efence(3)                                               efence(3)

       efence - Electric Fence Malloc Debugger

       #include <stdlib.h>

       void * malloc (size_t size);

       void free (void *ptr);

       void * realloc (void *ptr, size_t size);

       void * calloc (size_t nelem, size_t elsize);

       void * memalign (size_t alignment, size_t size);

       void * valloc (size_t size);

       extern int EF_ALIGNMENT;

       extern int EF_PROTECT_BELOW;

       extern int EF_PROTECT_FREE;

       Electric  Fence  helps  you  detect two common programming
       bugs: software that overruns the boundaries of a  malloc()
       memory  allocation,  and  software  that  touches a memory
       allocation that has been released by free(). Unlike  other
       malloc()   debuggers,  Electric  Fence  will  detect  read
       accesses as well as writes, and it will pinpoint the exact
       instruction  that  causes  an error. It has been in use at
       Pixar since 1987, and at many other sites for years.

       Electric Fence uses the virtual memory  hardware  of  your
       computer  to place an inaccessible memory page immediately
       after (or before, at the user's option) each memory  allo-
       cation.  When  software  reads or writes this inaccessible
       page, the hardware issues a segmentation  fault,  stopping
       the program at the offending instruction. It is then triv-
       ial to find the erroneous statement  using  your  favorite
       debugger.  In  a  similar  manner,  memory  that  has been
       released by free() is made inaccessible, and any code that
       touches it will get a segmentation fault.

       Simply  linking  your  application  with  libefence.a will
       allow you to detect most, but not all, malloc buffer over-
       runs  and accesses of free memory.  If you want to be rea-
       sonably sure that you've found  all  bugs  of  this  type,
       you'll  have  to  read and understand the rest of this man

       Link your program with the  library  libefence.a  .   Make
       sure  you are not linking with -lmalloc, -lmallocdebug, or
       with other malloc-debugger or  malloc-enhancer  libraries.
       You  can  only use one at a time.  If your system adminis-
       trator has installed Electric Fence for public use, you'll
       be able to use the -lefence argument to the linker, other-
       wise you'll have to put the path-name for  libefence.a  in
       the linker's command line.  Some systems will require spe-
       cial arguments to the linker to assure that you are  using
       the  Electric  Fence  malloc() and not the one from your C
       library.  On AIX systems, you may have to use the flags
       -bnso -bnodelcsect -bI:/lib/syscalls.exp
       On Sun systems running SunOS 4.X, you'll probably have  to
       use -Bstatic.

       Run  your  program  using a debugger.  It's easier to work
       this way than to create a core file and post-mortem  debug
       it.  Electric  Fence  can create huge core files, and some
       operating systems will thus take minutes  simply  to  dump
       core!  Some  operating systems will not create usable core
       files from programs that are linked with  Electric  Fence.
       If your program has one of the errors detected by Electric
       Fence, it will get a segmentation fault (SIGSEGV)  at  the
       offending  instruction.  Use  the  debugger  to locate the
       erroneous statement, and repair it.

       Electric Fence has four configuration switches that can be
       enabled via the shell environment, or by setting the value
       of  global  integer  variables  using  a  debugger.  These
       switches  change  what bugs Electric Fence will detect, so
       it's important that you know how to use them.

              This is an integer that specifies the alignment for
              any  memory  allocations  that  will be returned by
              malloc(), calloc(), and realloc().   The  value  is
              specified  in  bytes,  thus a value of 4 will cause
              memory to be aligned to  32-bit  boundaries  unless
              your   system  doesn't  have  a  8-bit  characters.
              EF_ALIGNMENT is  set  to  sizeof(int)  by  default,
              since  that is generally the word-size of your CPU.
              If  your  program  requires  that  allocations   be
              aligned  to 64-bit boundaries and you have a 32-bit
              int you'll have to set this value to 8. This is the
              case  when  compiling with the -mips2 flag on MIPS-
              based systems such as those from SGI.   The  memory
              allocation  that is returned by Electric Fence mal-
              loc() is aligned using the value  in  EF_ALIGNMENT,
              and  its  size  the  multiple of that value that is
              greater than or equal to the requested  size.   For
              this   reason,  you  will  sometimes  want  to  set
              EF_ALIGNMENT to 0 (no alignment), so that  you  can
              detect  overruns of less than your CPU's word size.
              Be sure to  read  the  section  WORD-ALIGNMENT  AND
              OVERRUN  DETECTION  in  this manual page before you
              try this.  To change this value,  set  EF_ALIGNMENT
              in  the  shell  environment to an integer value, or
              assign to the global integer variable  EF_ALIGNMENT
              using a debugger.

              Electric  Fence usually places an inaccessible page
              immediately after each memory allocation,  so  that
              software  that  runs past the end of the allocation
              will be detected.  Setting  EF_PROTECT_BELOW  to  1
              causes  Electric  Fence  to  place the inaccessible
              page before the allocation in the address space, so
              that  under-runs  will be detected instead of over-
              runs.  When EF_PROTECT_BELOW is set, the  EF_ALIGN-
              MENT parameter is ignored.  All allocations will be
              aligned  to  virtual-memory-page  boundaries,   and
              their   size  will  be  the  exact  size  that  was
              requested.   To  change  this  value,  set  EF_PRO-
              TECT_BELOW  in  the shell environment to an integer
              value, or assign to  the  global  integer  variable
              EF_PROTECT_BELOW using a debugger.

              Electric  Fence  usually  returns  free memory to a
              pool from which it may be re-allocated. If you sus-
              pect  that  a  program may be touching free memory,
              set EF_PROTECT_FREE to 1. This will cause  Electric
              Fence  to never re-allocate memory once it has been
              freed, so that any access to free  memory  will  be
              detected. Some programs will use tremendous amounts
              of memory when this parameter is  set.   To  change
              this  value, set EF_PROTECT_FREE in the shell envi-
              ronment to an  integer  value,  or  assign  to  the
              global  integer  variable  EF_PROTECT_FREE  using a

              By default, Electric Fence traps calls to  malloc()
              with  a  size  of  zero, because they are often the
              result of a software bug. If  EF_ALLOW_MALLOC_0  is
              non-zero,  the software will not trap calls to mal-
              loc() with a size of zero.  To change  this  value,
              set  EF_ALLOC_MALLOC_0  in the shell environment to
              an integer value, or assign to the  global  integer
              variable EF_ALLOC_MALLOC_0 using a debugger.

       There  is  a  conflict  between the alignment restrictions
       that malloc() operates under and  the  debugging  strategy
       used  by Electric Fence. When detecting overruns, Electric
       Fence malloc() allocates two or more virtual memory  pages
       for each allocation. The last page is made inaccessible in
       such a way that any read, write, or  execute  access  will
       cause a segmentation fault.  Then, Electric Fence malloc()
       will return an address such that the first byte after  the
       end  of the allocation is on the inaccessible page.  Thus,
       any overrun of the allocation will  cause  a  segmentation

       It  follows  that  the address returned by malloc() is the
       address of the inaccessible page minus  the  size  of  the
       memory allocation.  Unfortunately, malloc() is required to
       return word-aligned allocations, since many CPUs can  only
       access  a  word when its address is aligned.  The conflict
       happens when software makes a memory  allocation  using  a
       size  that is not a multiple of the word size, and expects
       to do word accesses to that allocation.  The  location  of
       the  inaccessible  page  is  fixed  by hardware at a word-
       aligned address. If Electric Fence malloc() is  to  return
       an aligned address, it must increase the size of the allo-
       cation to a multiple of the word size.  In  addition,  the
       functions  memalign()  and  valloc()  must  honor explicit
       specifications on the alignment of the memory  allocation,
       and  this,  as  well can only be implemented by increasing
       the size of the allocation.  Thus, there  will  be  situa-
       tions  in  which  the  end of a memory allocation contains
       some padding space, and accesses  of  that  padding  space
       will not be detected, even if they are overruns.

       Electric  Fence provides the variable EF_ALIGNMENT so that
       the user can control the default alignment  used  by  mal-
       loc(),  calloc(),  and  realloc().   To  debug overruns as
       small as a single byte, you can set EF_ALIGNMENT to  zero.
       This  will  result  in  Electric  Fence malloc() returning
       unaligned addresses for allocations with  sizes  that  are
       not  a multiple of the word size. This is not a problem in
       most cases, because compilers must pad the size of objects
       so  that  alignment  restrictions are honored when storing
       those objects in arrays. The problem surfaces  when  soft-
       ware  allocates odd-sized buffers for objects that must be
       word-aligned. One case of this is software that  allocates
       a  buffer  to  contain  a  structure and a string, and the
       string has an odd size (this example was in a popular TIFF
       library).  If  word  references  are  made  to  un-aligned
       buffers, you will see a bus error (SIGBUS)  instead  of  a
       segmentation  fault.  The  only  way to fix this is to re-
       write the offending code to make byte  references  or  not
       make  odd-sized allocations, or to set EF_ALIGNMENT to the
       word size.

       Another example of software incompatible with EF_ALIGNMENT
       <  word-size  is  the  strcmp()  function and other string
       functions on SunOS  (and  probably  Solaris),  which  make
       word-sized  accesses to character strings, and may attempt
       to access up to three bytes beyond the end  of  a  string.
       These  result  in a segmentation fault (SIGSEGV). The only
       way around this is to use versions of the string functions
       that perform byte references instead of word references.

       1.     Link with libefence.a as explained above.

       2.     Run your program in a debugger and fix any overruns
              or accesses to free memory.

       3.     Quit the debugger.

       4.     Set EF_PROTECT_BELOW = 1 in the shell  environment.

       5.     Repeat  step  2,  this  time repairing underruns if
              they occur.

       6.     Quit the debugger.

       7.     Read the restrictions in the section on WORD-ALIGN-
              MENT  AND  OVERRUN  DETECTION.   See if you can set
              EF_ALIGNMENT to 0 and repeat step 2. Sometimes this
              will  be  too  much work, or there will be problems
              with library routines for which you don't have  the
              source, that will prevent you from doing this.

       Since  Electric  Fence  uses  at  least two virtual memory
       pages for each of its allocations, it's a terrible  memory
       hog.  I've sometimes found it necessary to add a swap file
       using swapon(8) so that the system would have enough  vir-
       tual  memory to debug my program. Also, the way we manipu-
       late memory  results  in  various  cache  and  translation
       buffer  entries  being flushed with each call to malloc or
       free. The end result is that your  program  will  be  much
       slower  and  use more resources while you are debugging it
       with Electric Fence.

       Don't leave libefence.a linked into  production  software!
       Use it only for debugging.

       Electric  Fence  is written for ANSI C. You should be able
       to port it with simple changes  to  the  Makefile  and  to
       page.c,  which contains the memory management primitives .
       Many POSIX platforms will require only a re-compile.   The
       operating  system  facilities  required  to  port Electric
       Fence are:

              A way to allocate memory pages
              A way to make selected pages inaccessible.
              A way to make the pages accessible again.
              A way to detect when a program touches an  inacces-
              sible page.
              A way to print messages.

       Please  e-mail  me a copy of any changes you have to make,
       so that I can merge them into the distribution.

       Bruce Perens

       I have tried to do as good a job as I can  on  this  soft-
       ware,  but  I doubt that it is even theoretically possible
       to make it bug-free.  This software has  no  warranty.  It
       will  not  detect  some  bugs  that you might expect it to
       detect, and will indicate that  some  non-bugs  are  bugs.
       Bruce Perens and/or Pixar will not be liable to any claims
       resulting from the use  of  this  software  or  the  ideas
       within  it.  The entire responsibility for its use must be
       assumed by the user. If you use it and it results in  loss
       of  life and/or property, tough. If it leads you on a wild
       goose chase and you waste two weeks  debugging  something,
       too  bad.   If you can't deal with the above, please don't
       use the software! I've written this in an attempt to  help
       other people, not to get myself sued or prosecuted.

       Copyright 1987-1995 Bruce Perens. All rights reserved.
       This  program  is  free  software; you can redistribute it
       and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public
       License,  Version  2,  as  published  by the Free Software
       Foundation. A copy of this  license  is  distributed  with
       this software in the file "COPYING".

       This  program  is  distributed in the hope that it will be
       useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied
       PURPOSE. Read the file "COPYING" for more details.

       Bruce Perens
       c/o Pixar
       1001 West Cutting Blvd., Suite 200
       Richmond, CA 94804

       Telephone: 510-215-3502
       Fax: 510-236-0388
       Internet: Bruce@Pixar.com

       /dev/zero: Source of memory pages (via mmap(2)).

       malloc(3), mmap(2), mprotect(2), swapon(8)

       Segmentation Fault: Examine the  offending  statement  for
       violation of the boundaries of a memory allocation.
       Bus  Error:  See the section on WORD-ALIGNMENT AND OVERRUN
       DETECTION.  in this manual page.

       My explanation of the alignment issue could be improved.

       Some Sun systems running SunOS 4.1 are reported to  signal
       an  access  to  a  protected  page with SIGBUS rather than
       SIGSEGV, I suspect this is an undocumented  feature  of  a
       particular  Sun  hardware  version, not just the operating
       system.  On these systems, eftest will  fail  with  a  bus
       error until you modify the Makefile to define PAGE_PROTEC-

       There are, without doubt, other bugs and  porting  issues.
       Please  contact me via e-mail if you have any bug reports,
       ideas, etc.

       PURIFY, from Purify Systems, does a much better  job  than
       Electric Fence, and does much more. It's available at this
       writing on SPARC and HP.  I'm not affiliated with  Purify,
       I just think it's a wonderful product and you should check
       it out.

                          27-April-1993                         1