This article is mainly notes I have taken for CSCB09/CSC209 at UofT.


In C, strings are not a built-in data type. It is basically an array of characters terminated with a null character \0.

To initialize a string, you use the following code:

char name[4] = {'j', 'u', 'n', '\0'};
// or
char name[4] = "jun";


A lot of common string operations can be found within string.h.

To find the length of a string, use following code:

int length = strlen(your_string);

To copy a string, you can use two functions

char *strcpy(char *dest, char *src);
char *strncpy(char *dest, const char *src, int n); // Copy most n characters

Usually if we are not sure about the source size, we would use strncpy to make sure we never overflow. The correct usage is like the following

strncpy(s1, s2, sizeof(s1) - 1);
s1[sizeof(s1) - 1] = '\0';

To concatenating a string, there are also two functions

char *strcat(char *dest, const char *src);
char *strncat(char *dest, const char *src, int n); // Concat most n characters 

We usually use strncat, the correct usage is following

strncat(s1, "test", sizeof(s1) - strlen(s1) - 1);
// Don't have to pad \0, since strncat will pad \0 for us.

To compare two strings, you can use the following functions

int strcmp(const char *s1, const char *s2);
int strncmp(const char *s1, const char *s2, int n); // Compares most n characters

strcmp is safe, so you can use any of the above.

If the return value is 0, then strings are equal, if <0, first unmatch has less value, if >0, first unmatch has greater value.

To search for a character within the string, use following functions

char *strchr(const char *s, int c); // First 
char *strrchar(const char *s, int c); // Last

Dynamic Memory

There are many reasons for us to use dynamic memory, for example:

  • We don’t know the data size
  • Need a bigger array later
  • We need to keep a variable from function

Within our memory model, dynamic data (heap) will never be auto released by the system (unless the program terminated).


To allocate memory, we use a function called malloc().

void *malloc(size_t size);

It will return a pointer to the newly allocated memory, or NULL upon failure.

For example

char *p;
p = malloc(3);
if(p == NULL) // Error

We can use malloc() to create a concat function that concat two strings.

char *concat(const char *s1, const char *s2) {
    char *result;
    result = malloc(strlen(s1) + strlen(s2) + 1);
    if (result == NULL) {
    strcpy(result, s1);
    strcat(result, s2);
    return result;

Memory allocated using malloc must be manually freed, use free(p) to free the memory.

Memory Leak

Memory can leak when you lost access to a block of dynamic memory. Consider the following program

p = malloc(1);
q = malloc(1);
p = q;

We now lost access to p, and unable to free it. This is called a memory leak.

Dangling Pointers

p = malloc(1);

At this point, p points to a memory location it does not own, it is dangerous to use it.


To allocate space for other datatypes, we take advantage of a function called sizeof, which will return the bytes that a data structure will need.

int *a = malloc(4 * sizeof(int)); // This will allocate space for 4 integers


void *calloc(size_t nmemb, size_t size); // First argument is how many elements, second is size of element

Similar to malloc, but zeros all memory.


void *realloc(void *ptr, size_t size);

Change size of memory block pointed by ptr to size.


Struct is a collection of related data items.

For example, you might have a struct called student

struct student {
    char firstName[20];
    char lastName[20];
    int year;

Once we declared a struct, we can use it just like any other datatype.

struct student my_student;
my_student.year = 4;
// etc...

Pointer to Structs

Let’s say instead of struct, we have a pointer to struct.

struct student my_student;
struct student *p = &my_student;

To access using p, you can do one of the following:

(*p).year; // Dereferencing then access struct
p->year; // Shorthand

You can use malloc with structs just like any other type.

Functions can take structs as parameters.

Linked List

Linked list in C is very easy to implement using struct

struct node {
    int data;
    struct node *next;

// Initialize the list
struct node first; = 1;
struct node second; = 2; = &second;

// Loop though list
struct node *head = &first;
while (head->next != NULL) {
    printf("%d\n", head->data);
    head = head->next;