• C Pointer to Pointer

    Welcome to another exciting blog post on C programming! In this post, we will explore the concept of C pointers to pointers, also known as double pointers. If you’re new to the concept of pointers or want to expand your understanding further, this article is for you. By the end of this post, you’ll have a firm grasp on how to use double pointers effectively in your C programs. So, let’s get started!


    Pointers are one of the most powerful features of the C programming language, allowing us to manipulate memory addresses and access data indirectly. But what if we need to manipulate a pointer itself? That’s where pointer to pointer, or double pointer, comes into play. It is a useful technique when working with arrays, dynamic memory allocation, and even function arguments. Double pointers can be a bit tricky to understand at first, but fear not, we’ll break it down step by step.

    What is a Pointer to Pointer?

    A pointer to pointer, as the name suggests, is a variable that stores the address of another pointer. In simple terms, it’s a way to indirectly access a pointer by using another pointer. Just as a regular pointer points to a single data element, a double pointer points to the memory address of a pointer variable.

    int *ptr;    // single pointer
    int **pptr;  // pointer to pointer

    In the example above, we define a single pointer ptr of type int, and a double pointer pptr of type int*. The double pointer pptr can be used to indirectly modify the value or address stored in a single pointer ptr.

    Using Double Pointers

    Now that we know what double pointers are, let’s dive into how they can be used in practical scenarios.

    Dynamic Memory Allocation

    Dynamic memory allocation is a powerful technique in C that allows us to allocate memory at runtime. Sometimes, we may need to allocate a block of memory for a multidimensional array or a dynamic data structure such as a linked list. In such cases, double pointers come to the rescue.

    int **matrix;
    int rows = 3, cols = 4;
    // Allocate memory for a 2D array dynamically
    matrix = (int **)malloc(rows * sizeof(int *));
    for (int i = 0; i < rows; i++) {
        matrix[i] = (int *)malloc(cols * sizeof(int));

    In the code snippet above, we declare a double pointer matrix to store the memory address of a pointer to a pointer. We then use dynamic memory allocation functions like malloc() to allocate memory for a 2D array. By assigning the result of malloc() to matrix[i], we allocate memory for each row of the array. Double pointers enable us to create a flexible and resizable structure to hold our data.

    Modifying Function Arguments

    Passing variables by reference is a common technique to modify their values in C functions. However, when we want to modify a pointer itself, we need to use a pointer to pointer.

    void modifyPointer(int **ptr) {
        *ptr = (int *)malloc(sizeof(int));
        **ptr = 42;
    int main() {
        int *ptr = NULL;
        printf("%d\n", *ptr);  // Output: 42
        return 0;

    In the above example, we define a function modifyPointer() that takes a double pointer ptr as an argument. Inside the function, we allocate memory for an int and assign the value 42 to it. By using dereferencing operators like * and **, we can modify the original pointer ptr from the main() function.

    Pitfalls and Best Practices

    While using double pointers can be immensely powerful, there are a few pitfalls and best practices that you should keep in mind.

    Null Pointers

    Always ensure that you initialize your double pointers to NULL before using them. This helps avoid any unexpected behavior and null pointer dereferences.

    int **pptr = NULL;

    Memory Deallocation

    Be careful when deallocating memory allocated using double pointers. You should free the memory in the reverse order of allocation to prevent memory leaks.

    for (int i = 0; i < rows; i++) {

    Pointer Arithmetic

    Pointer arithmetic with double pointers is not allowed in C. Double pointers are used to indirectly access other pointers and should not be used for pointer arithmetic operations.

    Clear Naming Conventions

    To make your code more readable and maintainable, use clear and meaningful variable names for your double pointers, indicating their purpose or the type of data they point to.


    Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of this comprehensive blog post on C pointers to pointers. We covered the basics of double pointers, their usage in dynamic memory allocation and modifying function arguments. Remember to initialize your double pointers to NULL, deallocate memory carefully, avoid pointer arithmetic, and use clear naming conventions. Double pointers can be a bit tricky at first, but practice and experimentation will make you comfortable with them.

    If you’re hungry for more knowledge, you can delve deeper into advanced pointer concepts, such as pointer arrays, pointer to functions, or even function pointers. The world of C programming is full of surprises and limitless possibilities. Happy coding!