Difference Between Stack and Heap Memory Allocation in C

1. Introduction

In C programming, memory allocation is a critical aspect, and it is primarily done in two ways: on the stack and on the heap. Stack memory allocation is handled automatically by the compiler, whereas heap memory allocation is managed by the programmer, usually using functions like malloc() and free().

2. Key Points

1. Stack memory is used for static memory allocation, where the size is known at compile time.

2. Heap memory is used for dynamic memory allocation, where the size is determined at runtime.

3. Stack memory allocation is faster but limited in size, whereas heap allocation is slower but can handle larger data.

4. Memory management in the stack is done automatically, while in the heap it is managed manually.

3. Differences

Stack Memory Heap Memory
Allocated and managed automatically by the compiler. Allocated and freed manually by the programmer.
Limited in size, depends on the system. Larger in size, depends on the available system memory.
Fast access due to its LIFO nature. Slower access compared to the stack.

4. Example

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

int main() {
    // Stack memory allocation
    int stackVar = 10;
    printf("Stack Variable: %d\n", stackVar);

    // Heap memory allocation
    int *heapVar = (int*)malloc(sizeof(int));
    *heapVar = 20;
    printf("Heap Variable: %d\n", *heapVar);

    return 0;


Stack Variable: 10
Heap Variable: 20


1. stackVar is a local variable and gets memory allocated on the stack. Its memory is automatically managed.

2. heapVar points to an integer allocated on the heap. This memory needs to be explicitly allocated and deallocated using malloc() and free().

5. When to use?

- Use stack memory for local variables where the memory need is temporary and known at compile time.

- Use heap memory for variables that require larger and dynamic memory allocation, or for memory that needs to persist beyond the scope of the function call.

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