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Home » Tip Bank » C++
Language: C++
Expertise: Intermediate
Apr 7, 1999

Always Use the Container's Iterators Rather Than Pointers

Bare pointers can sometimes be used to iterate through the elements of a container:
 
#include <vector>
#include <iostream>
using namespace std;

void hack(){
  vector<int> vi;
  vi.push_back(5);
  int *p = vi.begin();//bad programming practice, although it may work
  *p = 6; //assign vi[0]
  cout<<vi[0]; //output 6
}
However, using bare pointers instead of iterators is poor programming practice and should be avoided. It undermines the very idea of information hiding and encapsulation. An iterator may not be represented as a pointer, and even if it is, this implementation detail can change in future versions of the library. The correct form of the previous code excerpt is:
 
void nohack()
{
  vector<int> vi;
  vi.push_back(5);
  vector<int>::iterator p = vi.begin(); //correct
  *p = 6; //assign vi[0]
  cout<<vi[0]; //output 6
}
Danny Kalev
 
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