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I've come across two pointer declarations that I'm having trouble understanding. My understanding of precedence rules goes something like this:

Operator             Precedence             Associativity
(), [ ]                  1                  Left to Right
*, identifier            2                  Right to Left
Data type                3

But even given this, I can't seem to figure out how to evaluate the following examples correctly:

First example

float * (* (*ptr)(int))(double **,char c)

My evaluation:

  1. *(ptr)
  2. (int)
  3. *(*ptr)(int)
  4. *(*(*ptr)(int))


  1. double **
  2. char c

Second example

unsigned **( * (*ptr) [5] ) (char const *,int *)
  1. *(ptr)
  2. [5]
  3. *(*ptr)[5]
  4. *(*(*ptr)[5])
  5. **(*(*ptr)[5])

How should I read them?

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Asking about how a language handles its features is on-topic here. – user8 Nov 21 '11 at 21:19
up vote 7 down vote accepted

My guess for the first one: ptr is a pointer to a function that takes as parameter an int, and returns a pointer to a function that takes as parameters a pointer to pointer to double and a char, and returns a pointer to float.



says that ptr is a pointer to a function taking an int as an argument. To discover what that function returns we need to expand our view:

(* (*ptr)(int))

this means the function returns a pointer to another function. The parameters of that other function are:

(double **,char c)

and it returns

float *

And for the second one: ptr is a pointer to an array of five pointers to functions that take as parameters a constant pointer to char and a pointer to int, returning a pointer to a pointer of unsigned int.


( * (*ptr) [5] )

declares ptr as a pointer to array of five pointers to a function taking

(char const *,int *)

as arguments and returning

unsigned **

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Thanks a lot. Clearly understood it... :-) – ankurtr Nov 21 '11 at 21:01

You could try the 'The Clockwise Spiral' Method to understand these insane declarations:

I blogged about it here too:

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Thank you for reply. But in The Clockwise Spiral method from where to start in my case? In the examples given on the link there are simple examples. I am not able to match my equation with that method. – ankurtr Nov 21 '11 at 20:48
you should start from your identifier: ptr. you will have: "ptr is a pointer to a function that takes an int and returns a pointer to a function that takes a pointer to a pointer to a double and a char and returns a pointer to a float". try the spyral and you'll get the same. – Remo.D Nov 21 '11 at 21:02

Use the C gibberish to English convertor:

declare p as pointer to function (int) returning pointer to function (pointer to pointer to double, char) returning pointer to float

(had to tidy it up a tiny bit to make the site parse it)

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Also available as a command line program cdecl, included with gcc or available in a separate package on *nix systems/environments. – Kevin Nov 21 '11 at 21:25
Awesome! love it! – Gary Willoughby Nov 21 '11 at 21:37
That site isn't working well, it is buggy and giving syntax error for lots of valid C declarations. – user29079 Nov 22 '11 at 7:37

It's a function pointer. The person who wrote it could have made better use of typedefs to have made it clearer.

It is in effect a pointer to function with these parameters. float* myfunc(double**, char)

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My bet is that the person who wrote it is the teacher. – mouviciel Nov 21 '11 at 21:08
Lets hope it isn't the teacher, because you don't need to know crap like this. Though I suppose a good teacher would first slap you in the face with expressions like these, letting you scratch your head trying to interpret them, then show you how to use typedef properly. – user29079 Nov 22 '11 at 7:44

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