struct UnsafePointer

A pointer for accessing data of a specific type.

Associated Types
public typealias Distance = Int

You use instances of the UnsafePointer type to access data of a specific type in memory. The type of data that a pointer can access is the pointer's Pointee type. UnsafePointer provides no automated memory management or alignment guarantees. You are responsible for handling the life cycle of any memory you work with through unsafe pointers to avoid leaks or undefined behavior.

Memory that you manually manage can be either untyped or bound to a specific type. You use the UnsafePointer type to access and manage memory that has been bound to a specific type.

Understanding a Pointer's Memory State

The memory referenced by an UnsafePointer instance can be in one of several states. Many pointer operations must only be applied to pointers with memory in a specific state---you must keep track of the state of the memory you are working with and understand the changes to that state that different operations perform. Memory can be untyped and uninitialized, bound to a type and uninitialized, or bound to a type and initialized to a value. Finally, memory that was allocated previously may have been deallocated, leaving existing pointers referencing unallocated memory.

Uninitialized Memory

Memory that has just been allocated through a typed pointer or has been deinitialized is in an uninitialized state. Uninitialized memory must be initialized before it can be accessed for reading.

Initialized Memory

Initialized memory has a value that can be read using a pointer's pointee property or through subscript notation. In the following example, ptr is a pointer to memory initialized with a value of 23:

let ptr: UnsafePointer<Int> = ...
// ptr.pointee == 23
// ptr[0] == 23

Accessing a Pointer's Memory as a Different Type

When you access memory through an UnsafePointer instance, the Pointee type must be consistent with the bound type of the memory. If you do need to access memory that is bound to one type as a different type, Swift's pointer types provide type-safe ways to temporarily or permanently change the bound type of the memory, or to load typed instances directly from raw memory.

An UnsafePointer<UInt8> instance allocated with eight bytes of memory, uint8Pointer, will be used for the examples below.

let uint8Pointer: UnsafePointer<UInt8> = fetchEightBytes()

When you only need to temporarily access a pointer's memory as a different type, use the withMemoryRebound(to:capacity:) method. For example, you can use this method to call an API that expects a pointer to a different type that is layout compatible with your pointer's Pointee. The following code temporarily rebinds the memory that uint8Pointer references from UInt8 to Int8 to call the imported C strlen function.

// Imported from C
func strlen(_ __s: UnsafePointer<Int8>!) -> UInt

let length = uint8Pointer.withMemoryRebound(to: Int8.self, capacity: 8) {
    return strlen($0)
// length == 7

When you need to permanently rebind memory to a different type, first obtain a raw pointer to the memory and then call the bindMemory(to:capacity:) method on the raw pointer. The following example binds the memory referenced by uint8Pointer to one instance of the UInt64 type:

let uint64Pointer = UnsafeRawPointer(uint8Pointer)
                          .bindMemory(to: UInt64.self, capacity: 1)

After rebinding the memory referenced by uint8Pointer to UInt64, accessing that pointer's referenced memory as a UInt8 instance is undefined.

var fullInteger = uint64Pointer.pointee          // OK
var firstByte = uint8Pointer.pointee             // undefined

Alternatively, you can access the same memory as a different type without rebinding through untyped memory access, so long as the bound type and the destination type are trivial types. Convert your pointer to an UnsafeRawPointer instance and then use the raw pointer's load(fromByteOffset:as:) method to read values.

let rawPointer = UnsafeRawPointer(uint64Pointer)
fullInteger = rawPointer.load(as: UInt64.self)   // OK
firstByte = rawPointer.load(as: UInt8.self)      // OK

Performing Typed Pointer Arithmetic

Pointer arithmetic with a typed pointer is counted in strides of the pointer's Pointee type. When you add to or subtract from an UnsafePointer instance, the result is a new pointer of the same type, offset by that number of instances of the Pointee type.

// 'intPointer' points to memory initialized with [10, 20, 30, 40]
let intPointer: UnsafePointer<Int> = ...

// Load the first value in memory
let x = intPointer.pointee
// x == 10

// Load the third value in memory
let offsetPointer = intPointer + 2
let y = offsetPointer.pointee
// y == 30

You can also use subscript notation to access the value in memory at a specific offset.

let z = intPointer[2]
// z == 30

Implicit Casting and Bridging

When calling a function or method with an UnsafePointer parameter, you can pass an instance of that specific pointer type, pass an instance of a compatible pointer type, or use Swift's implicit bridging to pass a compatible pointer.

For example, the printInt(atAddress:) function in the following code sample expects an UnsafePointer<Int> instance as its first parameter:

func printInt(atAddress p: UnsafePointer<Int>) {

As is typical in Swift, you can call the printInt(atAddress:) function with an UnsafePointer instance. This example passes intPointer, a pointer to an Int value, to print(address:).

printInt(atAddress: intPointer)
// Prints "42"

Because a mutable typed pointer can be implicitly cast to an immutable pointer with the same Pointee type when passed as a parameter, you can also call printInt(atAddress:) with an UnsafeMutablePointer instance.

let mutableIntPointer = UnsafeMutablePointer(mutating: intPointer)
printInt(atAddress: mutableIntPointer)
// Prints "42"

Alternatively, you can use Swift's implicit bridging to pass a pointer to an instance or to the elements of an array. The following example passes a pointer to the value variable by using inout syntax:

var value: Int = 23
printInt(atAddress: &value)
// Prints "23"

An immutable pointer to the elements of an array is implicitly created when you pass the array as an argument. This example uses implicit bridging to pass a pointer to the elements of numbers when calling printInt(atAddress:).

let numbers = [5, 10, 15, 20]
printInt(atAddress: numbers)
// Prints "5"

You can also use inout syntax to pass a mutable pointer to the elements of an array. Because printInt(atAddress:) requires an immutable pointer, although this is syntactically valid, it isn't necessary.

var mutableNumbers = numbers
printInt(atAddress: &mutableNumbers)

No matter which way you call printInt(atAddress:), Swift's type safety guarantees that you can only pass a pointer to the type required by the function---in this case, a pointer to an Int.


var number = 5
let numberPointer = UnsafePointer<Int>(&number)
// Accessing 'numberPointer' is undefined behavior.

Instance Variables

var customPlaygroundQuickLook Required

A custom playground Quick Look for this instance.

If this type has value semantics, the PlaygroundQuickLook instance should be unaffected by subsequent mutations.


var customPlaygroundQuickLook: PlaygroundQuickLook
var pointee Required

Accesses the instance referenced by this pointer.

When reading from the pointee property, the instance referenced by this pointer must already be initialized.


var pointee: Pointee


subscript subscript(i:) Required

Accesses the pointee at the specified offset from this pointer.

For a pointer p, the memory at p + i must be initialized.

  • Parameter i: The offset from this pointer at which to access an instance, measured in strides of the pointer's Pointee type.


@inlinable public subscript(i: Int) -> Pointee

Instance Methods

func deallocate() Required

Deallocates the memory block previously allocated at this pointer.

This pointer must be a pointer to the start of a previously allocated memory block. The memory must not be initialized or Pointee must be a trivial type.


@inlinable public func deallocate()
func withMemoryRebound(to type: T.Type, capacity count: Int, _ body: (UnsafePointer<T>) throws -> Result) rethrows -> Result Required

Executes the given closure while temporarily binding the specified number of instances to the given type.

Use this method when you have a pointer to memory bound to one type and you need to access that memory as instances of another type. Accessing memory as a type T requires that the memory be bound to that type. A memory location may only be bound to one type at a time, so accessing the same memory as an unrelated type without first rebinding the memory is undefined.

The region of memory starting at this pointer and covering count instances of the pointer's Pointee type must be initialized.

The following example temporarily rebinds the memory of a UInt64 pointer to Int64, then accesses a property on the signed integer.

let uint64Pointer: UnsafePointer<UInt64> = fetchValue()
let isNegative = uint64Pointer.withMemoryRebound(to: Int64.self) { ptr in
    return ptr.pointee < 0

Because this pointer's memory is no longer bound to its Pointee type while the body closure executes, do not access memory using the original pointer from within body. Instead, use the body closure's pointer argument to access the values in memory as instances of type T.

After executing body, this method rebinds memory back to the original Pointee type.

Note: Only use this method to rebind the pointer's memory to a type with the same size and stride as the currently bound Pointee type. To bind a region of memory to a type that is a different size, convert the pointer to a raw pointer and use the bindMemory(to:capacity:) method.


@inlinable public func withMemoryRebound<T, Result>(to type: T.Type, capacity count: Int, _ body: (UnsafePointer<T>) throws -> Result) rethrows -> Result