point. They allow you to get a raw reference to the pointer they wrap for passing to other methods, as well as releasing the pointer, allowing someone else to own it. Copying them does not make sense.
  • Shared pointers is a stack-allocated object that wraps a pointer so that you don't have to know who owns it. When the last shared pointer for an object in memory is destructed, the wrapped pointer will also be deleted.

How about when you should use them? You will either make heavy use of scoped pointers or shared pointers. How many threads are running in your application? If the answer is "potentially a lot", shared pointers can turn out to be a performance bottleneck if used everywhere. The reason being that creating/copying/destructing a shared pointer needs to be an atomic operation, and this can hinder performance if you have many threads running. However, it won't always be the case - only testing will tell you for sure.

There is an argument (that I like) against shared pointers - by using them, you are allowing programmers to ignore who owns a pointer. This can lead to tricky situations with circular references (Java will detect these, but shared pointers cannot) or general programmer laziness in a large code base.

There are two reasons to use scoped pointers. The first is for simple exception safety and cleanup operations - if you want to guarantee that an object is cleaned up no matter what in the face of exceptions, and you don't want to stack allocate that object, put it in a scoped pointer. If the operation is a success, you can feel free to transfer it over to a shared pointer, but in the meantime save the overhead with a scoped pointer.

The other case is when you want clear object ownership. Some teams prefer this, some do not. For instance, a data structure may return pointers to internal objects. Under a scoped pointer, it would return a raw pointer or reference that should be treated as a weak reference - it is an error to access that pointer after the data structure that owns it is destructed, and it is an error to delete it. Under a shared pointer, the owning object can't destruct the internal data it returned if someone still holds a handle on it - this could leave resources open for much longer than necessary, or much worse depending on the code.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021
answered 7 Months ago

frac is actually not the same in both programs.

A C Fraction is a struct, which is a base type with no overloaded operators and is only really able to be constructed and destructed by default. If you define functions or fields on the struct, the way to access those properties in C is with the dot (.) operator. Objective-C maintains this operator when you use structs. For convenience, you can perform a dereference-and-dot operation using the arrow (->) operator (the two equivalent expressions you mention). Objective-C also preserves this when accessing structs.

An Objective-C Fraction in your example, however, is probably (one would assume) a pointer of at least type id, which is simply a classname and pointer to the instance of that class under the hood. It's also very likely to be a subclass of NSObject or NSProxy. These Objective-C classes are special in that they have a whole layer of predefined operations on top of just a C struct (if you really want to dig into it then you can take a look at the Objective-C Runtime Reference). Also important to note, an Objective-C class is always a pointer.

One of the most basic operations is objc_msgSend. When we operate on these types of objects, the Objective-C compiler interprets a dot (.) operator or the square bracket syntax ([object method]) as an objc_msgSend method call. For more detailed info about what actually happens here, see this series of posts by Bill Bumgarner, an Apple engineer who oversees the development of the Obj-C runtime.

The arrow (->) operator is not really supposed to be used on Objective-C objects. Like I said, Objective-C class instances are a C struct with an extra layer of communication added, but that layer of communication is essentially bypassed when you use the arrow. For example, if you open up Xcode and type in [UIApplication sharedApplication]-> and then bring up the method completion list, you see this:

A list of internal ivars on an Obj-C object when using the arrow operator

Here you can see a bunch of normal fields which we generally access with square bracket syntax (like [[UIApplication sharedApplication] delegate]). These particular items, however, are the C fields that store the values of their respective Objective-C properties.

So, you can roughly think of it like this:

Dot operator on a C object

  1. (at run time) Return value of the field

Arrow operator on a C object (pointer)

  1. Dereference pointer
  2. Return value of the field

Dot operator/square brackets on an Objective-C object (pointer)

  1. (at compile time) Replace with call to objc_msgSend
  2. (at run time) Look up Obj-C class definition, throw exception if something went wrong
  3. Dereference pointer
  4. Return value of the field

Arrow operator on an Objective-C object (pointer)

  1. (at run time) Dereference pointer
  2. Return value of the field

Now I'm definitely oversimplifying here, but to summarise: the arrow operators appear to do basically the same thing in both cases, but the dot operator has an extra/different meaning in Objective-C.

Monday, June 7, 2021
answered 6 Months ago

The use of self->someIvar is identical to someIvar. It's not wrong but it's not needed either.

The only time I use the arrow notation is in an implementation of copyWithZone: so I can copy each of the ivars that don't have properties.

SomeClass *someCopy = ...
someCopy->ivar1 = ivar1; // = self->ivar1
someCopy->ivar2 = ivar2; // = self->ivar2

Where are you seeing anything that says you shouldn't use such arrow operator syntax?

Friday, July 30, 2021
answered 4 Months ago


int a = 5;
int *b = &a;   
int *c = &b;

You get a warning because &b is of type int **, and you try to initialize a variable of type int *. There's no implicit conversions between those two types, leading to the warning.

To take the longer example you want to work, if we try to dereference f the compiler will give us an int, not a pointer that we can further dereference.

Also note that on many systems int and int* are not the same size (e.g. a pointer may be 64 bits long and an int 32 bits long). If you dereference f and get an int, you lose half the value, and then you can't even cast it to a valid pointer.

Saturday, September 4, 2021
Martin Vseticka
answered 3 Months ago
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