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lvalue and rvalue in C language

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lvalue simply means an object that has an identifiable location in memory (i.e. having an address).

  • In any assignment statement “lvalue” must have the capability to store the data.
  • lvalue cannot be a function, expression (like a+b) or a constant (like 3 , 4 , etc.).

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 simply means, an object that has no identifiable location in memory (i.e. having an address).

  • Anything that is capable of returning a constant expression or value.
  • Expression like a+b will return some constant.

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 l-value as its operand. That is, &n is a valid expression only if n is an l-value. 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 l-values can appear on the left of an assignment operator while r-values can appear on the right.

Reference: 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.

Last Updated : 22 Jun, 2022
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