Programming Tutorials

Structures and Functions in C

By: Abinaya in C Tutorials on 2007-09-26  

The only legal operations on a structure are copying it or assigning to it as a unit, taking its address with &, and accessing its members. Copy and assignment include passing arguments to functions and returning values from functions as well. Structures may not be compared. A structure may be initialized by a list of constant member values; an automatic structure may also be initialized by an assignment.

Let us investigate structures by writing some functions to manipulate points and rectangles. There are at least three possible approaches: pass components separately, pass an entire structure, or pass a pointer to it. Each has its good points and bad points.

The first function, makepoint, will take two integers and return a point structure:

   /* makepoint:  make a point from x and y components */
   struct point makepoint(int x, int y)
       struct point temp;

       temp.x = x;
       temp.y = y;
       return temp;
Notice that there is no conflict between the argument name and the member with the same name; indeed the re-use of the names stresses the relationship.

makepoint can now be used to initialize any structure dynamically, or to provide structure arguments to a function:

   struct rect screen;
   struct point middle;
   struct point makepoint(int, int);

   screen.pt1 = makepoint(0,0);
   screen.pt2 = makepoint(XMAX, YMAX);
   middle = makepoint((screen.pt1.x + screen.pt2.x)/2,
                      (screen.pt1.y + screen.pt2.y)/2);
The next step is a set of functions to do arithmetic on points. For instance,
   /* addpoints:  add two points */
   struct addpoint(struct point p1, struct point p2)
       p1.x += p2.x;
       p1.y += p2.y;
       return p1;
Here both the arguments and the return value are structures. We incremented the components in p1 rather than using an explicit temporary variable to emphasize that structure parameters are passed by value like any others.

As another example, the function ptinrect tests whether a point is inside a rectangle, where we have adopted the convention that a rectangle includes its left and bottom sides but not its top and right sides:

   /* ptinrect:  return 1 if p in r, 0 if not */
   int ptinrect(struct point p, struct rect r)
       return p.x >= r.pt1.x && p.x < r.pt2.x
           && p.y >= r.pt1.y && p.y < r.pt2.y;
This assumes that the rectangle is presented in a standard form where the pt1 coordinates are less than the pt2 coordinates. The following function returns a rectangle guaranteed to be in canonical form:
   #define min(a, b) ((a) < (b) ? (a) : (b))
   #define max(a, b) ((a) > (b) ? (a) : (b))

   /* canonrect: canonicalize coordinates of rectangle */
   struct rect canonrect(struct rect r)
       struct rect temp;

       temp.pt1.x = min(r.pt1.x, r.pt2.x);
       temp.pt1.y = min(r.pt1.y, r.pt2.y);
       temp.pt2.x = max(r.pt1.x, r.pt2.x);
       temp.pt2.y = max(r.pt1.y, r.pt2.y);
       return temp;
If a large structure is to be passed to a function, it is generally more efficient to pass a pointer than to copy the whole structure. Structure pointers are just like pointers to ordinary variables. The declaration
   struct point *pp;
says that pp is a pointer to a structure of type struct point. If pp points to a point structure, *pp is the structure, and (*pp).x and (*pp).y are the members. To use pp, we might write, for example,
   struct point origin, *pp;

   pp = &origin;
   printf("origin is (%d,%d)\n", (*pp).x, (*pp).y);
The parentheses are necessary in (*pp).x because the precedence of the structure member operator . is higher then *. The expression *pp.x means *(pp.x), which is illegal here because x is not a pointer.

Pointers to structures are so frequently used that an alternative notation is provided as a shorthand. If p is a pointer to a structure, then

refers to the particular member. So we could write instead
   printf("origin is (%d,%d)\n", pp->x, pp->y);
Both . and -> associate from left to right, so if we have
   struct rect r, *rp = &r;
then these four expressions are equivalent:
The structure operators . and ->, together with () for function calls and [] for subscripts, are at the top of the precedence hierarchy and thus bind very tightly. For example, given the declaration
   struct {
       int len;
       char *str;
   } *p;
increments len, not p, because the implied parenthesization is ++(p->len). Parentheses can be used to alter binding: (++p)->len increments p before accessing len, and (p++)->len increments p afterward. (This last set of parentheses is unnecessary.)

In the same way, *p->str fetches whatever str points to; *p->str++ increments str after accessing whatever it points to (just like *s++); (*p->str)++ increments whatever str points to; and *p++->str increments p after accessing whatever str points to.

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