Dynamic Memory allocation-C Programming

In programming we may come across situations where we may have to deal with data, which is dynamic in nature. The number of data items may change during the executions of a program. The number of customers in a queue can increase or decrease during the process at any time. When the list grows we need to allocate more memory space to accommodate additional data items. Such situations can be handled move easily by using dynamic techniques. Dynamic data items at run time, thus optimizing file usage of storage space.

Dynamic memory allocation:

The process of allocating memory at run time is known as dynamic memory allocation. Although c does not inherently have this facility there are four library routines which allow this function.

Many languages permit a programmer to specify an array size at run time. Such languages have the ability to calculate and assign during executions, the memory space required by the variables in the program. But c inherently does not have this facility but supports with memory management functions, which can be used to allocate and free memory during the program execution. The following functions are used in c for purpose of memory management.

Function Task
malloc Allocates memory requests size of bytes and returns a pointer to the Ist byte of allocated space
calloc Allocates space for an array of elements initializes them to zero and returns a pointer to the memory
free Frees previously allocated space
realloc Modifies the size of previously allocated space.

Memory allocations process:

According to the conceptual view the program instructions and global and static variable in a permanent storage area and local area variables are stored in stacks. The memory space that is located between these two regions in available for dynamic allocation during the execution of the program. The free memory region is called the heap. The size of heap keeps changing when program is executed due to creation and death of variables that are local for functions and blocks. Therefore it is possible to encounter memory overflow during dynamic allocation process. In such situations, the memory allocation functions mentioned above will return a null pointer.

Allocating a block of memory:

A block mf memory may be allocated using the function malloc. The malloc function reserves a block of memory of specified size and returns a pointer of type void. This means that we can assign it to any type of pointer. It takes the following form:


ptr is a pointer of type cast-type the malloc returns a pointer (of cast type) to an area of memory with size byte-size.



On successful execution of this statement a memory equivalent to 100 times the area of int bytes is reserved and the address of the first byte of memory allocated is assigned to the pointer x of type int

Allocating multiple blocks of memory:

Calloc is another memory allocation function that is normally used to request multiple blocks of storage each of the same size and then sets all bytes to zero. The general form of calloc is:

ptr=(cast-type*) calloc(n,elem-size);

The above statement allocates contiguous space for n blocks each size of elements size bytes. All bytes are initialized to zero and a pointer to the first byte of the allocated region is returned. If there is not enough space a null pointer is returned.

Releasing the used space:

Compile time storage of a variable is allocated and released by the system in accordance with its storage class. With the dynamic runtime allocation, it is our responsibility to release the space when it is not required. The release of storage space becomes important when the storage is limited. When we no longer need the data we stored in a block of memory and we do not intend to use that block for storing any other information, we may release that block of memory for future use, using the free function.


ptr is a pointer that has been created by using malloc or calloc.

To alter the size of allocated memory:

The memory allocated by using calloc or malloc might be insufficient or excess sometimes in both the situations we can change the memory size already allocated with the help of the function realloc. This process is called reallocation of memory. The general statement of reallocation of memory is


This function allocates new memory space of size newsize to the pointer variable ptr ans returns a pointer to the first byte of the memory block. The allocated new block may be or may not be at the same region.

/*Example program for reallocation*/
#include< stdio.h >
#include< stdlib.h >
define NULL 0
char *buffer;
/*Allocating memory*/
if((buffer=(char *) malloc(10))==NULL)
printf(“Malloc failed\n”);
printf(“Buffer of size %d created \n,_msize(buffer));
printf(“\nBuffer contains:%s\n”,buffer);
if((buffer=(char *)realloc(buffer,15))==NULL)
printf(“Reallocation failed\n”);
printf(“\nBuffer size modified.\n”);
printf(“\nBuffer still contains: %s\n”,buffer);
printf(“\nBuffer now contains:%s\n”,buffer);
/*freeing memory*/

Difference between Malloc and Calloc

Type Calloc Malloc
Number of arguments: 2 1
Stands for: Clear-Allocation Memory allocation
Function: allocates a region of memory large enough to hold “nelements” of “size” bytes each. The allocated region is initialized to zero. allocates “size” bytes of memory. If the allocation succeeds, a pointer to the block of memory is returned.
Syntax: void *calloc(size_t nelements, size_t bytes); void *malloc(size_t size);


void *malloc(size_t size);

allocates size bytes of memory. If the allocation succeeds, a pointer to the block of memory is returned. Example:

/* Allocate space for an array with ten elements of type int. */
int *ptr = malloc(10 * sizeof (int));
if (ptr == NULL) {
   /* Memory could not be allocated, so print an error and exit. */
   fprintf(stderr, "Couldn't allocate memory\n");
/* Allocation succeeded. */


void *calloc(size_t nelements, size_t bytes);

allocates a region of memory large enough to hold nelements of size bytes each. The allocated region is initialized to zero. In the above example:

/* Allocate space for an array with ten elements of type int. */
int *ptr = calloc(10,sizeof (int));
if (ptr == NULL) {
   /* Memory could not be allocated, so print an error and exit. */
   fprintf(stderr, "Couldn't allocate memory\n");
/* Allocation succeeded. */

2 responses to “Dynamic Memory allocation-C Programming

  1. i am learning somany topics from your blog.
    thank u very much boss for creating useful blog for Embedded C

    and please create a page for embedded protocols(I2C,SPI, CAN)

    thanku very much


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