How to find the size of a pointer pointing to an array? [Answered]

Query explained:

First off, here is some code:

int main() 
{
    int days[] = {1,2,3,4,5};
    int *ptr = days;
    printf("%u\n", sizeof(days));
    printf("%u\n", sizeof(ptr));

    return 0;
}

Is there a way to find out the size of the array that ptr is pointing to (instead of just giving its size, which is four bytes on a 32-bit system)?

How to find the size of a pointer pointing to an array? Answer #1:

No, you can’t. The compiler doesn’t know what the pointer is pointing to. There are tricks, like ending the array with a known out-of-band value and then counting the size up until that value, but that’s not using sizeof().

Another trick is to stash the size somewhere. For example, if you’re dynamically allocating the array, allocate a block one int bigger than the one you need, stash the size in the first int, and return ptr+1 as the pointer to the array. When you need the size, decrement the pointer and peek at the stashed value. Just remember to free the whole block starting from the beginning, and not just the array.

Answer #2:

The answer is, “No.”

What C programmers do is store the size of the array somewhere. It can be part of a structure, or the programmer can cheat a bit and malloc() more memory than requested in order to store a length value before the start of the array.

Answer #3:

For dynamic arrays (malloc or C++ new) you need to store the size of the array as mentioned by others or perhaps build an array manager structure which handles add, remove, count, etc. Unfortunately C doesn’t do this nearly as well as C++ since you basically have to build it for each different array type you are storing which is cumbersome if you have multiple types of arrays that you need to manage.

For static arrays, such as the one in your example, there is a common macro used to get the size, but it is not recommended as it does not check if the parameter is really a static array. The macro is used in real code though, e.g. in the Linux kernel headers although it may be slightly different than the one below:

#if !defined(ARRAY_SIZE)
    #define ARRAY_SIZE(x) (sizeof((x)) / sizeof((x)[0]))
#endif

int main()
{
    int days[] = {1,2,3,4,5};
    int *ptr = days;
    printf("%u\n", ARRAY_SIZE(days));
    printf("%u\n", sizeof(ptr));
    return 0;
}

You can google for reasons to be wary of macros like this. Be careful.

If possible, the C++ stdlib such as vector which is much safer and easier to use.

Answer #4:

There is a clean solution with C++ templates, without using sizeof(). The following getSize() function returns the size of any static array:

#include <cstddef>

template<typename T, size_t SIZE>
size_t getSize(T (&)[SIZE]) {
    return SIZE;
}

Here is an example with a foo_t structure:

#include <cstddef>

template<typename T, size_t SIZE>
size_t getSize(T (&)[SIZE]) {
    return SIZE;
}

struct foo_t {
    int ball;
};

int main()
{
    foo_t foos3[] = {{1},{2},{3}};
    foo_t foos5[] = {{1},{2},{3},{4},{5}};
    printf("%u\n", getSize(foos3));
    printf("%u\n", getSize(foos5));

    return 0;
}

Output:

3
5

How to find the size of a pointer pointing to an array? Answer #5:

As all the correct answers have stated, you cannot get this information from the decayed pointer value of the array alone. If the decayed pointer is the argument received by the function, then the size of the originating array has to be provided in some other way for the function to come to know that size.

Here’s a suggestion different from what has been provided thus far,that will work: Pass a pointer to the array instead. This suggestion is similar to the C++ style suggestions, except that C does not support templates or references:

#define ARRAY_SZ 10

void foo (int (*arr)[ARRAY_SZ]) {
    printf("%u\n", (unsigned)sizeof(*arr)/sizeof(**arr));
}

But, this suggestion is kind of silly for your problem, since the function is defined to know exactly the size of the array that is passed in (hence, there is little need to use sizeof at all on the array). What it does do, though, is offer some type safety. It will prohibit you from passing in an array of an unwanted size.

int x[20];
int y[10];
foo(&x); /* error */
foo(&y); /* ok */

If the function is supposed to be able to operate on any size of array, then you will have to provide the size to the function as additional information.

Answer #6:

For this specific example, yes, there is, IF you use typedefs (see below). Of course, if you do it this way, you’re just as well off to use SIZEOF_DAYS, since you know what the pointer is pointing to.

If you have a (void *) pointer, as is returned by malloc() or the like, then, no, there is no way to determine what data structure the pointer is pointing to and thus, no way to determine its size.

#include <stdio.h>

#define NUM_DAYS 5
typedef int days_t[ NUM_DAYS ];
#define SIZEOF_DAYS ( sizeof( days_t ) )

int main() {
    days_t  days;
    days_t *ptr = &days; 

    printf( "SIZEOF_DAYS:  %u\n", SIZEOF_DAYS  );
    printf( "sizeof(days): %u\n", sizeof(days) );
    printf( "sizeof(*ptr): %u\n", sizeof(*ptr) );
    printf( "sizeof(ptr):  %u\n", sizeof(ptr)  );

    return 0;
} 

Output:

SIZEOF_DAYS:  20
sizeof(days): 20
sizeof(*ptr): 20
sizeof(ptr):  4

Answer #7:

My solution to this problem is to save the length of the array into a struct Array as a meta-information about the array.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

struct Array
{
    int length;

    double *array;
};

typedef struct Array Array;

Array* NewArray(int length)
{
    /* Allocate the memory for the struct Array */
    Array *newArray = (Array*) malloc(sizeof(Array));

    /* Insert only non-negative length's*/
    newArray->length = (length > 0) ? length : 0;

    newArray->array = (double*) malloc(length*sizeof(double));

    return newArray;
}

void SetArray(Array *structure,int length,double* array)
{
    structure->length = length;
    structure->array = array;
}

void PrintArray(Array *structure)
{       
    if(structure->length > 0)
    {
        int i;
        printf("length: %d\n", structure->length);
        for (i = 0; i < structure->length; i++)
            printf("%g\n", structure->array[i]);
    }
    else
        printf("Empty Array. Length 0\n");
}

int main()
{
    int i;
    Array *negativeTest, *days = NewArray(5);

    double moreDays[] = {1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10};

    for (i = 0; i < days->length; i++)
        days->array[i] = i+1;

    PrintArray(days);

    SetArray(days,10,moreDays);

    PrintArray(days);

    negativeTest = NewArray(-5);

    PrintArray(negativeTest);

    return 0;
}

But you have to care about set the right length of the array you want to store, because the is no way to check this length, like our friends massively explained.

Hope you learned something from this post.

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