lvalue and rvalue in C language


L-value: “l-value” refers to memory location which identifies an object. l-value may appear as either left hand or right hand side of an assignment operator(=). l-value often represents as identifier.

Expressions referring to modifiable locations are called “modifiable l-values“. A modifiable l-value cannot have an array type, an incomplete type, or a type with the const attribute. For structures and unions to be modifiable lvalues, they must not have any members with the const attribute. The name of the identifier denotes a storage location, while the value of the variable is the value stored at that location.

An identifier is a modifiable lvalue if it refers to a memory location and if its type is arithmetic, structure, union, or pointer. For example, if ptr is a pointer to a storage region, then *ptr is a modifiable l-value that designates the storage region to which ptr points.

In C, the concept was renamed as “locator value”, and referred to expressions that locate (designate) objects. The l-value is one of the following:

  1. The name of the variable of any type i.e, an identifier of integral, floating, pointer, structure, or union type.
  2. A subscript ([ ]) expression that does not evaluate to an array.
  3. A unary-indirection (*) expression that does not refer to an array
  4. An l-value expression in parentheses.
  5. A const object (a nonmodifiable l-value).
  6. The result of indirection through a pointer, provided that it isn’t a function pointer.
  7. The result of member access through pointer(-> or .)
 // declare a an object of type 'int'
 int a;

 // a is an expression referring to an
 // 'int' object as l-value
 a = 1;
 int b = a; // Ok, as l-value can appear on right

 // Switch the operand around '=' operator
 9 = a;

 // Compilation error:
 // as assignment is trying to change the
 // value of assignment operator

R-value: r-value” refers to data value that is stored at some address in memory. A r-value is an expression that can’t have a value assigned to it which means r-value can appear on right but not on left hand side of an assignment operator(=).

 // declare a, b an object of type 'int'
 int a = 1, b;

 a + 1 = b; // Error, left expression is
            // is not variable(a + 1)

 // declare pointer variable 'p', and 'q'
 int *p, *q; // *p, *q are lvalue

 *p = 1; // valid l-value assignment

 // below is invalid - "p + 2" is not an l-value 
 // p + 2 = 18; 

 q = p + 5; // valid - "p + 5" is an r-value

 // Below is valid - dereferencing pointer
 // expression gives an l-value
 *(p + 2) = 18;

 p = &b; 

 int arr[20]; // arr[12] is an lvalue; equivalent
               // to *(arr+12)
               // Note: arr itself is also an lvalue

 struct S { int m; };

 struct S obj; // obj and obj.m are lvalues

 // ptr-> is an lvalue; equivalent to (*ptr).m
 // Note: ptr and *ptr are also lvalues
 struct S* ptr = &obj;

Note: The unary & (address-of) operator requires an lvalue as its operand. That is, &n is a valid expression only if n is an lvalue. Thus, an expression such as &12 is an error. Again, 12 does not refer to an object, so it’s not addressable. For instance,

  // declare a as int variable and
  // 'p' as pointer variable
  int a, *p;

  p = &a; // ok, assignment of address
          // at l-value

  &a = p;    // error: &a is an r-value

  int x, y;

  (  x < y ? y : x) = 0; // It's valid because the ternary
                    // expression preserves the "lvalue-ness"
                   // of both its possible return values

Remembering the mnemonic, that lvalues can appear on the left of an assignment operator while rvalues can appear on the right


This article is contributed by Shubham Bansal. If you like GeeksforGeeks and would like to contribute, you can also write an article using or mail your article to See your article appearing on the GeeksforGeeks main page and help other Geeks.

GATE CS Corner    Company Wise Coding Practice

Please write to us at to report any issue with the above content.

Recommended Posts:

3 Average Difficulty : 3/5.0
Based on 2 vote(s)

Writing code in comment? Please use, generate link and share the link here.