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The Syntax of C and C++ Function Pointers


Define a Function Pointer

Regarding their syntax, there are two different types of function pointers: On the one hand there are pointers to ordinary C functions or to static C++ member functions. On the other hand there are pointers to non-static C++ member functions. The basic difference is that all pointers to non-static member functions need a hidden argument: The this-pointer to an instance of the class. Always keep in mind: These two types of function pointers are incompatible with each other.

Since a function pointer is nothing else than a variable, it must be defined as usual. In the following example we define three function pointers named pt2Function, pt2Member and pt2ConstMember. They point to functions, which take one float and two char and return an int. In the C++ example it is assumed, that the functions, our pointers point to, are (non-static) member functions of TMyClass.

int (*pt2Function)(float, char, char) = NULL;                        // C
int (TMyClass::*pt2Member)(float, char, char) = NULL;                // C++
int (TMyClass::*pt2ConstMember)(float, char, char) const = NULL;     // C++
Calling Convention

Normally you don’t have to think about a function’s calling convention: The compiler assumes __cdecl as default if you don’t specify another convention. However if you want to know more, keep on reading … The calling convention tells the compiler things like how to pass the arguments or how to generate the name of a function. Some examples for other calling conventions are __stdcall, __pascal and __fastcall. The calling convention belongs to a function’s signature: Thus functions and function pointers with different calling convention are incompatible with each other! For Borland and Microsoft compilers you specify a specific calling convention between the return type and the function’s or function pointer’s name. For the GNU GCC you use the __attribute__ keyword: Write the function definition followed by the keyword __attribute__ and then state the calling convention in double parentheses. If someone knows more: Let me know😉 And if you want to know how function calls work under the hood you should take a look at the chapter Subprograms in Paul Carter’s PC Assembly Tutorial.

void __cdecl DoIt(float a, char b, char c);                             // Borland and Microsoft
void         DoIt(float a, char b, char c)  __attribute__((cdecl));     // GNU GCC
Assign an address to a Function Pointer

It’s quite easy to assign the address of a function to a function pointer. You simply take the name of a suitable and known function or member function. Although it’s optional for most compilers you should use the address operator & infront of the function’s name in order to write portable code. You may have got to use the complete name of the member function including class-name and scope-operator (::). Also you have got to ensure, that you are allowed to access the function right in scope where your assignment stands.


//assign an address to the function pointer
//     Note: Although you may ommit the address operator on most compilers
//     you should always use the correct way in order to write portable code.

// C
int DoIt  (float a, char b, char c){ printf("DoIt\n");   return a+b+c; }
int DoMore(float a, char b, char c)const{ printf("DoMore\n"); return a-b+c; }

pt2Function = DoIt;      // short form
pt2Function = &DoMore;   // correct assignment using address operator
// C++
class TMyClass
{
public:
   int DoIt(float a, char b, char c){ cout << "TMyClass::DoIt"<< endl; return a+b+c;};
   int DoMore(float a, char b, char c) const
         { cout << "TMyClass::DoMore" << endl; return a-b+c; };

   /* more of TMyClass */
};

pt2ConstMember = &TMyClass::DoMore; // correct assignment using address operator
pt2Member = &TMyClass::DoIt; // note: <pt2Member> may also legally point to &DoMore
Comparing Function Pointers

You can use the comparison-operators (==, !=) the same way as usual. In the following example it is checked, whether pt2Function and pt2Member actually contain the address of the functions DoIt and TMyClass::DoMore. A text is shown in case of equality.

//  comparing function pointers

// C
if(pt2Function >0){                           // check if initialized
   if(pt2Function == &DoIt)
      printf("Pointer points to DoIt\n"); }
else
   printf("Pointer not initialized!!\n");


// C++
if(pt2ConstMember == &TMyClass::DoMore)
   cout << "Pointer points to TMyClass::DoMore" << endl;
Calling a Function using a Function Pointer

In C you call a function using a function pointer by explicitly dereferencing it using the * operator. Alternatively you may also just use the function pointer’s instead of the funtion’s name. In C++ the two operators .* resp. ->* are used together with an instance of a class in order to call one of their (non-static) member functions. If the call takes place within another member function you may use the this-pointer.

//------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
//  How to Return a Function Pointer
//     'Plus' and 'Minus' are defined above. They return a float and take two float


// Direct solution: Function takes a char and returns a pointer to a
// function which is taking two floats and returns a float. <opCode>
// specifies which function to return
float (*GetPtr1(const char opCode))(float, float)
{
   if(opCode == '+')
      return &Plus;
   else
      return &Minus; // default if invalid operator was passed
}


// Solution using a typedef: Define a pointer to a function which is taking
// two floats and returns a float
typedef float(*pt2Func)(float, float);

// Function takes a char and returns a function pointer which is defined
// with the typedef above. <opCode> specifies which function to return
pt2Func GetPtr2(const char opCode)
{
   if(opCode == '+')
      return &Plus;
   else
      return &Minus; // default if invalid operator was passed
}


// Execute example code
void Return_A_Function_Pointer()
{
   cout << endl << "Executing 'Return_A_Function_Pointer'" << endl;

   // define a function pointer and initialize it to NULL
   float (*pt2Function)(float, float) = NULL;

   pt2Function=GetPtr1('+');   // get function pointer from function 'GetPtr1'
   cout << (*pt2Function)(2, 4) << endl;   // call function using the pointer


   pt2Function=GetPtr2('-');   // get function pointer from function 'GetPtr2'
   cout << (*pt2Function)(2, 4) << endl;   // call function using the pointer
}
How to Use Arrays of Function Pointers ?

Operating with arrays of function pointers is very interesting. This offers the possibility to select a function using an index. The syntax appears difficult, which frequently leads to confusion. Below you find two ways of how to define and use an array of function pointers in C and C++. The first way uses a typedef, the second way directly defines the array. It’s up to you which way you prefer.

//------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
// 2.8 How to Use Arrays of Function Pointers

// C ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

// type-definition: 'pt2Function' now can be used as type
typedef int (*pt2Function)(float, char, char);

// illustrate how to work with an array of function pointers
void Array_Of_Function_Pointers()
{
   printf("\nExecuting 'Array_Of_Function_Pointers'\n");

   // define arrays and ini each element to NULL, <funcArr1> and <funcArr2> are arrays
   // with 10 pointers to functions which return an int and take a float and two char

   // first way using the typedef
   pt2Function funcArr1[10] = {NULL};

   // 2nd way directly defining the array
   int (*funcArr2[10])(float, char, char) = {NULL};


   // assign the function's address - 'DoIt' and 'DoMore' are suitable functions
   // like defined above in 2.1-4
   funcArr1[0] = funcArr2[1] = &DoIt;
   funcArr1[1] = funcArr2[0] = &DoMore;

   /* more assignments */

   // calling a function using an index to address the function pointer
   printf("%d\n", funcArr1[1](12, 'a', 'b'));         //  short form
   printf("%d\n", (*funcArr1[0])(12, 'a', 'b'));      // "correct" way of calling
   printf("%d\n", (*funcArr2[1])(56, 'a', 'b'));
   printf("%d\n", (*funcArr2[0])(34, 'a', 'b'));
}


// C++ -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

// type-definition: 'pt2Member' now can be used as type
typedef int (TMyClass::*pt2Member)(float, char, char);

// illustrate how to work with an array of member function pointers
void Array_Of_Member_Function_Pointers()
{
   cout << endl << "Executing 'Array_Of_Member_Function_Pointers'" << endl;

   // define arrays and ini each element to NULL, <funcArr1> and <funcArr2> are
   // arrays with 10 pointers to member functions which return an int and take
   // a float and two char

   // first way using the typedef
   pt2Member funcArr1[10] = {NULL};

   // 2nd way of directly defining the array
   int (TMyClass::*funcArr2[10])(float, char, char) = {NULL};


   // assign the function's address - 'DoIt' and 'DoMore' are suitable member
   //  functions of class TMyClass like defined above in 2.1-4
   funcArr1[0] = funcArr2nd use an array of function pointers in C and C++.
 The first way uses a typedef, the second way directly defines the array. It's up to you which way you prefer.
[1] = &TMyClass::DoIt;
   funcArr1[1] = funcArr2[0] = &TMyClass::DoMore;
   /* more assignments */

   // calling a function using an index to address the member function pointer
   // note: an instance of TMyClass is needed to call the member functions
   TMyClass instance;
   cout << (instance.*funcArr1[1])(12, 'a', 'b') << endl;
   cout << (instance.*funcArr1[0])(12, 'a', 'b') << endl;
   cout << (instance.*funcArr2[1])(34, 'a', 'b') << endl;
   cout << (instance.*funcArr2[0])(89, 'a', 'b') << endl;
}

2 thoughts on “The Syntax of C and C++ Function Pointers

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