Next: Pointers in C Up: Functions in C Previous: Scope of Function

Modifying Function Arguments

Some functions work by modifying the values of their arguments. This may be done to pass more than one value back to the calling routine, or because the return value is already being used in some way. C requires special arrangements for arguments whose values will be changed.

You can treat the arguments of a function as variables, however direct manipulation of these arguments won't change the values of the arguments in the calling function. The value passed to the function is a copy of the calling value. This value is stored like a local variable, it disappears on return from the function.

There is a way to change the values of variables declared outside the function. It is done by passing the addresses of variables to the function. These addresses, or pointers, behave a bit like integer types, except that only a limited number of arithmetic operators can be applied to them. They are declared differently to normal types, and we are rarely interested in the value of a pointer. It is what lies at the address which the pointer references which interests us.

To get back to our original function, we pass it the address of a variable whose value we wish to change. The function must now be written to use the value at that address (or at the end of the pointer). On return from the function, the desired value will have changed. We manipulate the actual value using a copy of the pointer.


January 1995