1. <programming> An address, from the point of view of a programming language. A pointer may be typed, with its type indicating the type of data to which it points.

The terms "pointer" and "reference" are generally interchangeable although particular programming languages often differentiate these two in subtle ways. For example, Perl always calls them references, never pointers. Conversely, in C, "pointer" is used, although "a reference" is often used to denote the concept that a pointer implements.

Anthony Hoare once said:

Pointers are like jumps, leading wildly from one part of the data structure to another. Their introduction into high-level languages has been a step backward from which we may never recover.

[C.A.R.Hoare "Hints on Programming Language Design", 1973, Prentice-Hall collection of essays and papers by Tony Hoare].

2. <operating system> (Or "mouse pointer") An icon, usually a small arrow, that moves on the screen in response to movement of a pointing device, typically a mouse. The pointer shows the user which object on the screen will be selected etc. when a mouse button is clicked.

Last updated: 1999-07-07

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Nearby terms: point-and-drool interface « point-and-grunt interface « pointed domain « pointer » pointer swizzling » pointing device » pointing stick


Copyright Denis Howe 1985

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