What Is Pointer Data Structure?


Angela Bailey

Pointers are a fundamental concept in many programming languages, including C and C++. They allow you to store and manipulate memory addresses, providing a powerful way to work with data structures. In this article, we will explore what pointer data structures are and how they can be used in programming.

What is a Pointer?

A pointer is a variable that stores the memory address of another variable. It “points” to the location of the data rather than holding the actual data itself. This allows us to indirectly access and modify the value stored at that address.

Declaring and Initializing Pointers

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

int *ptr;

This declares a pointer named “ptr” that can store the memory address of an integer value.

To initialize a pointer, we assign it the address of another variable using the ampersand (&) operator:

int num = 5;
int *ptr = #

Here, we initialize “ptr” with the address of “num”. Now, “ptr” points to the memory location where “num” is stored.

Dereferencing Pointers

To access the value stored at a memory address pointed by a pointer, we use the dereference operator (*):

int num = 5;
int *ptr = #
printf("Value of num: %d\n", *ptr);

The output will be:

Value of num: 5

By dereferencing the pointer using “*”, we can retrieve the value stored at the memory address referenced by “ptr”.

Pointer Data Structures

In addition to pointing to individual variables, pointers can also be used to create more complex data structures, such as arrays, linked lists, trees, and graphs.


A pointer can be used to access elements of an array. In C and C++, an array name itself acts as a pointer to the first element of the array. For example:

int arr[] = {1, 2, 3};
int *ptr = arr;

We can now use “ptr” to access the elements of the array:

printf("Element at index 0: %d\n", *ptr);
printf("Element at index 1: %d\n", *(ptr + 1));

The output will be:

Element at index 0: 1
Element at index 1: 2

Linked Lists

A linked list is a dynamic data structure in which each node contains a value and a pointer to the next node. Pointers are used to maintain connections between nodes. For example:

struct Node {
    int data;
    struct Node* next;

In this code snippet, “next” is a pointer that points to the next node in the list.

Trees and Graphs

In tree and graph data structures, pointers are used to establish relationships between nodes. Each node typically contains pointers to its child nodes or adjacent nodes.

For example, in a binary tree:

struct Node {
    int data;
    struct Node* left;
    struct Node* right;

The “left” and “right” pointers point to the left and right child nodes, respectively.


Pointers are a powerful tool in programming that allow us to work with memory addresses. They enable us to create complex data structures and efficiently manipulate data. Understanding pointer data structures is essential for anyone seeking to become proficient in C or C++ programming.

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