Indirection operator


The indirection operator, also known as the dereference operator, is a symbol used in programming languages such as C and C++ to access the value stored at a particular memory address. It is represented by the asterisk (*) symbol, and it is typically used with pointers. By placing the asterisk before a pointer variable, the indirection operator allows you to retrieve or modify the value that the pointer points to, rather than manipulating the pointer itself.


In phonetics, the keyword “Indirection operator” can be pronounced as:/ˌɪndɪˈrɛkʃən ˈɒpəreɪtər/

Key Takeaways

  1. Indirection operator, also known as the pointer dereference operator, is used to access the value pointed to by a pointer. It is represented by the asterisk symbol (*) in C and C++ languages.
  2. It allows for dynamic memory allocation and more efficient data manipulation, resulting in improved performance and flexibility in programming.
  3. Proper use of indirection operators can help reduce memory usage and improve code readability, but improper use can lead to issues like dangling pointers and memory leaks.


The indirection operator is a crucial component in computer programming and technology, primarily due to its ability to manipulate and manage memory more efficiently.

By enabling programmers to access and modify the value stored at a particular memory address, indirection operators facilitate the use of pointers and references in languages such as C and C++. This contributes to enhanced flexibility and control when working with data structures like arrays and linked lists, allowing for dynamic memory allocation, optimized performance, and reduced memory consumption.

In essence, the indirection operator serves as a powerful tool in managing complex programming tasks and resource allocation, ultimately leading to more efficient and robust software development.


The indirection operator, more commonly known as the dereference operator, serves an essential purpose in computer programming languages, particularly in handling memory allocation and manipulation. In memory management systems, data is often stored in specific locations within the memory, and these locations are assigned a unique identifier or address. The indirection operator allows programmers to access the data associated with a given memory address, effectively enabling them to manipulate the stored information directly.

One of the primary motivations behind using this operator is to optimize resource usage and enhance program performance, as it significantly reduces the amount of memory needed to handle complex data structures and large-scale information processing tasks. In many programming languages, indirection operators are usually represented by an asterisk (*) or a caret (^), depending on the language being used. By utilizing these operators, programmers can create flexible and dynamic approaches to accessing and managing data within their programs.

For example, the indirection operator can be employed in implementing abstract data types, steering control flow, and working with pointer-based data structures like linked lists and trees. Ultimately, the appropriate use of the indirection operator allows programming solutions to be fine-tailed in a way that reduces computational overhead and improves overall efficiency. Understanding and mastering the concept of the indirection operator is hence a fundamental skill for software developers as it opens up a myriad of possibilities to enhance their applications’ performance and streamline memory usage.

Examples of Indirection operator

The indirection operator, also known as the dereference operator, is commonly used in programming languages like C and C++. In these languages, the indirection operator is used to access the values stored in memory locations pointed to by pointers. Here are three real world examples of the indirection operator:

Dynamic Memory Allocation: The indirection operator plays an important role in dynamic memory allocation. Programmers often use pointers to allocate memory dynamically for variables during the runtime of a program. By using the indirection operator, it becomes possible to access and manipulate the values stored in these dynamically allocated memory spaces.Example:“`cint* ptr = (int*) malloc(sizeof(int)); // Allocate memory space for an integer*ptr = 42; // Use the indirection operator to store the value 42 in that memory space“`

Linked Lists: The indirection operator is frequently used when working with data structures like linked lists. In a linked list, each element (node) stores a value and a pointer to the next node in the list. To access the value stored in the next node, the indirection operator is used.Example:“`cstruct Node { int value; struct Node* next;};struct Node* head = …; // Assume a linked list is createdint val = (*head).value; // Use indirection operator to access value stored in the head node“`

Array Manipulation: The indirection operator can be used to access and manipulate elements in an array by using pointers. This can be especially useful when working with large arrays or passing them to functions, as using pointers requires less overhead than directly passing the whole array.Example:“`cint array[] = {10, 20, 30};int* ptr = array; // ptr now points to the first element of arrayint first_element = *ptr; // Use indirection operator to access first elementint second_element = *(ptr + 1); // Use indirection operator to access second elementint third_element = *(ptr + 2); // Use indirection operator to access third element“`

FAQ: Indirection Operator

What is an indirection operator?

The indirection operator, often represented as an asterisk (*), is used in C, C++, and other languages to dereference a pointer. It allows access to the value that the pointer points to. The process of using the indirection operator to obtain the value is known as indirection.

How do you use the indirection operator in C and C++?

To use the indirection operator, simply place an asterisk (*) before a pointer variable. For example:

int a = 10;
int *p = &a;
int b = *p;

In this example, the value of ‘a’ (10) is assigned to ‘b’ through the use of the indirection operator with pointer ‘p’.

What is the difference between the indirection operator and the address-of operator?

The indirection operator (*) is used to access the value the pointer is pointing to, whereas the address-of operator (&) is used to acquire the memory address of a variable. In short, the indirection operator dereferences a pointer, while the address-of operator obtains the address of a variable.

Can the indirection operator be used with different data types?

Yes, the indirection operator can be used with various data types, such as int, float, and char, among others. You just need to declare a pointer of the corresponding data type in order to use the indirection operator correctly. For instance, for a float data type, you would declare a float pointer like this:

float floatValue = 3.14;
float *floatPointer = &floatValue;

Can the indirection operator be combined with other operators, like increment and decrement operators?

Yes, the indirection operator can be combined with increment and decrement operators for added functionality. It is employed in various settings, such as array manipulation or pointer arithmetic. For example:

int array[] = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5};
int *p = array;
int result = *p++; // Get the value at the current pointer position and increment the pointer after.

In this case, ‘result’ would hold the value 1, as the indirection operator retrieves the value, and the pointer ‘p’ is incremented to the next array element.

Related Technology Terms

  • Pointer
  • Memory Address
  • Dereferencing
  • Reference Operator
  • Dynamic Allocation

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