Function Pointer in C: Attaining Dynamic Control and Flexibility Read it later

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If you’ve ever wanted to tap into the power and flexibility of function pointers, you’re in the right place. In this blog, we’ll take you on a journey through the ins and outs of a function pointer in C, helping you understand its syntax and practical applications. So, let’s get started and unravel the C language’s fascinating world of function pointers!

Function pointers may seem intimidating at first, but fear not! We’re here to break them down into digestible bits and make them easily understandable. By the end of this guide, you’ll have a solid grasp of how to use function pointers effectively in your C programs.

What is a Function Pointer?

Function pointer in C is a fascinating concept that allows you to store the memory address of functions within variables. Just like you can store numbers or text in variables, function pointers let you store the “location” of a function in your program’s memory. This opens up a world of possibilities by enabling you to create function calls to functions pointed by these variables.

Think of function pointers as signposts that point to the exact location of a function in the vast landscape of your program’s memory. They provide a convenient way to refer to functions without explicitly specifying their names. Instead, you can use the function pointer variable to invoke the function it points to.

By utilizing function pointers, you can create more flexible and dynamic code. Rather than being restricted to calling a specific function, you can determine which function to call at runtime based on various conditions or user input. This ability to dynamically select and call functions is a powerful tool in the hands of a programmer.

To gain a clearer understanding of function pointers, it’s recommended to grasp the basics of how function calls are stacked in the memory layout of a C program.

Declaring a Function Pointer in C

To harness the power of function pointers in C, it’s important to understand their syntax and how they are declared. The syntax may seem a little unfamiliar at first, but fear not! We’ll break it down for you in simple terms.

To declare a function pointer, you need to specify the return type of the function and the types of its parameters. Let’s say we have a function called addNumbers that takes two integers as parameters and returns an integer. Here’s how you can declare a function pointer for it:


return_type (* pointer_name) (arg_1_datatype, arg_2_datatype, ...);


int (*ptr)(int, int);
Declaring Function Pointer in C
C Function Pointer Declaration

Let’s dissect this declaration step by step.

  • The asterisk (*) indicates that ptr is a pointer variable. In other words, it will store the memory address where the function is located.
  • (int, int) represents the parameter types of the function that the pointer points to. In this case, int is used for both parameters.
  • Finally, int before the opening parenthesis specifies the return type of the function. In our example, the return type is int.

Using typedef

To enhance readability and reduce complexity, we can utilize the typedef keyword to create a type alias for the function pointer. This way, we can refer to the function pointer type using a more intuitive name. Let’s see how it’s done:

typedef int (*ArithmeticFunction)(int, int);

In this example, we’ve created a type alias ArithmeticFunction for our function pointer. Now we can declare variables of this type without going through the complex syntax each time.

ArithmeticFunction ptr;

By using the typedef approach, the code becomes more expressive and easier to understand. It provides a clear indication that ptr is a function pointer of type ArithmeticFunction.

Remember, when declaring function pointers, it’s crucial to match the return type and parameter types with the corresponding function. Mismatching types can lead to unexpected behavior and errors.

Passing Function Pointer as Argument

When it comes to leveraging the power of function pointers in C, one of their most intriguing features is the ability to pass them as arguments to other functions. This functionality opens up a world of possibilities for creating versatile and reusable code. So, let’s dive into the syntax and explore how to pass a function pointer as an argument:

To pass a function pointer as an argument, we first need to declare the function parameter to be of the appropriate function pointer type. This ensures that the function we’re calling knows what type of function it should expect to receive. Let’s break it down step by step.

Define the Function Pointer type

Let’s consider an example where we have a function pointer type called OperationFunction that takes two integers as parameters and returns an integer:

typedef int (*OperationFunction)(int, int);

Create a function that accepts Function Pointer

Now, let’s create a function called performOperation that takes two integers and a function pointer of type OperationFunction as arguments. This function will use the provided function pointer to perform some operation on the given integers.

int performOperation(int a, int b, OperationFunction operation) {
    return operation(a, b);

In this example, performOperation accepts two integers (a and b) and the function pointer operation. The function operation will be invoked within performOperation, passing a and b as arguments, and the result of the operation will be returned.

Implement the operation functions

Next, we need to define functions that match the signature of OperationFunction. These functions will serve as the actual operations to be performed.

For instance, let’s define two functions: add and subtract.

int add(int a, int b) {
    return a + b;

int subtract(int a, int b) {
    return a - b;

Utilize the function pointer

Now that we have our operation functions defined, we can pass them as arguments when calling the performOperation function. Let’s see how it works:

int result = performOperation(5, 3, add);

In the example above, we pass the integers 5 and 3 as the first two arguments, and the add function (a function pointer) as the third argument. The add function will be called within performOperation, and the result, which is 8 (the sum of 5 and 3), will be stored in the result variable.

Similarly, we can pass the subtract function as the third argument to performOperation and obtain the result of subtracting two numbers.

Calling Function Through Function Pointer in C

Now that you understand the basics of function pointer, let’s explore how to actually call a function through a function pointer in C. It’s a straightforward process that allows you to dynamically execute a specific function based on the function pointer’s assignment.

To call a function through a function pointer, you use the function call operator () along with the function pointer’s name. This triggers the execution of the function associated with the pointer. Let’s walk through a simple example to illustrate this concept:

#include <stdio.h>

void greet() {
    printf("Hello, welcome to the world of function pointers!\n");

int main() {
    void (*functionPtr)();  // Declare a function pointer

    functionPtr = greet;    // Assign the function's address to the function pointer

    // Call the function through the function pointer

    return 0;

In the above code snippet, we define a function called greet() that simply prints a welcome message. Inside the main() function, we declare a function pointer functionPtr capable of pointing to functions with no arguments and no return value (void).

Next, we assign the address of the greet() function to functionPtr using the assignment operator =. This step establishes a link between the function pointer and the greet() function.

Finally, by calling functionPtr() using the function call operator (), we invoke the function pointed to by functionPtr. In this case, the output will be Hello, welcome to the world of function pointers!.

Calling a function through a function pointer provides flexibility in selecting and executing different functions at runtime. You can change the assignment of the function pointer to point to different functions, allowing you to achieve dynamic behavior in your code.

It’s important to note that when calling a function through a function pointer, you don’t need to explicitly specify the return type of the function pointer. The compiler already knows the function’s signature based on the pointer’s declaration.

Return Function Pointer in C

Now that you’ve learned how to declare and define function pointers, let’s explore a fascinating feature of C, returning function pointers from function. This capability allows you to dynamically select and return a function based on specific conditions or requirements.

To demonstrate this concept, let’s consider a simple example. Imagine you have a program that performs various mathematical operations, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Instead of writing separate functions for each operation, you can create a function called getMathOperation that returns a function pointer to the appropriate operation based on a user’s input.

Here’s a simple code example to show how to return function pointers from a function in C:

#include <stdio.h>

int add(int a, int b) {
    return a + b;

int subtract(int a, int b) {
    return a - b;

int multiply(int a, int b) {
    return a * b;

int divide(int a, int b) {
    if (b != 0)
        return a / b;
    else {
        printf("Error: Division by zero!\n");
        return 0;

typedef int (*MathOperation)(int, int);

MathOperation getMathOperation(char operator) {
    switch (operator) {
        case '+':
            return add;
        case '-':
            return subtract;
        case '*':
            return multiply;
        case '/':
            return divide;
            printf("Error: Invalid operator!\n");
            return NULL;

int main() {
    int a = 10;
    int b = 5;
    char operator = '+';
    MathOperation operation = getMathOperation(operator);

    if (operation != NULL) {
        int result = operation(a, b);
        printf("%d %c %d = %d\n", a, operator, b, result);

    return 0;

In this code, we define four mathematical operation functions: add, subtract, multiply, and divide. The getMathOperation function takes an operator as input and returns a function pointer to the corresponding operation.

Using a switch statement, we check the value of the operator and return the appropriate function pointer. If the operator is invalid, we handle the error gracefully by printing a message and returning NULL.

In the main function, we set the values of a, b, and operator to 10, 5, and ‘+’, respectively. We then call getMathOperation with the operator variable, which returns the function pointer to the add function in this case.

By invoking the function pointer operation with the operands a and b, we can perform the desired mathematical operation. In this example, the result is 15, which is printed on the console.

An array of Function Pointer in C

In addition to individual function pointers, C allows us to create arrays of function pointers. This feature provides a convenient way to organize and manage multiple related functions. Let’s explore how arrays of function pointers work in C.

Function pointer array syntax:

typedef void (*ActionFunction)();
ActionFunction actions[3];

In this example, we declare an array called actions that can hold three function pointers. Each function pointer points to a function with a void return type and no parameters, as indicated by the ActionFunction typedef.

Now, let’s define some functions that we can assign to the elements of our array:

void doSomething() {
    printf("Doing something!\n");

void doAnotherThing() {
    printf("Doing another thing!\n");

void doYetAnotherThing() {
    printf("Doing yet another thing!\n");

To assign these functions to our array of function pointers, we simply use the function names without parentheses, as we want to assign the address of the function, not call it:

actions[0] = doSomething;
actions[1] = doAnotherThing;
actions[2] = doYetAnotherThing;

Now that our array of function pointers is populated, we can invoke the functions through the pointers. Let’s call each function using a loop:

for (int i = 0; i < 3; i++) {

In this loop, we use the parentheses () after actions[i] to invoke the function pointed to by the i-th element of the array.


Doing something!
Doing another thing!
Doing yet another thing!

As you can see, by utilizing an array of function pointers, we can easily iterate over different functions and execute them dynamically. This ability can be particularly handy when implementing state machines, dispatch tables, or event-driven systems.

Structure Function Pointer in C

In addition to using function pointers as standalone entities, C also allows us to incorporate them as members within structures.

To illustrate the concept of function pointers in a struct, let’s consider a practical example. Suppose we are developing a program to manage different types of shapes, such as circles, squares, and triangles. Each shape has its own set of properties and behavior. Instead of writing separate functions for each shape, we can utilize structure function pointers to achieve a more elegant and scalable solution.

First, we need to define a structure that represents a shape. Inside this structure, we’ll include a function pointer that points to a function responsible for calculating the area of the shape.

Here’s an example:

typedef struct {
    double (*calculateArea)(void);
} Shape;

Now, let’s create specific shape structures, such as Circle and Square, which inherit from the Shape structure. We’ll define their own implementation of the calculateArea function pointer.

typedef struct {
    Shape baseShape;
    double radius;
} Circle;

typedef struct {
    Shape baseShape;
    double sideLength;
} Square;

Next, we need to define the implementation of the calculateArea function for each shape. Let’s consider the Circle structure:

double calculateCircleArea(void) {
    Circle* circle = (Circle*)malloc(sizeof(Circle));
    // Retrieve the radius from the circle structure
    double radius = circle->radius;
    double area = 3.14 * radius * radius;
    return area;

Here, we allocate memory for the Circle structure, retrieve the radius from the structure, calculate the area using the appropriate formula (πr^2), and return the result. Don’t forget to free the allocated memory to prevent memory leaks.

Similarly, we can define the calculateArea function for the Square structure:

double calculateSquareArea(void) {
    Square* square = (Square*)malloc(sizeof(Square));
    // Retrieve the side length from the square structure
    double sideLength = square->sideLength;
    double area = sideLength * sideLength;
    return area;

Now, let’s create instances of the shape structures and assign the appropriate function pointers to their calculateArea members. We can then call the calculateArea function to retrieve the area of each shape.

int main() {
    Circle circle;
    Square square;

    circle.baseShape.calculateArea = calculateCircleArea;
    circle.radius = 5.0;

    square.baseShape.calculateArea = calculateSquareArea;
    square.sideLength = 4.0;

    double circleArea = circle.baseShape.calculateArea();
    double squareArea = square.baseShape.calculateArea();

    printf("Area of the circle: %.2f\n", circleArea);
    printf("Area of the square: %.2f\n", squareArea);

    return 0;

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, function pointers in C are a powerful tool that allows you to treat functions as variables. They enable dynamic function calls, flexible argument passing, and even returning functions from other functions. By mastering function pointers, you can create versatile and extensible code.

Throughout this guide, we’ve covered the fundamentals of function pointers, including declaration, argument passing, and callback functions. We’ve also explored arrays of function pointers and their use in complex systems. Additionally, we discussed the integration of function pointers with structures for encapsulating related functions.

Remember to follow best practices and avoid common pitfalls when working with function pointers. By writing clean and maintainable code, you ensure the reliability of your programs.

Now it’s time to put your knowledge into practice. Experiment, explore real-life examples, and discover new ways to leverage function pointers in your projects. Embrace the versatility and power they offer, and let your creativity soar.

Thank you for joining us on this journey to unravel the world of function pointers in C. We hope this guide has equipped you with the necessary tools and insights to confidently use function pointers in your programming endeavors. Happy coding!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a function pointer in C?

A function pointer in C is a variable that stores the address of a function. It allows you to treat functions as variables, enabling dynamic function calls and providing flexibility in program design.

How to declare a function pointer in C?

To declare a function pointer in C, you specify the return type of the function and the types of its parameters. The typedef keyword can be used to create a type alias for the function pointer, enhancing readability. For example: typedef int (*FunctionPointer)(int, int);

Can you return a function pointer in C?

Yes, C allows you to return a function pointer from a function. This feature can be useful when you need to select a specific implementation or behavior based on certain conditions. By returning a function pointer, you can dynamically determine which function should be called.

Can function pointers be used with structures in C?

Yes, C allows function pointers to be used with structures. This feature enables you to encapsulate related functions within a structure, providing a cohesive and modular approach to code organization.

Are function pointers used in real-life applications?

Yes, function pointers are widely used in real-life applications. They are commonly used in event handling, device drivers, and operating system internals. Function pointers provide a way to implement generic functions and enable extensibility in code.


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