I thought I got pointers but I don't fully understand a function that gets a new node for a linked list. I understand the theory behind Hash tables and chaining with linked lists but when it comes to implementing it in C, the syntax gets me confused.

// Represents a node in a hash table
typedef struct node
    char word[LENGTH + 1];
    struct node *next;

// Hash table
node *table[N];

From what I understand, table is an array (of size N) that contains pointers to nodes, so each element in the array will eventually contain a memory address (e.g. 0x123) but does not contain the struct itself.

// Gets a node for a singly linked list
node *getNode(char *value)
    node *pNode = malloc(sizeof(node));
    if (pNode == NULL)
        printf("Could not allocate memory for linked list node\n.");
        return pNode;
    strcpy(pNode->word, value);
    // Set next to NULL pointer
    pNode->next = NULL;

    return pNode;

Consequently I don't understand pNode->next = NULL as doesn't node *pNode initialise the variable as a pointer to a node (which is just an address) and not the node struct. I would've thought it would be written as node pNode = malloc... as the next field within the struct would be a pointer to another node in the linked list.

1 Answer 1


Maybe there are a couple things that you haven't grasped yet.

First, creating a var and initializing a var are two very different actions.

A statement like node *pnode; creates a node var called pnode, a pointer to a node, which stores the address of a node. It is NOT initialized. Pointers are never initialized by default.

The statement node *pnode = NULL; both creates and initializes the pointer, by setting the value stored in the pointer to NULL.

The statement node *pnode = malloc(sizeof(node)); will create the var pnode, allocate the memory for a node, and will initialize pnode by storing the address of the node in pnode. However, it does NOT initialize any of the structure elements inside the node. That means that pnode->next remains uninitialized and just contains the garbage data that was in that physical memory location at the time. pnode->next still needs to be initialized with NULL or a valid memory address.

Does it make more sense now?

  • Ah I see, thank you for clarifying that. So initially we want to loop through our hash table to set all the pointers to null, then when we call getNode we want to update the pointer in the table to point at the newly created node. So does that make pNode just a temporary pointer in essence? I've tried making a schematic in order to try understand this better, is that along the right lines? Jan 24, 2020 at 23:17

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