in Code, Geeklife, Uncategorized

How to create a list that holds different object types using `void*` in C.

I remember being in school back around 1998 and not knowing enough about C to do this. After coding in other languages, then going back to C++ and understanding at a lower level how references and pointers work, this was pretty easy to figure out.

In this exercise I store elements of different types in a forward linked list.
In order to know what to dereference as I iterate through the list’s elements, I’ve put a “.type” field, which has an int value representing the type of the object stored.

The “.value” is simply a void*, which lets me store a pointer of any kind, and it works pretty well.

Here’s the code for your enjoyment, I hope this is useful to C apprentices.

The example shows how you can store native types like int, or more complex char* or even a struct person* (which is the more useful probably to your purposes)

It’s a good exercise to see the uses of the “address of” operator “&”, which is used to initialize pointers (the ‘&’ can also be used differently to create references, which I call in my mind as ‘aliases’, but this is not shown in this example)

I also play with a not so popular syntax to access a pointer’s sub-fields:

(*myPointer).structField == myPointer->structField

to teach you that the -> is a short hand for dereferencing a pointer and accessing one of its fields.

//                                                                                                                                                                                          
// An exercise to play with a struct that stores anything using a void* field.                                                                                                              
//                                                                                                                                                                                          

#include <stdio.h>

#define TRUE 1

int TYPE_INT = 0;
int TYPE_STRING = 1;
int TYPE_BOOLEAN = 2;
int TYPE_PERSON = 3;

struct node {
  struct node* next;
  int type;
  void* value;
};

struct person {
  char* name;
  int age;
};

int main(int args, char **argv) {

  struct person aPerson;
  aPerson.name = "Angel";
  aPerson.age = 35;

  // Define a linked list of objects.                                                                                                                                                       
  // We use that .type field to know what we're dealing                                                                                                                                     
  // with on every iteration. On .value we store our values.                                                                                                                                
  struct node nodes[] = {
    { .next = &nodes[1], .type = TYPE_INT    , .value=1                   },
    { .next = &nodes[2], .type = TYPE_STRING , .value="anyfing, anyfing!" },
    { .next = &nodes[3], .type = TYPE_PERSON , .value=&aPerson            },
    { .next = NULL     , .type = TYPE_BOOLEAN, .value=TRUE                }
  };

  // We iterate through the list                                                                                                                                                            
  for ( struct node *currentNode = &nodes[0]; currentNode;  currentNode = currentNode->next) {
    int currentType = (*currentNode).type;
    if (currentType == TYPE_INT) {
      printf("%s: %dn", "- INTEGER", (*currentNode).value); // just playing with syntax, same as currentNode->value                                                                        
    } else if (currentType == TYPE_STRING) {
      printf("%s: %sn", "- STRING", currentNode->value);
    } else if (currentType == TYPE_BOOLEAN) {
      printf("%s: %dn", "- BOOLEAN (true:1, false:0)", currentNode->value);
    } else if (currentType == TYPE_PERSON) {
        // since we're using void*, we end up with a pointer to struct person, which we *dereference                                                                                        
        // into a struct in the stack.                                                                                                                                                      
        struct person currentPerson = *(struct person*) currentNode->value;
        printf("%s: %s (%d)n","- TYPE_PERSON", currentPerson.name, currentPerson.age);
      }
  }

    return 0;
}

The output is this:

- INTEGER: 1
- STRING: anyfing, anyfing!
- TYPE_PERSON: Angel (35)
- BOOLEAN (true:1, false:0): 1

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