Buffer overruns and subscript errors are the most common dangerous errors in C programs. They result in undefined behavior because storing outside an array typically modifies storage that is used by some other object, and most modern systems lack runtime checks to catch these errors. Programs should not rely on buffer overruns being caught.
There is one exception to the usual rule that a portable program cannot
address outside an array. In C, it is valid to compute the address just
past an object, e.g.,
so long as you do not dereference the resulting pointer. But it is not
valid to compute the address just before an object, e.g.,
nor is it valid to compute two past the end, e.g.,
&a[-1] < &a && &a[N] < &a[N+1], but this is not
reliable in general, and it is usually easy enough to avoid the
potential portability problem, e.g., by allocating an extra unused array
element at the start or end.
Valgrind can catch many overruns. GCC users might also consider using the -fmudflap option to catch overruns.
Buffer overruns are usually caused by off-by-one errors, but there are more subtle ways to get them.
int values to index into an array or compute array sizes
causes problems on typical 64-bit hosts where an array index might
be 2^31 or larger. Index values of type
size_t avoid this
problem, but cannot be negative. Index values of type
are signed, and are wide enough in practice.
If you add or multiply two numbers to calculate an array size, e.g.,
malloc (x * sizeof y + z), havoc ensues if the addition or
Many implementations of the
alloca function silently misbehave
and can generate buffer overflows if given sizes that are too large.
The size limits are implementation dependent, but are at least 4000
bytes on all platforms that we know about.
The standard functions
gets are prone to buffer overflows, and
portable code should not use them unless the inputs are known to be
within certain limits. The time-related functions can overflow their
buffers if given timestamps out of range (e.g., a year less than -999
or greater than 9999). Time-related buffer overflows cannot happen with
recent-enough versions of the GNU C library, but are possible
gets function is the worst, since it almost
invariably overflows its buffer when presented with an input line larger
than the buffer.