Dynamic Memory Allocation: Definition & Example

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  • 0:03 What Is Dynamic Memory?
  • 0:58 Dynamic Memory Allocation
  • 1:29 Malloc()
  • 2:40 Calloc() & Realloc()
  • 3:19 Free()
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Avinash Srinivasan
In this lesson, we will learn about dynamic memory through definitions and examples. We will also learn about dynamic memory allocation using the C programming language along with C program examples.

What Is Dynamic Memory?

Memory allocation is a very important part of software development. When the program is loaded into the system memory, the memory region allocated to the program is divided into three broad regions: stack, heap, and code.

Program Memory Layout
Program Memory Layout

Stack region is used for storing program's local variables when they're declared. Also, variables and arrays declared at the start of a function, including main, are allocated stack space. Stacks grow from high address to low address.

Heap region is exclusively for dynamic memory allocation. Unlike stacks, heaps grow from low address to high address.

Code region can be further divided as follows:

  • BSS segment: stores uninitialized static variables
  • Data segment: stores static variables that are initialized
  • Text segment: stores the program's executable instructions

Dynamic Memory Allocation

Dynamic memory allocation refers to managing system memory at runtime. Dynamic memory management in C programming language is performed via a group four functions named malloc(), calloc(), realloc(), and free(). These four dynamic memory allocation functions of the C programming language are defined in the C standard library header file <stdlib.h>. Dynamic memory allocation uses the heap space of the system memory. Let's examine the four dynamic memory management functions in more detail.


Let's first look at malloc(). Malloc() is used to allocate a block of memory on the heap. Specifically, malloc() allocates the user a specified number of bytes but does not initialize. Once allocated, the program accesses this block of memory via a pointer that malloc() returns. The default pointer returned by malloc() is of the type void but can be cast into a pointer of any data type. However, if the space is insufficient for the amount of memory requested by malloc(), then the allocation fails and a NULL pointer is returned.

The function takes a single argument, which is the size of the memory chunk to be allocated. You can dynamically allocate an integer buffer using malloc() in the code that you see here:

int *buffer = (int *) malloc(SIZE_USER_NEEDS * sizeof(int));

In this statement, sizeof(int) will return 2 or 4 bytes as the default size of an integer type. Assuming a user wants a buffer to hold N integer objects, the above statement will dynamically allocate N*4 bytes on the heap. For clarity, if user input SIZE_USER_NEEDS=5, then 5*4=20 bytes will be allocated on the heap that can be accessed using the pointer *buffer.

Calloc() & Realloc()

Now let's look at calloc(). Calloc() allocates a user-specified number of bytes and initializes them to zero. Unlike malloc(), this function takes two arguments: the number of memory chunks to be allocated and the size of each memory chunk.

int *buffer = (int *) calloc(NUMBER_OF_ELEMENTS, sizeof(int));

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