The book "Data Structures in C" (Horowitz and Sahni) suggests that in the following code the pointer pf is behaving as a dangling reference:

float f,*pf;
pf=(float*) malloc(sizeof(float));
pf=(float*) malloc(sizeof(float));

The reasoning they give is that after the last line there is no way to retrieve the storage in which 2.6 was stored.

However, wikipedia defines a dangling pointer as

Dangling pointers and wild pointers in computer programming are pointers that do not point to a valid object of the appropriate type

In the code above pf does not satisfy that definition - it points to a valid object of appropriate type.

Is pf a dangling pointer, or something else?

  • 1
    do you have the ISBN for the book? there are several similarly titled books by the same authors
    – jk.
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 13:01
  • 2
    The example code given declares a regular float variable as well but it is not used - are you certain you've copied the example correctly? Commented May 23, 2013 at 14:41

1 Answer 1


No I wouldn't describe that as a dangling pointer, but it is a memory leak because you do not free the first malloc before the second malloc. A dangling pointer would typically be a pointer which points to something which e.g. has already been freed

float f,*pf;
pf = malloc(sizeof(float));
*pf = 2.6;
f = *pf; /*uhoh pf no longer points to valid memory */

Looking at the rest of code sample, f doesn't appear to be used, which is odd, and the cast to (float*) is unnecessary unless you need your code to also compile as C++ (something which was common when C++ was a newish language but not anymore, I suspect this may date your book?). While I can't find the exact book you reference, similar C and C++ books by the authors seem to have fairly poor reviews, you may want to consider a different textbook!

  • 2
    And, as the named wiki page says, pointer to variables that have fallen out of scope.
    – ott--
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 11:57
  • yep that's another case.
    – jk.
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 12:06
  • 1
    @ott--: True, but then, I'd argue that a variable that has fallen out of scope has been freed: free is for freeing heap memory, automatic storage is for freeing stack memory.
    – ruakh
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 15:59
  • @jk,then the book is wrong to suggest that it is a dangling pointer Commented May 23, 2013 at 16:08
  • if that is what it says then yes.
    – jk.
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 16:12

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