Reference (computer science)

In computer programming, a reference is a value that enables a program to indirectly access a particular data, such as a variable's value or a record, in the computer's memory or in some other storage device. The reference is said to refer to the datum, and accessing the datum is called dereferencing the reference. A reference is distinct from the datum itself.

A reference is an abstract data type and may be implemented in many ways. Typically, a reference refers to data stored in memory on a given system, and its internal value is the memory address of the data, i.e. a reference is implemented as a pointer. For this reason a reference is often said to "point to" the data. Other implementations include an offset (difference) between the datum's address and some fixed "base" address, an index, or identifier used in a lookup operation into an array or table, an operating system handle, a physical address on a storage device, or a network address such as a URL.

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