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Mastering Algorithms with C by Kyle Loudon

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Pointers as Parameters to Functions

Pointers are an essential part of calling functions in C. Most importantly, they are used to support a type of parameter passing called call-by-reference. In call-by-reference parameter passing , when a function changes a parameter passed to it, the change persists after the function returns. Contrast this with call-by-value parameter passing, in which changes to parameters persist only within the function itself. Pointers are also an efficient means of passing large amounts of data in and out of functions, whether we plan to modify the data or not. This method is efficient because only a pointer is passed instead of a complete copy of the data. This technique is used in many of the examples in this book.

Call-by-Reference Parameter Passing

Formally, C supports only call-by-value parameter passing. In call-by-value parameter passing , private copies of a function's calling parameters are made for the function to use as it executes. However, we can simulate call-by-reference parameter passing by passing pointers to parameters instead of passing the parameters themselves. Using this approach, a function gets a private copy of a pointer to each parameter in the caller's environment.

To understand how this works, first consider swap1, which illustrates an incorrect implementation of a function to swap two integers using call-by-value parameter passing without pointers. Figure 2.4 illustrates why this does not work. The function swap2 corrects the problem ...

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