Using a double pointer for dynamic memory allocation

Question | Jul 26, 2019 | jmiller 

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What is a double-pointer?

A double-pointer is a pointer to a pointer. For instance, a char pointer to pointer is declared as char** ptrptr.

Let's look at a real-life example of using a char double-pointer. In the following code, the function genNumStrings() returns a dynamic array of variable length number strings ("12345", "2345666", "12133131", ....). The genNumStrings() generates a given 'n' number of strings using the random number generator and fills them in a dynamic array of char pointers (char*). The dynamic array of char* itself is nothing but a double-pointer char**, as shown below:

//Returns a list of 'n' random number strings.
//Each number string is of a random length.
char** genNumStrings(size_t n) {
 //Create a dynamic array of char*
 //numStrs is a double-pointer
 char** numStrs = new char*[n];

 //seed the random num generator with current time.

 for(size_t i=0; i < n; i++) {
  //Create a random number string
  char str[10];
  std::snprintf(str, sizeof str, "%d", std::rand());

  //Allocate memory for one number string
  //Store the char* pointer in the numStrs array
  numStrs[i] = new char[std::strlen(str)+1];

  //Copy the number string to the dynamic location
  std::strcpy(numStrs[i], str); //safe
 //Return char** double-pointer
 return numStrs;

The following illustration shows the memory layout of the dynamic array returned by the genNumStrings():

char double-pointer memory layout

The memory allocated by genNumStrings() can be freed by the function freeNumStrings(), as shown below:

//Frees the memory of all strings (char*)
//and the char**.
void freeNumStrings(char** numStrs, size_t n) {
 //First free all the char*
 for(int i=0; i < n; i++)
  delete [] numStrs[i];
 //Now free the char** itself
 delete [] numStrs;

Both of the above functions can be used as:

int main() {
 auto numStrs = genNumStrings(10);
 //Print all strings
 for(int i=0; i < 10; i++)
  std::cout << numStrs[i] << "\n";
 freeNumStrings(numStrs, 10);
 return 0;

Having looked at the basics of the double-pointer, let's look at another example and a question in the next section.

A Question

In the following code, an int pointer is dynamically assigned memory for a variable number of ints through a function allocate:

int* iptr = nullptr; 
// allocate memory 
auto n = allocate(&iptr);

Once allocate returns, the iptr points to a memory location that holds n number of ints as shown:

enter image description here

Below is the partial implementation of function allocate. It accepts an int** as an argument and returns the number or count of ints for which the memory is allocated:

auto allocate(int** dptr) {
   size_t count = getCount(); 
   /*__Allocate Memory__*/  
   return count;

The function getCount above, which is not shown here, could be a function that reads from a database and returns the count of ints for which the memory is to be allocated. You have to select one from below choices that correctly allocates memory (or replaces /*__Allocate Memory__*/) in function allocate above (check Explanations for details):