Users and applications
Formal description
Use in data structures
Architectural roots
Making pointers safer
Simulation using an array index
Project partners & contact details
Function pointer
A function pointer, also called a subroutine pointer or procedure pointer, is a pointer that points to a function. As opposed to referencing a data value, a function pointer points to executable code within memory. Dereferencing the function pointer yields the referenced function, which can be invoked and passed arguments just as in a normal function call. Such an invocation is also known as an "indirect" call, because the function is being invoked indirectly through a variable instead of directly through a fixed identifier or address.
Function pointers can be used to simplify code by providing a simple way to select a function to execute based on run-time values.
The simplest implementation of a function (or subroutine) pointer is as a variable containing the address of the function within executable memory. Older third-generation languages such as PL/I and COBOL, as well as more modern languages such as Pascal and C generally implement function pointers in this manner.
Functors, or function objects, are similar to function pointers, and can be used in similar ways. A functor is an object of a class type that implements the function-call operator, allowing the object to be used within expressions using the same syntax as a function call. Functors are more powerful than simple function pointers, being able to contain their own data values, and allowing the programmer to emulate closures. They are also used as callback functions if it is necessary to use a member function as a callback function.
Extensively using function pointers to call functions may produce a slow-down for the code on modern processors, because branch predictor may not be able to figure out where to branch to (it depends on the value of the function pointer at run time) although this effect can be overstated as it is often amply compensated for by significantly reduced non-indexed table lookups.
This is how C++ uses function pointers when dealing with member functions of classes or structs. These are invoked using an object pointer or a this call. They are type safe in that you can only call members of that class (or derivatives) using a pointer of that type. This example also demonstrates the use of a typedef for the pointer to member function added for simplicity. Function pointers to static member functions are done in the traditional 'C' style because there is no object pointer for this call required.