6.9a — Dynamically allocating arrays

In addition to dynamically allocating single values, we can also dynamically allocate arrays of variables. Unlike a fixed array, where the array size must be fixed at compile time, dynamically allocating an array allows us to choose an array length at runtime.

To allocate an array dynamically, we use the array form of new and delete (often called new[] and delete[]):

Because we are allocating an array, C++ knows that it should use the array version of new instead of the scalar version of new. Essentially, the new[] operator is called, even though the [] isn’t placed next to the new keyword.

Note that because this memory is allocated from a different place than the memory used for fixed arrays, the size of the array can be quite large. You can run the program above and allocate an array of length 1,000,000 (or probably even 100,000,000) without issue. Try it! Because of this, programs that need to allocate a lot of memory in C++ typically do so dynamically.

Dynamically deleting arrays

When deleting a dynamically allocated array, we have to use the array version of delete, which is delete[].

This tells the CPU that it needs to clean up multiple variables instead of a single variable. One of the most common mistakes that new programmers make when dealing with dynamic memory allocation is to use delete instead of delete[] when deleting a dynamically allocated array. Using the scalar version of delete on an array will result in undefined behavior, such as data corruption, memory leaks, crashes, or other problems.

One often asked question of array delete[] is, “How does array delete know how much memory to delete?” The answer is that array new[] keeps track of how much memory was allocated to a variable, so that array delete[] can delete the proper amount. Unfortunately, this size/length isn’t accessible to the programmer.

Dynamic arrays are almost identical to fixed arrays

In lesson 6.8 -- Pointers and arrays, you learned that a fixed array holds the memory address of the first array element. You also learned that a fixed array can decay into a pointer that points to the first element of the array. In this decayed form, the length of the fixed array is not available (and therefore neither is the size of the array via sizeof()), but otherwise there is little difference.

A dynamic array starts its life as a pointer that points to the first element of the array. Consequently, it has the same limitations in that it doesn’t know its length or size. A dynamic array functions identically to a decayed fixed array, with the exception that the programmer is responsible for deallocating the dynamic array via the delete[] keyword.

Initializing dynamically allocated arrays

If you want to initialize a dynamically allocated array to 0, the syntax is quite simple:

Prior to C++11, there was no easy way to initialize a dynamic array to a non-zero value (initializer lists only worked for fixed arrays). This means you had to loop through the array and assign element values explicitly.

Super annoying!

However, starting with C++11, it’s now possible to initialize dynamic arrays using initializer lists!

Note that this syntax has no operator= between the array length and the initializer list.

For consistency, in C++11, fixed arrays can also be initialized using uniform initialization:

One caveat, in C++11 you can not initialize a dynamically allocated char array from a C-style string:

If you have a need to do this, dynamically allocate a std::string instead (or allocate your char array and then strcpy the string in).

Also note that dynamic arrays must be declared with an explicit length:

Resizing arrays

Dynamically allocating an array allows you to set the array length at the time of allocation. However, C++ does not provide a built-in way to resize an array that has already been allocated. It is possible to work around this limitation by dynamically allocating a new array, copying the elements over, and deleting the old array. However, this is error prone, especially when the element type is a class (which have special rules governing how they are created).

Consequently, we recommend avoiding doing this yourself.

Fortunately, if you need this capability, C++ provides a resizable array as part of the standard library called std::vector. We’ll introduce std::vector shortly.


1) Write a program that:
* Asks the user how many names they wish to enter.
* Asks the user to enter each name.
* Calls a function to sort the names (modify the selection sort code from lesson 6.4 -- Sorting an array using selection sort)
* Prints the sorted list of names.

Hint: Use a dynamic array of std::string to hold the names.
Hint: std::string supports comparing strings via the comparison operators < and >

Your output should match this:

How many names would you like to enter? 5
Enter name #1: Jason
Enter name #2: Mark
Enter name #3: Alex
Enter name #4: Chris
Enter name #5: John

Here is your sorted list:
Name #1: Alex
Name #2: Chris
Name #3: Jason
Name #4: John
Name #5: Mark

Quiz solutions

1) Show Solution

6.10 -- Pointers and const
6.9 -- Dynamic memory allocation with new and delete

346 comments to 6.9a — Dynamically allocating arrays

  • Casey

    Would this code be acceptable? It works as intended.

    My thoughts were that we would need to compare the first letter of each string in the array and see if its character code was less (and hence alphabetically smaller than) the next string in the array. Could you tell me why this is not necessary and why

    works? I'm just a little confused on how that comparison works when we are trying to compare only the first letter in the string. Does

    behave like

    and thus

    actually points to the first letter of


    • Hi Casey!

      @std::string::operator< uses @std::string::compare, which performs a lexicographical comparison on each character until a difference is found or the string is over.
      Comparing only the first character is not enough. Take { "Tom", "Tamara" } for example. Your code wouldn't swap the two, even though "Tamara" should be before "Tom".

      * Line 6, 9, 21, 23, 25, 33: Initialize your variables with uniform initialization
      * Line 16: Inconsistent formatting. Use the auto-formatting feature of your editor.
      * You're never deleting @names, resulting in a memory leak.
      * Bubble sort is terribly slow, use @std::sort

  • hoon

    Can you please check my code?

  • feng

    When complier fail,return this:
    In function 'int main()':
    55:17: error: 'nameNum' was not declared in this scope
    #include <string>
    #include <iostream>
    #include <algorithm>

    int getNameNum(int nameNum)
        std::cout << "How many names would you like to enter?" << '\n';
        std::cout << "Your input is: ";
        std::cin >> nameNum;

        return nameNum;

    void sortName(std::string *array, int length)
        for (int startIndex = 0; startIndex < length - 1; ++startIndex)
            int smallIndex = startIndex;
            for(int currentIndex = startIndex + 1; currentIndex < length; ++currentIndex)
                if(array[currentIndex] < array[smallIndex])
                    smallIndex = currentIndex;

    void getPrintName(int x)
        int length = x;
        std::string *name = new std::string[length];
        for (int loop = 1; loop <= x; ++loop)
            std::cout << "Enter name #" << loop << ": ";
            std::cin >> name[loop - 1];
        sortName(name, length);

        for (int time = 0; time < length - 1; ++time)
            std::cout << name[time];

        delete[] name;

    int main()

        return 0;

  • zhou jack


    void sortArray(std::string* array, int length)
        for (int startIndex = 0; startIndex < length - 1; ++startIndex)
            int smallIndex = startIndex;
        for (int currentIndex = startIndex+1; currentIndex < length; ++currentIndex)
            if (array[currentIndex] < array[smallIndex])
                smallIndex = currentIndex;
        std::swap(array[startIndex], array[smallIndex]);

    int main()
        using namespace std;
        cout << "How many names would you like to enter? ";
        int length;
        cin >> length;

        string *name = new string[length];

        for ( int i = 0; i < length; ++i)
            cout << "Enter name#" << i + 1;
            cin >> name[i];

        sortArray(name, length);
        cout << "\nHere is your sorted list:\n";

        for (int i = 0; i < length; ++i)
            cout << "Name    #" << i + 1 << ":" << name[i] << endl;

        delete[] name;

        return 0;

    Why my code is error?

  • Shawn

    The solution on line #8

    Should use length - 1 correct?

  • Hi!
    After going through the tutorial, I have come up with a very weird program.

    So, my guess is that it will crash the operating system (I never ran it). But will it actually crash it?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Alex

      It shouldn't crash the operating system, as programs on modern operating systems run in protected virtual spaces that are designed so they can't take down the OS (only drivers and things that run at higher privilege levels can typically do that).

      Eventually your system will run out of free memory and probably start paging memory out to disk. What happens when the OS has no more memory to allocate is probably OS-specific.

  • Kio

    My 2cents;

    • Hi Kio!

      * Line 6, 12, 16, 19, 34, 42, 43, 45: Initialize your variables with uniform initialization
      * @getInputFromUser: You're returning a reference to a temporary, causing undefined behavior. Your compiler showed a warning. Read compiler warnings and solve them.
      * @print: @array should be const
      * Line 34, 45: Use ++prefix unless you need postfix++
      * Line 34: Use @std::size_t instead of @size_t. Same thing, but @size_t is C, @std::size_t is C++
      * Line 57: Unnecessary variable. Inconsistent use of '\n' and @std::endl
      * Line 61: Don't use @system. If you have to, use @std::system. Use @std::cin.get(). pause is a Windows program, your program will behave differently on other systems.

  • John

    Hi Alex and Nascardriver,
    Could you point out any mistakes I did or where I could improve?

    • Hi John!

      * Line 9, 12, 15, 22, 25, 27, 41: Initialize your variables with uniform initialization
      * Line 11: Use @std::numeric_limits<std::streamsize>::max() instead of 32767. See the documentation of @std::basic_istream::ignore
      * Line 15, 41: Use ++prefix

      Logic is correct

  • Hi Alex and Nascardriver, this is my solution. Could you give me if anything go wrong?

    int main()
        int length;
        std::cout<<"How many names would you like to enter? ";
        std::string *array=new std::string[length];
        for(int i=0;i<length;i++)
            std::cout<<"Enter name #"<<i+1<<": ";
        for(int i=0;i<length-1;++i)
            int smallestIndex=i;
            for(int currentIndex=i+1;currentIndex<length;++currentIndex)
        std::cout<<"Here is your sorted list: "<<std::endl;

        for(int i=0;i<length;++i)
            std::cout<<"Name #"<<i+1<<": "<<*(array+i)<<"\n";

        return 0;

    • Hi!

      Please use code tags (Yellow message below the reply box).

      * Initialize your variables with uniform initialization
      * Use ++prefix unless you need postfix++
      * Use @operator[] to access arrays instead of manually calculating the element

      • Thank you very much nascardriver
        Sorry, but I don't know how to use the code tags. Can you show me how to use the code tags(sorry if my English is bad)

        • [-CODE-]
          Your code here
          Without -

          • My new solution. Is that ok?

  • Terra'Navis

    hi, could someone tell me why when accessing the elements of a dynamically allocated array we dont have to dereference the pointer which points to the dynamically allocated array.

  • Hi

    I keep reusing solutions from other times (sort, swap) maybe I should just put them in a header file (or cpp file) and reuse them like that.

    I believe that the above sort would be great in a full database system of maybe customers or suppliers to run off a list in alphabetical format. Will we cover other sort features associated with DB development?

    • Hi Nigel!

      > maybe I should just put them in a header file (or cpp file)
      The standard library already did that for you. See @std::swap and @std::sort.

      > I believe that the above sort would be great in a full database system of maybe customers or suppliers to run off a list in alphabetical format
      I must disappoint you, but a simple selection sort isn't going to do the job. Database systems are highly optimized in every aspect to be able to handle large tables.

      * Line 8, 9: Use <cstdlib> and <cstdio>
      * Line 15, 31, 34: Uniform initialization

      std::swap -
      std::sort -

  • R310

    Hi Alex and Nascardriver!

    I have been sweating on this quiz and it ended up working, but accidentally! I first did the swap function with a string and forgot a return and I got:
    EXC_BAD_INSTRUCTION (code=EXC_I386_INVOP, subcode=0x0)” mean?

    I am still not sure why it works, and how come the swap function can sort the names I entered (does it compares the first letter? does it go letter after letter?) Does a word look like a single unit in a string array? Did I forget something important?
    Thank you very much for your insights...

    • Hi R310!

      * Don't use "using namespace"
      * Use uniform initialization
      * Use ++prefix unless you need postfix++
      * Read the documentation of the first parameter of @std::cin.ignore

      @std::swap doesn't compare anything. The comparison happens in line 9. @std::string uses a lexicographical comparison.

      std::basic_istream::ignore -
      std::basic_string::operator> -

      • R310

        Hi nascardriver!

        I always forget about using namespace std, since they use it a lot in my class.

        But I read in the comments that swap was a basic function in <utility>. What did they meant?

        BTW, what is 256 refers to in the example you linked [link][/link]?

        // istream::ignore example

        #include <iostream>     // std::cin, std::cout

        int main () {
          char first, last;

          std::cout << "Please, enter your first name followed by your surname: ";

          first = std::cin.get();     // get one character
          std::cin.ignore(256,' ');   // ignore until space

          last = std::cin.get();      // get one character

          std::cout << "Your initials are " << first << last << '\n';

          return 0;

        • > they use it a lot in my class
          You'll see that often in tutorials of all kinds, because it decreases the amount of text and can increase readability on a small scale. In real projects, it's more bad than good, so try to avoid it to begin with and you won't get into a bad habit.

          > swap was a basic function in <utility>
          It is, but it's not comparing or sorting anything. Simplified, @std::swap can be replaced like this

          All it does is swap the values of two variables.

          > what is 256 refers to in the example you linked
          The link wasn't about the example, but about the parameter description, especially the first parameter: "Maximum number of characters to extract (and ignore). If this is exactly numeric_limits<streamsize>::max(), there is no limit".
          @std::cin.ignore will ignore all characters until it finds a space, or until it ignored 256 characters, potentially leaving unwanted content in the input stream.

  • Moein


    when i use

    in the code below, i'm not able to enter the first element to the dynamic array. but with std::cin it's work. i want to use space in my name but with std::cin i can't do this.

    • Hi Moein!

      * Don't use "using namespace"
      * Initialize your variables with uniform initialization
      * Use ++prefix instead of postfix++

      You need to call

      after you're reading from @std::cin.

      • Moein

        How fast did you answer! thanks.

        this statement

        is the same with yours?

        • It's not.

          Yours will ignore up to 32767 characters or up to a '\n' character. This could leave unwanted characters in the input stream, causing undesired behavior.
          Mine will ignore all characters up to a '\n' character.

  • ayush

    an error is there
    33    25    C:\Users\ayush\Documents\cpp\a25.cpp    [Error] cannot convert 'std::string* {aka std::basic_string<char>*}' to 'int*' for argument '1' to 'int sortarray(int*, int)'

    how to resolve this

    and kindly tell me more about this program plzzzzz
    im trying my best to understand this but i cant

    • Idda

      hi ayush,
      in row 5:  int sortarray(int *array,int
      row 26:string *names=new string[length];
      row 33: sortarray(names, length);
      ==> change the datatype in argument in row 5
      I guess it'll solve the problem!
      ...and one more should try to use std::namespace in place of "using namespace std"

  • Rohit

    So I forgot to #include <utility> but the "swap" function still worked. So I checked and apparently in VS 2017, utility is one of the precompiled files in the "External Dependencies" folder in the Solution Explorer pane.

    What confused me though is in a new solution, "string.h" is also there but I still have to #include <string> to get strings to work. Including that adds "string" next to "string.h". Am I correct in thinking that all those files ending in ".h" are ported from c and the ones without .h are c++ versions only?

    I still don't know why I would need to #include <string> if string.h is there and why string.h would be there if i'm required to #include <string> regardless?

    Now the code:
    i know i should use <limits> instead of 32767, but when i gotta do it like 5 times i get lazy haha.
    Also, would it be better to create the array in a different function and then pass the pointer to main or is creating it in main like i did perfectly fine?

    • Alex

      > Am I correct in thinking that all those files ending in ".h" are ported from c and the ones without .h are c++ versions only?

      No, the ones that end in .h are the ones that don't use have their names in the std namespace.

      The headers ported from c generally start with a c (e.g. cassert, cmath, etc...)

    • nascardriver

      Hi Rohit!

      > when i gotta do it like 5 times i get lazy
      Having to write something 5 times is an indicator for having to write a wrapper function for it.

      * Line 35: Initialize strings to "".
      * Line 44: Should be currentName[0], because you only care about the first character.

      Creating the array in @main is fine, you'll learn about alternatives to dynamic arrays in a couple of lessons.

      • Rohit

        Fair point about the wrapper function. what exactly is a wrapper function? would it be kind of like my @printNames function in the sense that i can call it to do the same thing over and over?

        On line 35 i meant to initialize currentName to "\0"; i don't even know how i wrote "\n". guess i'm just so conditioned to type the newline indicator whenever i have a backslash lol

        And good point about line 44. strangely enough though, the comparisons and sorting still work even if i don't use [0]. i guess std::string instinctively knows that comparisons should be defaulted to the first character

        • nascardriver

          A wrapper function is a short function that allows easier access to something else without adding new functionality.
          @std::string::operator< performs a lexicographical comparison on the two strings, but since you only care about one character this is a waste of resources.

  • nascardriver

    Hi Endcity!

    "For standard strings this function performs character-by-character lexicographical comparison."

    * std::basic_string::compare -

  • Endcity

    What does the comparation between 2 string that be used in quiz sollution to sort string array alphabetical work ?

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