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5.4 Copying and Concatenation

You can use the functions described in this section to copy the contents of strings and arrays, or to append the contents of one string to another. The ‘str’ and ‘mem’ functions are declared in the header file string.h while the ‘wstr’ and ‘wmem’ functions are declared in the file wchar.h. A helpful way to remember the ordering of the arguments to the functions in this section is that it corresponds to an assignment expression, with the destination array specified to the left of the source array. All of these functions return the address of the destination array.

Most of these functions do not work properly if the source and destination arrays overlap. For example, if the beginning of the destination array overlaps the end of the source array, the original contents of that part of the source array may get overwritten before it is copied. Even worse, in the case of the string functions, the null character marking the end of the string may be lost, and the copy function might get stuck in a loop trashing all the memory allocated to your program.

All functions that have problems copying between overlapping arrays are explicitly identified in this manual. In addition to functions in this section, there are a few others like sprintf (see Formatted Output Functions) and scanf (see Formatted Input Functions).

— Function: void * memcpy (void *restrict to, const void *restrict from, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

The memcpy function copies size bytes from the object beginning at from into the object beginning at to. The behavior of this function is undefined if the two arrays to and from overlap; use memmove instead if overlapping is possible.

The value returned by memcpy is the value of to.

Here is an example of how you might use memcpy to copy the contents of an array:

          struct foo *oldarray, *newarray;
          int arraysize;
          ...
          memcpy (new, old, arraysize * sizeof (struct foo));
— Function: wchar_t * wmemcpy (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

The wmemcpy function copies size wide characters from the object beginning at wfrom into the object beginning at wto. The behavior of this function is undefined if the two arrays wto and wfrom overlap; use wmemmove instead if overlapping is possible.

The following is a possible implementation of wmemcpy but there are more optimizations possible.

          wchar_t *
          wmemcpy (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom,
                   size_t size)
          {
            return (wchar_t *) memcpy (wto, wfrom, size * sizeof (wchar_t));
          }

The value returned by wmemcpy is the value of wto.

This function was introduced in Amendment 1 to ISO C90.

— Function: void * mempcpy (void *restrict to, const void *restrict from, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

The mempcpy function is nearly identical to the memcpy function. It copies size bytes from the object beginning at from into the object pointed to by to. But instead of returning the value of to it returns a pointer to the byte following the last written byte in the object beginning at to. I.e., the value is ((void *) ((char *) to + size)).

This function is useful in situations where a number of objects shall be copied to consecutive memory positions.

          void *
          combine (void *o1, size_t s1, void *o2, size_t s2)
          {
            void *result = malloc (s1 + s2);
            if (result != NULL)
              mempcpy (mempcpy (result, o1, s1), o2, s2);
            return result;
          }

This function is a GNU extension.

— Function: wchar_t * wmempcpy (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

The wmempcpy function is nearly identical to the wmemcpy function. It copies size wide characters from the object beginning at wfrom into the object pointed to by wto. But instead of returning the value of wto it returns a pointer to the wide character following the last written wide character in the object beginning at wto. I.e., the value is wto + size.

This function is useful in situations where a number of objects shall be copied to consecutive memory positions.

The following is a possible implementation of wmemcpy but there are more optimizations possible.

          wchar_t *
          wmempcpy (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom,
                    size_t size)
          {
            return (wchar_t *) mempcpy (wto, wfrom, size * sizeof (wchar_t));
          }

This function is a GNU extension.

— Function: void * memmove (void *to, const void *from, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

memmove copies the size bytes at from into the size bytes at to, even if those two blocks of space overlap. In the case of overlap, memmove is careful to copy the original values of the bytes in the block at from, including those bytes which also belong to the block at to.

The value returned by memmove is the value of to.

— Function: wchar_t * wmemmove (wchar_t *wto, const wchar_t *wfrom, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

wmemmove copies the size wide characters at wfrom into the size wide characters at wto, even if those two blocks of space overlap. In the case of overlap, memmove is careful to copy the original values of the wide characters in the block at wfrom, including those wide characters which also belong to the block at wto.

The following is a possible implementation of wmemcpy but there are more optimizations possible.

          wchar_t *
          wmempcpy (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom,
                    size_t size)
          {
            return (wchar_t *) mempcpy (wto, wfrom, size * sizeof (wchar_t));
          }

The value returned by wmemmove is the value of wto.

This function is a GNU extension.

— Function: void * memccpy (void *restrict to, const void *restrict from, int c, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function copies no more than size bytes from from to to, stopping if a byte matching c is found. The return value is a pointer into to one byte past where c was copied, or a null pointer if no byte matching c appeared in the first size bytes of from.

— Function: void * memset (void *block, int c, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function copies the value of c (converted to an unsigned char) into each of the first size bytes of the object beginning at block. It returns the value of block.

— Function: wchar_t * wmemset (wchar_t *block, wchar_t wc, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function copies the value of wc into each of the first size wide characters of the object beginning at block. It returns the value of block.

— Function: char * strcpy (char *restrict to, const char *restrict from)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This copies characters from the string from (up to and including the terminating null character) into the string to. Like memcpy, this function has undefined results if the strings overlap. The return value is the value of to.

— Function: wchar_t * wcscpy (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This copies wide characters from the string wfrom (up to and including the terminating null wide character) into the string wto. Like wmemcpy, this function has undefined results if the strings overlap. The return value is the value of wto.

— Function: char * strncpy (char *restrict to, const char *restrict from, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function is similar to strcpy but always copies exactly size characters into to.

If the length of from is more than size, then strncpy copies just the first size characters. Note that in this case there is no null terminator written into to.

If the length of from is less than size, then strncpy copies all of from, followed by enough null characters to add up to size characters in all. This behavior is rarely useful, but it is specified by the ISO C standard.

The behavior of strncpy is undefined if the strings overlap.

Using strncpy as opposed to strcpy is a way to avoid bugs relating to writing past the end of the allocated space for to. However, it can also make your program much slower in one common case: copying a string which is probably small into a potentially large buffer. In this case, size may be large, and when it is, strncpy will waste a considerable amount of time copying null characters.

— Function: wchar_t * wcsncpy (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function is similar to wcscpy but always copies exactly size wide characters into wto.

If the length of wfrom is more than size, then wcsncpy copies just the first size wide characters. Note that in this case there is no null terminator written into wto.

If the length of wfrom is less than size, then wcsncpy copies all of wfrom, followed by enough null wide characters to add up to size wide characters in all. This behavior is rarely useful, but it is specified by the ISO C standard.

The behavior of wcsncpy is undefined if the strings overlap.

Using wcsncpy as opposed to wcscpy is a way to avoid bugs relating to writing past the end of the allocated space for wto. However, it can also make your program much slower in one common case: copying a string which is probably small into a potentially large buffer. In this case, size may be large, and when it is, wcsncpy will waste a considerable amount of time copying null wide characters.

— Function: char * strdup (const char *s)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Unsafe heap | AC-Unsafe mem | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function copies the null-terminated string s into a newly allocated string. The string is allocated using malloc; see Unconstrained Allocation. If malloc cannot allocate space for the new string, strdup returns a null pointer. Otherwise it returns a pointer to the new string.

— Function: wchar_t * wcsdup (const wchar_t *ws)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Unsafe heap | AC-Unsafe mem | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function copies the null-terminated wide character string ws into a newly allocated string. The string is allocated using malloc; see Unconstrained Allocation. If malloc cannot allocate space for the new string, wcsdup returns a null pointer. Otherwise it returns a pointer to the new wide character string.

This function is a GNU extension.

— Function: char * strndup (const char *s, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Unsafe heap | AC-Unsafe mem | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function is similar to strdup but always copies at most size characters into the newly allocated string.

If the length of s is more than size, then strndup copies just the first size characters and adds a closing null terminator. Otherwise all characters are copied and the string is terminated.

This function is different to strncpy in that it always terminates the destination string.

strndup is a GNU extension.

— Function: char * stpcpy (char *restrict to, const char *restrict from)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function is like strcpy, except that it returns a pointer to the end of the string to (that is, the address of the terminating null character to + strlen (from)) rather than the beginning.

For example, this program uses stpcpy to concatenate ‘foo’ and ‘bar’ to produce ‘foobar’, which it then prints.

          
          #include <string.h>
          #include <stdio.h>
          
          int
          main (void)
          {
            char buffer[10];
            char *to = buffer;
            to = stpcpy (to, "foo");
            to = stpcpy (to, "bar");
            puts (buffer);
            return 0;
          }

This function is not part of the ISO or POSIX standards, and is not customary on Unix systems, but we did not invent it either. Perhaps it comes from MS-DOG.

Its behavior is undefined if the strings overlap. The function is declared in string.h.

— Function: wchar_t * wcpcpy (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function is like wcscpy, except that it returns a pointer to the end of the string wto (that is, the address of the terminating null character wto + strlen (wfrom)) rather than the beginning.

This function is not part of ISO or POSIX but was found useful while developing the GNU C Library itself.

The behavior of wcpcpy is undefined if the strings overlap.

wcpcpy is a GNU extension and is declared in wchar.h.

— Function: char * stpncpy (char *restrict to, const char *restrict from, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function is similar to stpcpy but copies always exactly size characters into to.

If the length of from is more than size, then stpncpy copies just the first size characters and returns a pointer to the character directly following the one which was copied last. Note that in this case there is no null terminator written into to.

If the length of from is less than size, then stpncpy copies all of from, followed by enough null characters to add up to size characters in all. This behavior is rarely useful, but it is implemented to be useful in contexts where this behavior of the strncpy is used. stpncpy returns a pointer to the first written null character.

This function is not part of ISO or POSIX but was found useful while developing the GNU C Library itself.

Its behavior is undefined if the strings overlap. The function is declared in string.h.

— Function: wchar_t * wcpncpy (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function is similar to wcpcpy but copies always exactly wsize characters into wto.

If the length of wfrom is more than size, then wcpncpy copies just the first size wide characters and returns a pointer to the wide character directly following the last non-null wide character which was copied last. Note that in this case there is no null terminator written into wto.

If the length of wfrom is less than size, then wcpncpy copies all of wfrom, followed by enough null characters to add up to size characters in all. This behavior is rarely useful, but it is implemented to be useful in contexts where this behavior of the wcsncpy is used. wcpncpy returns a pointer to the first written null character.

This function is not part of ISO or POSIX but was found useful while developing the GNU C Library itself.

Its behavior is undefined if the strings overlap.

wcpncpy is a GNU extension and is declared in wchar.h.

— Macro: char * strdupa (const char *s)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This macro is similar to strdup but allocates the new string using alloca instead of malloc (see Variable Size Automatic). This means of course the returned string has the same limitations as any block of memory allocated using alloca.

For obvious reasons strdupa is implemented only as a macro; you cannot get the address of this function. Despite this limitation it is a useful function. The following code shows a situation where using malloc would be a lot more expensive.

          
          #include <paths.h>
          #include <string.h>
          #include <stdio.h>
          
          const char path[] = _PATH_STDPATH;
          
          int
          main (void)
          {
            char *wr_path = strdupa (path);
            char *cp = strtok (wr_path, ":");
          
            while (cp != NULL)
              {
                puts (cp);
                cp = strtok (NULL, ":");
              }
            return 0;
          }

Please note that calling strtok using path directly is invalid. It is also not allowed to call strdupa in the argument list of strtok since strdupa uses alloca (see Variable Size Automatic) can interfere with the parameter passing.

This function is only available if GNU CC is used.

— Macro: char * strndupa (const char *s, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function is similar to strndup but like strdupa it allocates the new string using alloca see Variable Size Automatic. The same advantages and limitations of strdupa are valid for strndupa, too.

This function is implemented only as a macro, just like strdupa. Just as strdupa this macro also must not be used inside the parameter list in a function call.

strndupa is only available if GNU CC is used.

— Function: char * strcat (char *restrict to, const char *restrict from)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

The strcat function is similar to strcpy, except that the characters from from are concatenated or appended to the end of to, instead of overwriting it. That is, the first character from from overwrites the null character marking the end of to.

An equivalent definition for strcat would be:

          char *
          strcat (char *restrict to, const char *restrict from)
          {
            strcpy (to + strlen (to), from);
            return to;
          }

This function has undefined results if the strings overlap.

— Function: wchar_t * wcscat (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

The wcscat function is similar to wcscpy, except that the characters from wfrom are concatenated or appended to the end of wto, instead of overwriting it. That is, the first character from wfrom overwrites the null character marking the end of wto.

An equivalent definition for wcscat would be:

          wchar_t *
          wcscat (wchar_t *wto, const wchar_t *wfrom)
          {
            wcscpy (wto + wcslen (wto), wfrom);
            return wto;
          }

This function has undefined results if the strings overlap.

Programmers using the strcat or wcscat function (or the following strncat or wcsncar functions for that matter) can easily be recognized as lazy and reckless. In almost all situations the lengths of the participating strings are known (it better should be since how can one otherwise ensure the allocated size of the buffer is sufficient?) Or at least, one could know them if one keeps track of the results of the various function calls. But then it is very inefficient to use strcat/wcscat. A lot of time is wasted finding the end of the destination string so that the actual copying can start. This is a common example:

     /* This function concatenates arbitrarily many strings.  The last
        parameter must be NULL.  */
     char *
     concat (const char *str, ...)
     {
       va_list ap, ap2;
       size_t total = 1;
       const char *s;
       char *result;
     
       va_start (ap, str);
       va_copy (ap2, ap);
     
       /* Determine how much space we need.  */
       for (s = str; s != NULL; s = va_arg (ap, const char *))
         total += strlen (s);
     
       va_end (ap);
     
       result = (char *) malloc (total);
       if (result != NULL)
         {
           result[0] = '\0';
     
           /* Copy the strings.  */
           for (s = str; s != NULL; s = va_arg (ap2, const char *))
             strcat (result, s);
         }
     
       va_end (ap2);
     
       return result;
     }

This looks quite simple, especially the second loop where the strings are actually copied. But these innocent lines hide a major performance penalty. Just imagine that ten strings of 100 bytes each have to be concatenated. For the second string we search the already stored 100 bytes for the end of the string so that we can append the next string. For all strings in total the comparisons necessary to find the end of the intermediate results sums up to 5500! If we combine the copying with the search for the allocation we can write this function more efficient:

     char *
     concat (const char *str, ...)
     {
       va_list ap;
       size_t allocated = 100;
       char *result = (char *) malloc (allocated);
     
       if (result != NULL)
         {
           char *newp;
           char *wp;
           const char *s;
     
           va_start (ap, str);
     
           wp = result;
           for (s = str; s != NULL; s = va_arg (ap, const char *))
             {
               size_t len = strlen (s);
     
               /* Resize the allocated memory if necessary.  */
               if (wp + len + 1 > result + allocated)
                 {
                   allocated = (allocated + len) * 2;
                   newp = (char *) realloc (result, allocated);
                   if (newp == NULL)
                     {
                       free (result);
                       return NULL;
                     }
                   wp = newp + (wp - result);
                   result = newp;
                 }
     
               wp = mempcpy (wp, s, len);
             }
     
           /* Terminate the result string.  */
           *wp++ = '\0';
     
           /* Resize memory to the optimal size.  */
           newp = realloc (result, wp - result);
           if (newp != NULL)
             result = newp;
     
           va_end (ap);
         }
     
       return result;
     }

With a bit more knowledge about the input strings one could fine-tune the memory allocation. The difference we are pointing to here is that we don't use strcat anymore. We always keep track of the length of the current intermediate result so we can safe us the search for the end of the string and use mempcpy. Please note that we also don't use stpcpy which might seem more natural since we handle with strings. But this is not necessary since we already know the length of the string and therefore can use the faster memory copying function. The example would work for wide characters the same way.

Whenever a programmer feels the need to use strcat she or he should think twice and look through the program whether the code cannot be rewritten to take advantage of already calculated results. Again: it is almost always unnecessary to use strcat.

— Function: char * strncat (char *restrict to, const char *restrict from, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function is like strcat except that not more than size characters from from are appended to the end of to. A single null character is also always appended to to, so the total allocated size of to must be at least size + 1 bytes longer than its initial length.

The strncat function could be implemented like this:

          char *
          strncat (char *to, const char *from, size_t size)
          {
            memcpy (to + strlen (to), from, strnlen (from, size));
            to[strlen (to) + strnlen (from, size)] = '\0';
            return to;
          }

The behavior of strncat is undefined if the strings overlap.

— Function: wchar_t * wcsncat (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This function is like wcscat except that not more than size characters from from are appended to the end of to. A single null character is also always appended to to, so the total allocated size of to must be at least size + 1 bytes longer than its initial length.

The wcsncat function could be implemented like this:

          wchar_t *
          wcsncat (wchar_t *restrict wto, const wchar_t *restrict wfrom,
                   size_t size)
          {
            memcpy (wto + wcslen (wto), wfrom, wcsnlen (wfrom, size) * sizeof (wchar_t));
            wto[wcslen (to) + wcsnlen (wfrom, size)] = '\0';
            return wto;
          }

The behavior of wcsncat is undefined if the strings overlap.

Here is an example showing the use of strncpy and strncat (the wide character version is equivalent). Notice how, in the call to strncat, the size parameter is computed to avoid overflowing the character array buffer.

     
     #include <string.h>
     #include <stdio.h>
     
     #define SIZE 10
     
     static char buffer[SIZE];
     
     int
     main (void)
     {
       strncpy (buffer, "hello", SIZE);
       puts (buffer);
       strncat (buffer, ", world", SIZE - strlen (buffer) - 1);
       puts (buffer);
     }

The output produced by this program looks like:

     hello
     hello, wo
— Function: void bcopy (const void *from, void *to, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This is a partially obsolete alternative for memmove, derived from BSD. Note that it is not quite equivalent to memmove, because the arguments are not in the same order and there is no return value.

— Function: void bzero (void *block, size_t size)

Preliminary: | MT-Safe | AS-Safe | AC-Safe | See POSIX Safety Concepts.

This is a partially obsolete alternative for memset, derived from BSD. Note that it is not as general as memset, because the only value it can store is zero.