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6.10 — Pointers and const

Pointing to const variables

So far, all of the pointers you’ve seen are non-const pointers to non-const values:

However, what happens if value is const?

The above snippet won’t compile -- we can’t set a non-const pointer to a const variable. This makes sense: a const variable is one whose value can not be changed. Hypothetically, if we could set a non-const pointer to a const value, then we would be able to dereference the non-const pointer and change the value. That would violate the intention of const.

Pointer to const value

A pointer to a const value is a (non-const) pointer that points to a constant value.

To declare a pointer to a const value, use the const keyword before the data type:

In the above example, ptr points to a const int.

So far, so good, right? Now consider the following example:

A pointer to a constant variable can point to a non-constant variable (such as variable value in the example above). Think of it this way: a pointer to a constant variable treats the variable as constant when it is accessed through the pointer, regardless of whether the variable was initially defined as const or not.

Thus, the following is okay:

But the following is not:

Because a pointer to a const value is not const itself (it just points to a const value), the pointer can be redirected to point at other values:

Const pointers

We can also make a pointer itself constant. A const pointer is a pointer whose value can not be changed after initialization

To declare a const pointer, use the const keyword between the asterisk and the pointer name:

Just like a normal const variable, a const pointer must be initialized to a value upon declaration. This means a const pointer will always point to the same address. In the above case, ptr will always point to the address of value (until ptr goes out of scope and is destroyed).

However, because the value being pointed to is still non-const, it is possible to change the value being pointed to via dereferencing the const pointer:

Const pointer to a const value

Finally, it is possible to declare a const pointer to a const value by using the const keyword both before the type and before the variable name:

A const pointer to a const value can not be set to point to another address, nor can the value it is pointing to be changed through the pointer.

Recapping

To summarize, you only need to remember 4 rules, and they are pretty logical:

Keeping the declaration syntax straight can be challenging. Just remember that the type of value the pointer points to is always on the far left:

Conclusion

Pointers to const values are primarily used in function parameters (for example, when passing an array to a function) to help ensure the function doesn’t inadvertently change the passed in argument. We will discuss this further in the section on functions.

6.11 -- Reference variables [1]
Index [2]
6.9a -- Dynamically allocating arrays [3]