Arrow operator (->) usage in C – Dev

The best answers to the question “Arrow operator (->) usage in C” in the category Dev.


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?


Yes, that’s it.

It’s just the dot version when you want to access elements of a struct/class that is a pointer instead of a reference.

struct foo
  int x;
  float y;

struct foo var;
struct foo* pvar;
pvar = malloc(sizeof(struct foo));

var.x = 5;
(&var)->y = 14.3;
pvar->y = 22.4;
(*pvar).x = 6;

That’s it!


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


a->b is just short for (*a).b in every way (same for functions: a->b() is short for (*a).b()).


I’d just add to the answers the “why?”.

. is standard member access operator that has a higher precedence than * pointer operator.

When you are trying to access a struct’s internals and you wrote it as * then the compiler would think to want a ‘bar’ element of ‘foo’ (which is an address in memory) and obviously that mere address does not have any members.

Thus you need to ask the compiler to first dereference whith (*foo) and then access the member element: (*foo).bar, which is a bit clumsy to write so the good folks have come up with a shorthand version: foo->bar which is sort of member access by pointer operator.