What is this infamous null pointer, anyway?

Answer: The language definition states that for each pointer type, there is a special value -- the "null pointer" -- which is distinguishable from all other pointer values and which is not the address of any object. That is, the address-of operator & will never yield a null pointer, nor will a successful call to malloc. (malloc returns a null pointer when it fails, and this is a typical use of null pointers: as a "special" pointer value with some other meaning, usually "not allocated" or "not pointing anywhere yet.")

A null pointer is conceptually different from an uninitialized pointer. A null pointer is known not to point to any object; an uninitialized pointer might point anywhere. See also questions 49, 55, and 85.

As mentioned in the definition above, there is a null pointer for each pointer type, and the internal values of null pointers for different types may be different. Although programmers need not know the internal values, the compiler must always be informed which type of null pointer is required, so it can make the distinction if necessary (see below).

References: K&R I Sec. 5.4 pp. 97-8; K&R II Sec. 5.4 p. 102; H&S
Sec. 5.3 p. 91; ANSI Sec. p. 38.


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