7.8 Advice

Pointers, Arrays, and References
Chapter 7
If you want a collection of something that refers to an object, you must use a pointer:
int x, y;
string& a1[] = {x, y};
string a2[] = {&x, &y};
vector<string&> s1 = {x , y};
vector<string > s2 = {&x, &y};
// error : array of references
// OK
// error : vector of references
// OK
Once we leave the cases where C++ leaves no choice for the programmer, we enter the domain of
aesthetics. Ideally, we will make our choices so as to minimize the probability of error and in particular to maximize readability of code.
If you need a notion of ‘‘no value,’’ pointers offer nullptr. There is no equivalent ‘‘null reference,’’ so if you need a ‘‘no value,’’ using a pointer may be most appropriate. For example:
void fp(X p)
if (p == nullptr) {
// no value
else {
// use *p
void fr(X& r) // common style
// assume that r is valid and use it
If you really want to, you can construct and check for a ‘‘null reference’’ for a particular type:
void fr2(X& r)
if (&r == &nullX) {
// no value
else {
// use r
// or maybe r==nullX
Obviously, you need to have suitably defined nullX. The style is not idiomatic and I don’t recommend it. A programmer is allowed to assume that a reference is valid. It is possible to create an
invalid reference, but you have to go out of your way to do so. For example:
char ident(char
p) { return p; }
char& r { ident(nullptr)}; // invalid code
This code is not valid C++ code. Don’t write such code even if your current implementation
doesn’t catch it.
Section 7.8
7.8 Advice
Keep use of pointers simple and straightforward; §7.4.1.
Avoid nontrivial pointer arithmetic; §7.4.
Take care not to write beyond the bounds of an array; §7.4.1.
Avoid multidimensional arrays; define suitable containers instead; §7.4.2.
Use nullptr rather than 0 or NULL; §7.2.2.
Use containers (e.g., vector, array, and valarray) rather than built-in (C-style) arrays; §7.4.1.
Use string rather than zero-terminated arrays of char; §7.4.
Use raw strings for string literals with complicated uses of backslash; §
Prefer const reference arguments to plain reference arguments; §7.7.3.
Use rvalue references (only) for forwarding and move semantics; §7.7.2.
Keep pointers that represent ownership inside handle classes; §7.6.
Avoid void except in low-level code; §7.2.1.
Use const pointers and const references to express immutability in interfaces; §7.5.
Prefer references to pointers as arguments, except where ‘‘no object’’ is a reasonable option;