Users and applications
Formal description
Use in data structures
Architectural roots
Making pointers safer
Simulation using an array index
Project partners & contact details
Simulation using an array index
It is possible to simulate pointer behavior using an index to an (normally one-dimensional) array.
Primarily for languages which do not support pointers explicitly but do support arrays, the array can be thought of and processed as if it were the entire memory range (within the scope of the particular array) and any index to it can be thought of as equivalent to a general purpose register in assembly language (that points to the individual bytes but whose actual value is relative to the start of the array, not its absolute address in memory). Assuming the array is, say, a contiguous 16 megabyte character data structure, individual bytes (or a string of contiguous bytes within the array) can be directly addressed and manipulated using the name of the array with a 31 bit unsigned integer as the simulated pointer (this is quite similar to the C arrays example shown above). Pointer arithmetic can be simulated by adding or subtracting from the index, with minimal additional overhead compared to genuine pointer arithmetic.
It is even theoretically possible, using the above technique, together with a suitable instruction set simulator to simulate any machine code or the intermediate (byte code) of any processor/language in another language that does not support pointers at all (for example Java / JavaScript). To achieve this, the binary code can initially be loaded into contiguous bytes of the array for the simulator to "read", interpret and action entirely within the memory contained of the same array. If necessary, to completely avoid buffer overflow problems, bounds checking can usually be actioned for the compiler (or if not, hand coded in the simulator).