A “stack trace” is a list of which functions have been called, based on this information. When you start using a debugger, one of the first things you should learn is how to get a stack trace.
The stack is very inflexible about allocating memory; everything must be deallocated in exactly the reverse order it was allocated in. For implementing function calls, that is all that’s needed. Allocating memory off the stack is extremely efficient. One of the reasons C compilers generate such good code is their heavy use of a simple stack.
There used to be a C function that any programmer could use for allocating memory off the stack. The memory was automatically deallocated when the calling function returned. This was a dangerous function to call; it’s not available anymore.
20. What is the heap?
The heap is where malloc(), calloc(), and realloc() get memory.
Getting memory from the heap is much slower than getting it from the stack. On the other hand, the heap is much more flexible than the stack. Memory can be allocated at any time and deallocated in any order. Such memory isn’t deallocated automatically; you have to call free().
Recursive data structures are almost always implemented with memory from the heap. Strings often come from there too, especially strings that could be very long at runtime.
If you can keep data in a local variable (and allocate it from the stack), your code will run faster than if you put the data on the heap. Sometimes you can use a better algorithm if you use the heap—faster, or more robust, or more flexible. It’s a tradeoff.
If memory is allocated from the heap, it’s available until the program ends. That’s great if you remember to deallocate it when you’re done. If you forget, it’s a problem. A “memory leak” is some allocated memory that’s no longer needed but isn’t deallocated. If you have a memory leak inside a loop, you can use up all the memory on the heap and not be able to get any more. (When that happens, the allocation functions return a null pointer.) In some environments, if a program doesn’t deallocate everything it allocated, memory stays unavailable even after the program ends.