What Is Pointer Array in Data Structure?


Heather Bennett

A pointer array is a data structure that combines the features of both pointers and arrays. It allows us to store multiple memory addresses in a single array, providing a convenient way to manage and access memory locations in a program. In this article, we will explore the concept of pointer arrays and understand how they work.

Understanding Pointers

Before diving into pointer arrays, let’s quickly review what pointers are. In simple terms, a pointer is a variable that stores the memory address of another variable. By using pointers, we can indirectly access and manipulate the value of the variable it points to.

To declare a pointer variable in C or C++, we use an asterisk (*) before the variable name. For example:

int* ptr;

The above declaration creates a pointer variable named ‘ptr’ that can hold the memory address of an integer variable.

The Need for Arrays

Arrays are used to store multiple values of the same data type in contiguous memory locations. They provide easy indexing and efficient storage for large amounts of data.

For example, consider an array of integers:

int numbers[5];

The above declaration creates an integer array named ‘numbers’ with space for 5 elements.

Combining Pointers and Arrays: Pointer Arrays

A pointer array is an array where each element is a pointer. Instead of storing values directly, it stores memory addresses as elements. Each element in a pointer array points to another memory location.

To declare a pointer array, we use both asterisks (*) and square brackets ([]).

int* ptrArray[5];

The above declaration creates a pointer array named ‘ptrArray’ with space for 5 integer pointers.

Let’s understand this with an example:

int num1 = 10;
int num2 = 20;
int num3 = 30;

int* ptrArray[3] = {&num1, &num2, &num3};

In the above example, we have three integer variables: ‘num1’, ‘num2’, and ‘num3’. We then declare a pointer array named ‘ptrArray’ of size 3, where each element is a pointer to an integer. The elements of the pointer array are initialized with the memory addresses of the respective variables using the address-of operator (&).

Accessing Pointer Array Elements

To access the elements of a pointer array, we can use indexing. Each element in the pointer array holds a memory address, which can be dereferenced to access the value it points to.

// Accessing values using indexing
printf("%d", *ptrArray[0]); // Output: 10
printf("%d", *ptrArray[1]); // Output: 20
printf("%d", *ptrArray[2]); // Output: 30

In the above example, we use the dereference operator (*) to access the value pointed to by each element of the pointer array.

Advantages of Pointer Arrays

  • Dynamic Memory Allocation: Pointer arrays provide dynamic memory allocation capabilities. We can allocate memory at runtime and store the addresses in a pointer array.
  • Efficient Memory Management: Pointer arrays allow efficient memory management as we can easily deallocate the dynamically allocated memory using the respective pointers.
  • Flexible Data Structures: By combining pointers and arrays, we can create complex and flexible data structures like linked lists, trees, graphs, etc.


Pointer arrays provide a powerful way to manage memory addresses within a program. They combine the benefits of both pointers and arrays, allowing us to store multiple memory addresses in a single array. With pointer arrays, we have more flexibility in managing memory, creating dynamic data structures, and efficiently accessing values indirectly through pointers.

With this understanding of pointer arrays, you can now explore their applications in various data structures and algorithms.

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