Dangling Pointer

Last updated: June 14, 2018

What Does Dangling Pointer Mean?

A dangling pointer in IT is a pointer in code that leads to the wrong memory block or to some unintended destination. In many cases, this is because the original object that the pointer is pointing to has been deleted, moved or replaced.


Techopedia Explains Dangling Pointer

In some modern programming languages, pointers serve as valid references in code. A pointer directs the program to a certain memory destination where there is supposed to be a corresponding object. However, any time the object has been moved or deleted, that pointer points to an empty or possibly unallocated space. This raises all sorts of issues. First, referencing the wrong memory address can cause the application to crash, or it can cause severe bugs and other unintended problems. Also, in the age of cyberattacks, experts are now suggesting that dangling pointers can be exploited for hacking.

In addition to a pointer in code, the phrase “dangling pointer” has also been used to talk about other types of similar situations in real life: for example, where a printed telephone number goes to a connection that has been disconnected or is no longer in use. A similar phenomenon to a dangling pointer is link rot on the internet, where hyperlinks point to obsolete or outdated destinations and users get 404 messages or other errors.


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