References & Pointers

Memory Address

In C++, the memory address is the location in the memory of an object. It can be accessed with the "address of" operator, &.

Given a variable random_var the memory address can be retrieved by printing out &random_var. It will return something like: 0x7ffd7caa5b54.


In C++, a pointer variable stores the memory address of something else.
It is created using the * sign.
Example: int* pointer = &gum; //Gets address of something like 0x3fed7c9a8b578


In C++, a reference variable is an alias for another object. It is created using the & sign. Two things to note:

  1. Anything done to the reference also happens to the original.
  2. Aliases cannot be changed to alias something else.

Example: int &a = b; //Now a shares the same address as b


In C++, pass-by-reference refers to passing parameters to a function by using references.

It allows the ability to:

  • Modify the value of the function arguments.
  • Avoid making copies of a variable/object for performance reasons.
void swap_num(int &i, int &j) {
  int temp = i;
  i = j;
  j = temp;
int main() {
  int a = 100;
  int b = 200;
  swap_num(a, b);
  std::cout << "A is " << a << "\n"; //Prints 200
  std::cout << "B is " << b << "\n"; //Prints 100

const Reference

In C++, pass-by-reference with const can be used for a function where the parameter(s) won’t change inside the function.

This saves the computational cost of making a copy of the argument.

int triple(int const &i) {
  return i * 3;


In C++, a dereference reference operator, *, can be used to obtain the value pointed to by a pointer variable.

int gum = 3;
// * on left side is a pointer
int* pointer = &gum;
// * on right side is a dereference of that pointer
int dereference = *pointer;