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3.2.2.3 Freeing Memory Allocated with malloc

When you no longer need a block that you got with malloc, use the function free to make the block available to be allocated again. The prototype for this function is in stdlib.h.

— Function: void free (void *ptr)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Unsafe lock | AC-Unsafe lock fd mem | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

The free function deallocates the block of memory pointed at by ptr.

— Function: void cfree (void *ptr)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Unsafe lock | AC-Unsafe lock fd mem | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function does the same thing as free. It's provided for backward compatibility with SunOS; you should use free instead.

Freeing a block alters the contents of the block. Do not expect to find any data (such as a pointer to the next block in a chain of blocks) in the block after freeing it. Copy whatever you need out of the block before freeing it! Here is an example of the proper way to free all the blocks in a chain, and the strings that they point to:

     struct chain
       {
         struct chain *next;
         char *name;
       }
     
     void
     free_chain (struct chain *chain)
     {
       while (chain != 0)
         {
           struct chain *next = chain->next;
           free (chain->name);
           free (chain);
           chain = next;
         }
     }

Occasionally, free can actually return memory to the operating system and make the process smaller. Usually, all it can do is allow a later call to malloc to reuse the space. In the meantime, the space remains in your program as part of a free-list used internally by malloc.

There is no point in freeing blocks at the end of a program, because all of the program's space is given back to the system when the process terminates.