Void, Null, Dangling & Wild Pointers in C

Posted on November 17, 2023 by Vishesh Namdev
Python C C++ Java
C Programming Language

Void pointer (void*) is a special type of pointer that can point to objects of any data type. It is a generic pointer that lacks type information. You can use a void pointer to hold the address of any data type, but you need to cast it to the correct type before dereferencing or using the data it points to. Void pointers are often employed in scenarios where the specific data type is not known in advance or needs to be handled in a more generic manner.

Example of Void Pointer

#include <stdio.h> Copy Code

    int intValue = 42;
    float floatValue = 3.14;
    char charValue = 'A';

    // Declaring void pointers
    void* genericPointer;

    // Pointing void pointer to an integer
    genericPointer = &intValue;
    printf(" Value pointed to by genericPointer: %d\n ", *(int*)genericPointer);

    return 0;

In this example, void* genericPointer is used to point to variables of different types (int, float, and char). Before dereferencing the void pointer, it's cast to the appropriate type.

It's important to note that using void pointers introduces a level of type-unsafety, as the compiler doesn't have information about the actual type of data being pointed to. Therefore, it's crucial to ensure proper casting and type management when working with void pointers to avoid runtime errors and undefined behavior.

Null Pointers

Null pointer is a pointer that does not point to any memory location. It is represented by the constant value NULL, which is typically defined as zero or a special constant expression. When you declare a pointer and initialize it to NULL, it means the pointer is not pointing to any valid memory address.

Example of Null Pointer

#include <stdio.h> Copy Code

int main() {
    // Declare a null pointer
    int* nullPointer = NULL;

    // Try to dereference the null pointer (this will lead to undefined behavior)
    // Uncommenting the line below will likely result in a segmentation fault.
    // *nullPointer = 42;

    // Check if the pointer is null before using it
    if (nullPointer == NULL) {
        printf("The pointer is NULL. It doesn't point to any valid memory location.\n");
    } else {
        // This block won't be executed because the pointer is NULL
        printf("The pointer is not NULL.\n");

    return 0;

In this example:

1. int* nullPointer = NULL; declares an integer pointer (int*) and initializes it to NULL.

2. The code attempts to dereference the null pointer with *nullPointer = 42;, but this line is commented out because dereferencing a null pointer leads to undefined behavior.

The program then checks whether the pointer is null with the if (nullPointer == NULL) condition and prints a message indicating that the pointer is indeed NULL.

Dangling Pointers

A Dangling pointer is like having the address of a house key after the house has been demolished. It occurs when a pointer points to a memory location that has already been freed or deallocated. Accessing this pointer afterward can lead to unpredictable and potentially disastrous results, like reading from or writing to a place where your program shouldn't be.

Example of Dangling Pointer

#include <stdio.h> Copy Code

int main() {
int main() {
    int* danglingPointer;

    // Allocate memory and store its address in the pointer
    danglingPointer = (int*)malloc(sizeof(int));

    // Free the allocated memory

    // Accessing the memory through the dangling pointer (dangling pointer issue)
    // This is undefined behavior and can lead to crashes or unexpected results
    *danglingPointer = 42;

    return 0;

In this example, danglingPointer still contains the address of the freed memory after the free function is called. Trying to access or modify the value through *danglingPointer is problematic and represents a dangling pointer situation. Always set pointers to NULL after freeing the associated memory to avoid such issues.

Wild Pointers

A wild pointer in C refers to a pointer that has not been initialized to point to a specific memory location. It contains an unpredictable or garbage value, potentially pointing to an arbitrary memory location. Using or dereferencing a wild pointer can lead to unpredictable behavior and is a common source of bugs.

Example of Wild Pointer

#include <stdio.hCopy Code
#include <stdlib.h>
int main() {
    int* p; // Declaration without initialization (wild pointer)

    // Attempting to dereference the wild pointer (undefined behavior)
    // This line is likely to cause a segmentation fault or other runtime error
    // *p = 42;

    int x = 10;

    // Now, p is not a wild pointer, it points to the address of x
    p = &x;

    // Accessing the memory through the valid pointer
    printf("Value of x using the valid pointer: %d\n", *p);

    return 0;

In this example:

1. int *p; declares a pointer p without initializing it, making it a wild pointer.

2. The attempt to dereference the wild pointer is commented out to prevent undefined behavior.

3. int x = 10; declares an integer variable x and assigns it a value.

4. p = &x; makes the pointer p point to the address of x, transforming it into a valid pointer.

5. Finally, the value of x is accessed and printed using the valid pointer p.

This demonstrates the concept of converting a wild pointer into a valid pointer by assigning it the address of a valid variable.