The dangers of replacing malloc()

Terry Lambert tlambert2 at
Fri Jun 27 03:25:16 PDT 2003

"D. J. Bernstein" wrote:
> You obviously aren't claiming that POSIX requires _all_ system functions
> to use a replacement malloc()/realloc()/free() library for allocation.
> That would prohibit sbrk() itself, for example.

No.  I'm claiming that it requires all _POSIX_ functions to do so.
The function sbrk() (actually, brk() is the function of interest,
on FreeBSD) is an implementation detail on systems that use it.

> Are you trying to say that POSIX requires all _POSIX functions_ to do
> their memory allocation via malloc()/realloc()/free()? This has no
> relevance to anything I said. We aren't talking about programs that
> restrict themselves to the POSIX functions.

Then we are talking about programs that have, and will continue
to have, the problems that you are complaining about.

> > > Suppose the OS distributor decides that valloc() or xyzalloc() should do
> > > its own thing, rather than calling malloc().
> > Then that OS distributor's OS no longer complies with standards.
> I already showed you code demonstrating that the Linux valloc() works
> this way.

You showed me code that valled valloc(); you didn't show me code
*implementing valloc() on Linux*.  I chose not to make this point
because it would may have been a strawman, and I didn't need it to
support my argument.

> If, as you claim, there's a ``standard'' prohibiting the Linux
> behavior, then that ``standard'' is not useful for people who care about
> real-world portability. Anyway, I see no evidence supporting your claim.

I think you are thinking of SunOS, which does have valloc(), and
not Linux (neither SuSE nore RedHat have it, according to their
manual pages).  FreeBSD doesn't have it, and POSIX doesn't specify

My argument in this case is that the valloc() interface is not
portable, and you should not use it.  If you are not interested
in portability, then you argument about the non-portability of
carrying around your own library functions for memory management
fails.  Either way, your argument fails.

> > If you are in non-compliance with the Intel Application Binary Interface
> > specification, you should expect to *minimally* be required to relink,
> > recompile, or have to modify your program source code, each time the
> > OS major version number changes
> If you link statically, upgrades can break your _source code_?
> Wow. I never realized that the -static option had such power. Will it
> also cause hair to grow on your palms?

That's because you never tried to run a SunOS 4.4u2 binary which
used the select(2) system call on SunOS 5.0, which returns ENOSYS
if you attempt to call that entry point.  If you had, you'd realize
that upgrades can break you compiled code, and that you should
therefore expect to be required to relink, recompile, or have to
modify your program source code.

I'll note here that it's strange that you are complaining about a
library using the brk(2) system call behind your back, but at the
same time you appear unconcerned about libraries using the select(2)
system call behind your back, both of which can result in identical
classes of breakage.

I understand why you want what you want, but I'm going to tell
you here and now that you are not going to find it in a general
purpose OS unless you are willing to carry around your own code
for things which may be implemented differently at the OS vendors
discretion, while not preventing them from complying with standards.

As a final note on portability, I'll state the obvious: the
portability of any program is inversely proportion to the number
of system interfaces and system interface behaviours upon which
it depends.

I personally worked on the first shrink-wrap product ever sold by
a third party vendor for UNIX systems, and it was, during the
heyday of the UNIX incompatability wars, ported to over 140
different UNIX variants.  Its hard system interface requirements
were limited to 6 encapsulation functions, for which there were a
grand total of three implementations, which fanned out to about
18, which breaks down to not using about 85% of the available
system calls.

Most ports of this code took about 4 hours, and 3 of those hours
were running a validation suite and reading the tape with the
source code and writing several copies of the tape with the binary
distribution and dirty build tree.

PS: The software didn't use valloc(), but it did use malloc()/free().

-- Terry

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