Static vs Dynamic Memory Allocation In C: Difference and Comparison

Key Takeaways

  1. Statically allocated memory is allocated at compile time, while dynamically allocated memory is allocated at run time. This makes static allocation faster but less flexible.
  2. Memory for static allocation comes from the stack segment, while dynamic allocation uses the heap segment. The stack has size limits but access is faster.
  3. Statically allocated memory has a fixed, predetermined size, dynamic allocation can allocate/deallocate as per program needs during execution.

What is Static Memory Allocation in C?

Static memory allocation in C refers to allocating memory for variables or data structures during the compilation phase, before the program is executed. The memory allocated using static allocation remains fixed throughout the program’s execution and is determined at compile time. This contrasts dynamic memory allocation, where memory is allocated at runtime using functions like malloc() and can be resized or deallocated as needed.

Static memory allocation has the advantage of being efficient, as the memory is allocated and managed by the compiler itself. However, it has limitations, such as the inability to change memory size during runtime and a potential waste of memory if the allocated space is not fully utilized. Static memory allocation can also lead to issues like buffer overflows if not used carefully.

What is Dynamic Memory Allocation in C?

Dynamic memory allocation in C refers to allocating and deallocating memory for variables and data structures during the runtime of a program. Unlike static memory allocation, where memory is allocated at compile time and remains fixed, dynamic memory allocation allows you to request memory from the operating system as needed and release it when it’s no longer required. This provides greater flexibility in managing memory resources and is essential for creating data structures whose sizes are determined at runtime.

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Dynamic memory allocation is useful when you don’t know the required memory size at compile time, or when the memory requirements can change during program execution. Common use cases include creating dynamic arrays, linked lists, trees, and other data structures that can grow or shrink as needed.

Difference Between Static and Dynamic Memory Allocation in C

  1. Static memory is allocated during the compile time before the program starts running. Dynamic memory is allocated during the runtime, while the program is executing.
  2. Static memory size is determined at compile time and remains fixed throughout the program’s execution. Dynamic memory size can be determined at runtime and change during the program’s execution.
  3. Static is less flexible, as memory allocation is fixed and cannot be changed during runtime. Dynamic is more flexible, as memory can be allocated, resized, and deallocated as needed.
  4. Static variables are allocated statically and have a lifetime that spans the entire program execution. Dynamic memory is allocated dynamically and exists only as long as the program keeps a reference to it; it can be released using free().
  5. The compiler manages static; the programmer requires no explicit memory management. Dynamic requires explicit memory allocation and deallocation using functions like malloc(), calloc(), realloc(), and free().

Comparison Between Static and Dynamic Memory Allocation in C

Parameters of ComparisonStatic Memory AllocationDynamic Memory Allocation
InitializationVariables are initialized to default values (zero for global and static variables).Dynamically allocated memory contains undefined values; needs explicit initialization.
Memory LocationMemory is allocated in the data segment of the program.Memory is allocated in the heap segment of the program’s memory space.
Array SizeArray size must be known at compile time; fixed size.Arrays can be resized dynamically using realloc().
OverheadLess overhead, as memory is allocated once during program startup.More overhead due to runtime allocation and potential memory fragmentation.
Scope and AccessVariables are accessible within their respective scope.Dynamically allocated memory can be passed around functions, increasing its scope.
References
  1. https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/abstract/document/6807799/
  2. https://inria.hal.science/hal-02456533/document
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Last Updated : 19 September, 2023

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