Pointer in Golang

In this tutorial, we will study pointers in the Go programming language. In Golang, programming with pointers is pretty easy. As in any other language, a pointer concept is simple: it is used to point to the address of a memory location in which a variable needs to be accessed will reside & use “&” ampersand operator to address the memory location. You will learn how to declare and initialize a pointer in this tutorial.

What is a pointer in Golang?

A pointer is a composite data type or derived data type that stores the address of any variable stored in a memory location. A pointer holds or points to the memory address of another variable.

A pointer is a variable that is capable of storing the initial address of the object to which it wants to point to.

Let us briefly go through the concept of memory address & how variables are stored and accessed from the memory location.
 

GO : Pointer

Consider the memory of your computer which is capable of storing 20 bytes of information. Each block of memory is capable of storing one byte of information.

Let us assume that the starting address of this memory is 1,000 and the ending address is 1090. Suppose you want to store a variable of integer data type inside the memory. And the integer will take 2 bytes of memory i.e. it will take 2 blocks of memory.

Suppose a variable “p” is taken to store an integer. P stores a value of 100 which is assigned to it. In this example assume there is a pointer that points to the location where variable p is stored. Suppose “ptr” is the pointer that points to the base address or initial address of variable “p”.

  •   Assume “ptr” points to 1002 (initial address).
  •   It means the variable p is stored in that memory location with a value = 100.
GO : Pointer

Note: Pointing to means it simply stores the base address or initial address of the object. The object in our example is “p”’

  •  A Pointer is a variable capable of storing some address and points to a memory location where the first byte is stored
GO : Pointer

Let’s see a simple program


package main
import "fmt"

func main() {
   var a int = 100   
   fmt.Printf("Address of memory location of Variable a : %x\n", &a )
}

Output:


Address of memory location of Variable a : c000014050

The program shows the memory address where the variable a is stored ie, in memory location c000014050 the variable is stored.

Note: pointer is a special variable, not a normal variable that stores integer, character, and float. It will store the address or the base address of the variable

When to use a pointer in Golang?

Pointers are used when

  •   There is a need to pass around a huge data
  •   There is a need to change the value of data stored in any memory location.
  •   They are used to access, assign, or for modification of stored data.
     

How to declare a pointer in Golang?

Syntax to declare a pointer


var <variable_name> *<variable_Type>

Where 

  • var:-  keyword to declare a variable
  • variable_name:- The name of the pointer variable declared.
  • Varaiable_Type :- datatype of variable
  • * is the asterisk used to declare a pointer variable.

var  a *int        /* pointer to an integer variable */
var c *float32    /* pointer to a float variable */

Note: - During declaration the initial value of a pointer is nil, ie by default the value of the pointer is set to zero.


package main
import "fmt"

func main() {
   var a int= 100   /* actual variable declaration */
   var Ptr *int        /* pointer variable declaration */

   Ptr = &a  /* store address of a in pointer variable*/

   fmt.Printf("Address of sampleVariable a value: %x\n", &a  )

   /* address stored in pointer variable */
   fmt.Printf("Address stored in Pointr variable: %x\n", Ptr )

   /* access the value using the pointer */
   fmt.Printf("Value of *Pointr variable: %d\n", *Ptr )
}

Output:


Address of sampleVariable a value: c000014050
Address stored in Pointr variable: c000014050
Value of *Pointr variable: 100

Explanation

  •   A pointer variable is declared as mentioned in the above syntax. 
  •   Then stored the address of variable a is stored in pointer ptr using “&”.
  •   The value is accessed from the available address
  •   Unary operator * returns the value of the variable located at the specified address.
     
GO : Pointer

How to initialize a pointer in Golang?

A pointer can be initialized in two ways

  1.   Using the operator new
  2.   Using the  operator ambersand ‘&’ 
     

The program that shows the new operator


package main
import "fmt"

func main() {
   c := new(int) // new operator
  *c = 25
  fmt.Println("Return the value stored in c \n" ,*c) //Output will be 25
  fmt.Println("Return the address of c in memory \n", &c)
   
}

Output:


Return the value stored in c 
 25
Return the address of c in memory 
 0xc00000e030

The program that shows & operator


package main
import "fmt"

func main() {
    //Declare a pointer
    var b *int
    a := 9
    b = &a
    fmt.Println("return the address of a ",b)
    fmt.Println("return the value stored in a",*b)
    }

Output:


return the address of a  0xc000014050
return the value stored in a 9
New operator & operator

c := new(int) *c = 25 

  • Initialized using new operator
  • * gets the value stored at that address
GO : Pointer

var b *int a := 9 b = &a 

  • Pointer is declared 
  • A variable a is assigned with value 9 
  • Pointer variable b stores the address of a 
GO : Pointer

Note:

  • The * operator is used to dereference a pointer.
  • Returns a value to which the pointer references.

What is a nil pointer in Golang?

The default value of a pointer once it is declared is nil i.e. zero. Let us see an example


package main
import "fmt"

func main() {
   var  Ptr *int  //pointer declaration
   fmt.Printf("The default Pointr value is nil : %x\n", Ptr  ) //nil value ie 0
}

Output:


The default Pointr value is nil : 0

What is dereferencing pointer in Golang?

  •   The * operator is used to dereference a pointer.
  •   Returns a value to which the pointer references.
  •   It is used to modify the pointer location value.
     

In the below-given program, a pointer variable b is declared. This is further assigned with the address of variable a. & an operation copies address of variable a to b. *b prints or gets the value in a.ie 9 in the below example.
Next, we modified b with value 3. so the memory location of b gets updated with the new value. The old value of b (9) gets modified to the latest declared value(3).
Check the program below for understanding the same.

Program to understand dereference the pointer?


package main
import "fmt"

func main() {
    //Declare a pointer
    var b *int
    a := 9
    b = &a
     fmt.Println(a)  // prints value of a
    fmt.Println(*b)  // * operator dereference prints value in b = 9
    *b = 3
 fmt.Println(a)  //modified value in b with 3 b= 3
 fmt.Println(*b) // prints b = 3
    }   

Output:


9
9
3
3

Pointer to pointer referencing in Golang?

In Golang pointer to pointer can be created which of the below-given format,

    a := 9
    b = &a
    c= &b
 

b and c are pointer variables,b holds the address of a. The pointer variable c holds the address of b, which actually stores the address of variable “a” with the value assigned as 9. In the above code c is a pointer to a pointer.

GO : Pointer

Program for the pointer to pointer


package main
import "fmt"

func main() {
 a := 9
 b := &a
 c := &b

 fmt.Printf("Value of a: %d\n", a)
 fmt.Printf("address of a in b: %x\n", b)
 fmt.Printf("pointer to pointer reference in c: %x\n", c)

 fmt.Println()
 fmt.Printf("value in variable a: %d\n", a)
 fmt.Printf("*&a: %d\n", *&a) //value in variable a
 fmt.Printf("*b: %d\n", *b)//value in variable a
 fmt.Printf("**c: %d\n", **c)//value in variable a

 fmt.Println()
 fmt.Printf("displays address of a given &a: %d\n", &a)
 fmt.Printf("b: %d\n", b)//displays address of a
 fmt.Printf("&*b: %d\n", &*b)//displays address of a
 fmt.Printf("*&b: %d\n", *&b)//displays address of a
 fmt.Printf("*c: %d\n", *c)//displays address of a

 fmt.Println()
 fmt.Printf("b: %d\n", &b)
 fmt.Printf("*c: %d\n", c)
 }

Output:


Value of a: 9
address of a in b: c000014050
pointer to pointer reference in c: c00000e030

value in variable a: 9
*&a: 9
*b: 9
**c: 9

displays address of a given &a: 824633802832
b: 824633802832
&*b: 824633802832
*&b: 824633802832
*c: 824633802832

b: 824633778224
*c: 824633778224

From the given program it is clear that some of the operators produce the same output or are used in equivalent to some other same operations.

In order to display the value in variable a, a is assigned with a value of 9. Below given symbols are equivalent to producing the same output.

  •   a
  •   *&a
  •   *b
  •   **c
     

In the same way symbols equivalent to the display value of variable b which holds the address of a are

  •   &a
  •   b
  •   &*b
  •   *&b
  •   *c
     

In the same way symbols equivalent to the display value of variable c which holds the address of a are

  •   b
  •   *c