- A pointer can be re-assigned:
int x =5;int y =6;int*p; p =&x; p =&y;*p =10; assert(x ==5); assert(y ==10);
A reference cannot, and must be assigned at initialization:
int x =5;int y =6;int&r = x;
- A pointer has its own memory address and size on the stack (4 bytes on x86), whereas a reference shares the same memory address (with the original variable) but also takes up some space on the stack. Since a reference has the same address as the original variable itself, it is safe to think of a reference as another name for the same variable. Note: What a pointer points to can be on the stack or heap. Ditto a reference. My claim in this statement is not that a pointer must point to the stack. A pointer is just a variable that holds a memory address. This variable is on the stack. Since a reference has its own space on the stack, and since the address is the same as the variable it references. More on stack vs heap. This implies that there is a real address of a reference that the compiler will not tell you.
int x =0;int&r = x;int*p =&x;int*p2 =&r; assert(p == p2);
- You can have pointers to pointers to pointers offering extra levels of indirection. Whereas references only offer one level of indirection.
int x =0;int y =0;int*p =&x;int*q =&y;int**pp =&p; pp =&q;//*pp = q**pp =4; assert(y ==4); assert(x ==0);
- Pointer can be assigned NULL directly, whereas reference cannot. If you try hard enough, and you know how, you can make the address of a reference NULL. Likewise, if you try hard enough you can have a reference to a pointer, and then that reference can contain NULL.
int*p = NULL;int&r = NULL;<--- compiling error
- Pointers can iterate over an array, you can use
++to go to the next item that a pointer is pointing to, and
+ 4to go to the 5th element. This is no matter what size the object is that the pointer points to.
- A pointer needs to be dereferenced with
*to access the memory location it points to, whereas a reference can be used directly. A pointer to a class/struct uses
->to access it’s members whereas a reference uses a
- A pointer is a variable that holds a memory address. Regardless of how a reference is implemented, a reference has the same memory address as the item it references.
- References cannot be stuffed into an array, whereas pointers can be (Mentioned by user @litb)
- Const references can be bound to temporaries. Pointers cannot (not without some indirection):
constint&x =int(12);//legal C++int*y =&int(12);//illegal to dereference a temporary.
const&safer for use in argument lists and so forth.