Reference to no object does not produce any run time error (MSVS2010 C++)

//my program wants to get a reference to an orange.
orange& myOrangeRef=theApp.findOrangeByID(id); //no oranges yet
myOrangeRef.someFunc();//succeeds, but WHY? //No object exists why does call succeed

CODE
//caller
orange& myOrangeRef=theApp.findOrangeByID(id);


//called function
orange& CProject2App::findOrangeByID(integer id)
{
        .....
        .....
      return *pOrange;  //pOrange is NULL, no error in CALLEE
}
LVL 1
supportorangesAsked:
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ambienceCommented:
When you return a reference to an object, the compiler actually returns the address of the object which is 0 (NULL to be exact). And it could be any garbage value, and there wont be a runtime error unless that address gets used in some way. Even if you call a non-static non-virtual method on the returned garbage object it will work, as long as no data-member is accessed or a virtual method is called e.g.

((orange*)0)->someNonVirtualMethodThatDoesntTouchDataMembersEitherAndDoesNotCrash()

Since you are returning reference, the copy constructor or assignment operator wont get called either. Even if they get called, as long as the class is empty it just wont touch the address (the this pointer).

In short, its OK to have an invalid "this" pointer or address (and im not saying its a good practice) as long as you dont get to use it. Virtual methods are one example, where this pointer gets used in the code generated by almost all compilers.
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phoffricCommented:
As you said, the address of myOrangeRef is NULL and so no object was allocated.
But your function someFunc() is either static, in which case no object is needed; or, it is not referring to any myOrangeRef class data member. If someFunc() were referring to a myOrangeRef class data member (which never got instantiated), then you would get a run-time fault (probably a segfault).
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phoffricCommented:
typo - Should be " or, it is not referring to any orange class data member.
(looks like I was typing while ambience was submitting)
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phoffricCommented:
Although this is the first time I've seen a reference having a NULL value, (so I'm guessing this isn't standard or good practice), if you actually did have a need to pass this exceptional NULL case using your constructs, then the caller needs to test for this condition, as follows:

     if( &myOrangeRef == NULL ) {
       // Handle the exceptional NULL case condition here
     }
     else {
       // normal processing here
    }
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supportorangesAuthor Commented:
Thanks for contributing -- I feel like I know so much more about references now!
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supportorangesAuthor Commented:
You are both right - I never accessed data members so it never crashed and I will redesign my construct.  Thank you.
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