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MALLOC(3) Library Functions Manual MALLOC(3)

NAME

malloc, calloc, reallocarray, realloc, freememory allocation and deallocation

SYNOPSIS

#include <stdlib.h>
void *
malloc(size_t size);
void *
calloc(size_t nmemb, size_t size);
void *
reallocarray(void *ptr, size_t nmemb, size_t size);
void *
realloc(void *ptr, size_t size);
void
free(void *ptr);
char *malloc_options;

DESCRIPTION

The malloc() function allocates uninitialized space for an object of the specified size. malloc() maintains multiple lists of free blocks according to size, allocating space from the appropriate list. The allocated space is suitably aligned (after possible pointer coercion) for storage of any type of object.
The calloc() function allocates space for an array of nmemb objects, each of the specified size. The space is initialized to zero.
The realloc() function changes the size of the object pointed to by ptr to size bytes and returns a pointer to the (possibly moved) object. The contents of the object are unchanged up to the lesser of the new and old sizes. If the new size is larger, the value of the newly allocated portion of the object is indeterminate and uninitialized. If the space cannot be allocated, the object pointed to by ptr is unchanged. If ptr is NULL, realloc() behaves like malloc() and allocates a new object.
The reallocarray() function is similar to realloc() except it operates on nmemb members of size size and checks for integer overflow in the calculation nmemb * size.
The free() function causes the space pointed to by ptr to be either placed on a list of free pages to make it available for future allocation or, if required, to be returned to the kernel using munmap(2). If ptr is a NULL pointer, no action occurs. If ptr was previously freed by free(), realloc(), or reallocarray(), the behavior is undefined and the double free is a security concern.

RETURN VALUES

Upon successful completion, the functions malloc(), calloc(), realloc(), and reallocarray() return a pointer to the allocated space; otherwise, a NULL pointer is returned and errno is set to ENOMEM.
If size or nmemb is equal to 0, a unique pointer to an access protected, zero sized object is returned. Access via this pointer will generate a SIGSEGV exception.
If multiplying nmemb and size results in integer overflow, calloc() and reallocarray() return NULL and set errno to ENOMEM.

IDIOMS

Consider calloc() or the extension reallocarray() when there is multiplication in the size argument of malloc() or realloc(). For example, avoid this common idiom as it may lead to integer overflow:
if ((p = malloc(num * size)) == NULL) 
	err(1, NULL);
A drop-in replacement is the OpenBSD extension reallocarray():
if ((p = reallocarray(NULL, num, size)) == NULL) 
	err(1, NULL);
Alternatively, calloc() may be used at the cost of initialization overhead.
When using realloc(), be careful to avoid the following idiom:
size += 50; 
if ((p = realloc(p, size)) == NULL) 
	return (NULL);
Do not adjust the variable describing how much memory has been allocated until the allocation has been successful. This can cause aberrant program behavior if the incorrect size value is used. In most cases, the above sample will also result in a leak of memory. As stated earlier, a return value of NULL indicates that the old object still remains allocated. Better code looks like this:
newsize = size + 50; 
if ((newp = realloc(p, newsize)) == NULL) { 
	free(p); 
	p = NULL; 
	size = 0; 
	return (NULL); 
} 
p = newp; 
size = newsize;
As with malloc(), it is important to ensure the new size value will not overflow; i.e. avoid allocations like the following:
if ((newp = realloc(p, num * size)) == NULL) { 
	...
Instead, use reallocarray():
if ((newp = reallocarray(p, num, size)) == NULL) { 
	...
Calling realloc() with a NULL ptr is equivalent to calling malloc(). Instead of this idiom:
if (p == NULL) 
	newp = malloc(newsize); 
else 
	newp = realloc(p, newsize);
Use the following:
newp = realloc(p, newsize);

ENVIRONMENT

 
 
MALLOC_OPTIONS
String of flags documented in malloc.conf(5).

FILES

 
 
/etc/malloc.conf
Symbolic link to filename containing option flags.

EXAMPLES

If malloc() must be used with multiplication, be sure to test for overflow:
size_t num, size; 
... 
 
/* Check for size_t overflow */ 
if (size && num > SIZE_MAX / size) 
	errc(1, EOVERFLOW, "overflow"); 
 
if ((p = malloc(size * num)) == NULL) 
	err(1, NULL);
The above test is not sufficient in all cases. For example, multiplying ints requires a different set of checks:
int num, size; 
... 
 
/* Avoid invalid requests */ 
if (size < 0 || num < 0) 
	errc(1, EOVERFLOW, "overflow"); 
 
/* Check for signed int overflow */ 
if (size && num > INT_MAX / size) 
	errc(1, EOVERFLOW, "overflow"); 
 
if ((p = malloc(size * num)) == NULL) 
	err(1, NULL);
Assuming the implementation checks for integer overflow as OpenBSD does, it is much easier to use calloc() or reallocarray().
The above examples could be simplified to:
if ((p = reallocarray(NULL, num, size)) == NULL) 
	err(1, NULL);
or at the cost of initialization:
if ((p = calloc(num, size)) == NULL) 
	err(1, NULL);

DIAGNOSTICS

If malloc(), calloc(), realloc(), reallocarray(), or free() detect an error condition, a message will be printed to file descriptor 2 (not using stdio). Errors will result in the process being aborted.
Here is a brief description of the error messages and what they mean:
 
 
“out of memory”
If the X option is specified it is an error for malloc(), calloc(), realloc(), or reallocarray() to return NULL.
 
 
“malloc init mmap failed”
This is a rather weird condition that is most likely to indicate a seriously overloaded system or a ulimit restriction.
 
 
“bogus pointer (double free?)”
An attempt to free(), realloc(), or reallocarray() an unallocated pointer was made.
 
 
“chunk is already free”
There was an attempt to free a chunk that had already been freed.
 
 
“use after free”
A chunk has been modified after it was freed.
 
 
“modified chunk-pointer”
The pointer passed to free(), realloc(), or reallocarray() has been modified.
 
 
“chunk canary corrupted address offset@length”
A byte after the requested size has been overwritten, indicating a heap overflow. The offset at which corruption was detected is printed before the @, and the requested length of the allocation after the @.
 
 
“recursive call”
An attempt was made to call recursively into these functions, i.e., from a signal handler. This behavior is not supported. In particular, signal handlers should not use any of the malloc() functions nor utilize any other functions which may call malloc() (e.g., stdio(3) routines).
 
 
“unknown char in MALLOC_OPTIONS”
We found something we didn't understand.
 
 
“malloc cache overflow/underflow”
The internal malloc page cache has been corrupted.
 
 
“malloc free slot lost”
The internal malloc page cache has been corrupted.
 
 
“guard size”
An inconsistent guard size was detected.
 
 
any other error
malloc() detected an internal error; consult sources and/or wizards.

SEE ALSO

brk(2), mmap(2), munmap(2), alloca(3), getpagesize(3), posix_memalign(3), sysconf(3), malloc.conf(5)

STANDARDS

The malloc(), calloc(), realloc(), and free() functions conform to ANSI X3.159-1989 (“ANSI C89”).
If size or nmemb are 0, the return value is implementation defined; other conforming implementations may return NULL in this case.
The MALLOC_OPTIONS environment variable, the file /etc/malloc.conf, and the DIAGNOSTICS output are extensions to the standard.

HISTORY

A free() internal kernel function and a predecessor to malloc(), alloc(), first appeared in Version 1 AT&T UNIX. C library functions alloc() and free() appeared in Version 6 AT&T UNIX. The functions malloc(), calloc(), and realloc() first appeared in Version 7 AT&T UNIX.
A new implementation by Chris Kingsley was introduced in 4.2BSD, followed by a complete rewrite by Poul-Henning Kamp which appeared in FreeBSD 2.2 and was included in OpenBSD 2.0. These implementations were all sbrk(2) based. In OpenBSD 3.8, Thierry Deval rewrote malloc to use the mmap(2) system call, making the page addresses returned by malloc random. A rewrite by Otto Moerbeek introducing a new central data structure and more randomization appeared in OpenBSD 4.4.
The reallocarray() function appeared in OpenBSD 5.6.

CAVEATS

When using malloc(), be wary of signed integer and size_t overflow especially when there is multiplication in the size argument.
Signed integer overflow will cause undefined behavior which compilers typically handle by wrapping back around to negative numbers. Depending on the input, this can result in allocating more or less memory than intended.
An unsigned overflow has defined behavior which will wrap back around and return less memory than intended.
A signed or unsigned integer overflow is a security risk if less memory is returned than intended. Subsequent code may corrupt the heap by writing beyond the memory that was allocated. An attacker may be able to leverage this heap corruption to execute arbitrary code.
Consider using calloc() or reallocarray() instead of using multiplication in malloc() and realloc() to avoid these problems on OpenBSD.
February 12, 2017 OpenBSD-current