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The majority of the standard library functions, including I/O functions and memory allocation functions, return either a valid value or a value of the correct return type that indicates an error (for example, −1 or a null pointer). Assuming that all calls to such functions will succeed and failing to check the return value for an indication of an error is a dangerous practice that may lead to unexpected or undefined behavior when an error occurs. It is essential that programs detect and appropriately handle all errors in accordance with an error-handling policy, as discussed in ERR00-C. Adopt and implement a consistent and comprehensive error-handling policy.

The successful completion or failure of each of the standard library functions listed in the following table shall be determined either by comparing the function’s return value with the value listed in the column labeled “Error Return” or by calling one of the library functions mentioned in the footnotes.

Standard Library Functions

Function

Successful Return

Error Return

aligned_alloc()

Pointer to space

NULL

asctime_s()

0

Nonzero

at_quick_exit()

0

Nonzero

atexit()

0

Nonzero

bsearch()

Pointer to matching element

NULL

bsearch_s()

Pointer to matching element

NULL

btowc()

Converted wide character

WEOF

c16rtomb()

Number of bytes

(size_t)(-1)

c32rtomb()

Number of bytes

(size_t)(-1)

calloc()

Pointer to space

NULL

clock()

Processor time

(clock_t)(-1)

cnd_broadcast()

thrd_success

thrd_error

cnd_init()

thrd_success

thrd_nomem or thrd_error

cnd_signal()

thrd_success

thrd_error

cnd_timedwait()

thrd_success

thrd_timedout or thrd_error

cnd_wait()

thrd_success

thrd_error

ctime_s()

0

Nonzero

fclose()

0

EOF (negative)

fflush()

0

EOF (negative)

fgetc()

Character read

EOF1

fgetpos()

0

Nonzero, errno > 0

fgets()

Pointer to string

NULL

fgetwc()

Wide character read

WEOF1

fopen()

Pointer to stream

NULL

fopen_s()

0

Nonzero

fprintf()

Number of characters (nonnegative)

Negative

fprintf_s()

Number of characters (nonnegative)

Negative

fputc()

Character written

EOF2

fputs()

Nonnegative

EOF (negative)

fputwc()Wide character written WEOF

fputws()

Nonnegative

EOF (negative)

fread()

Elements read

Elements read

freopen()

Pointer to stream

NULL

freopen_s()

0

Nonzero

fscanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

fscanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

fseek()

0

Nonzero

fsetpos()

0

Nonzero, errno > 0

ftell()

File position

−1L, errno > 0

fwprintf()

Number of wide characters (nonnegative)

Negative

fwprintf_s()

Number of wide characters (nonnegative)

Negative

fwrite()

Elements written

Elements written

fwscanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

fwscanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

getc()

Character read

EOF1

getchar()

Character read

EOF1

getenv()

Pointer to string

NULL

getenv_s()

Pointer to string

NULL

gets_s()

Pointer to string

NULL

getwc()

Wide character read

WEOF

getwchar()

Wide character read

WEOF

gmtime()

Pointer to broken-down time

NULL

gmtime_s()

Pointer to broken-down time

NULL

localtime()

Pointer to broken-down time

NULL

localtime_s()

Pointer to broken-down time

NULL

malloc()

Pointer to space

NULL

mblen(), s != NULL

Number of bytes

−1

mbrlen(), s != NULL

Number of bytes or status

(size_t)(-1)

mbrtoc16()

Number of bytes or status

(size_t)(-1), errno == EILSEQ

mbrtoc32()

Number of bytes or status

(size_t)(-1), errno == EILSEQ

mbrtowc(), s != NULL

Number of bytes or status

(size_t)(-1), errno == EILSEQ

mbsrtowcs()

Number of non-null elements

(size_t)(-1), errno == EILSEQ

mbsrtowcs_s()

0

Nonzero

mbstowcs()

Number of non-null elements

(size_t)(-1)

mbstowcs_s()

0

Nonzero

mbtowc(), s != NULL

Number of bytes

−1

memchr()

Pointer to located character

NULL

mktime()

Calendar time

(time_t)(-1)

mtx_init()

thrd_success

thrd_error

mtx_lock()

thrd_success

thrd_error

mtx_timedlock()

thrd_success

thrd_timedout or thrd_error

mtx_trylock()

thrd_success

thrd_busy or thrd_error

mtx_unlock()

thrd_success

thrd_error

printf_s()

Number of characters (nonnegative)

Negative

putc()

Character written

EOF2

putwc()

Wide character written

WEOF

raise()

0

Nonzero

realloc()

Pointer to space

NULL

remove()

0

Nonzero

rename()

0

Nonzero

setlocale()

Pointer to string

NULL

setvbuf()

0

Nonzero

scanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

scanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

signal()

Pointer to previous function

SIG_ERR, errno > 0

snprintf()

Number of characters that would be written (nonnegative)

Negative

snprintf_s()

Number of characters that would be written (nonnegative)

Negative

sprintf()

Number of non-null characters written

Negative

sprintf_s()

Number of non-null characters written

Negative

sscanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

sscanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

strchr()

Pointer to located character

NULL

strerror_s()

0

Nonzero

strftime()

Number of non-null characters

0

strpbrk()

Pointer to located character

NULL

strrchr()

Pointer to located character

NULL

strstr()

Pointer to located string

NULL

strtod()

Converted value

0, errno == ERANGE

strtof()

Converted value

0, errno == ERANGE

strtoimax()

Converted value

INTMAX_MAX or INTMAX_MIN, errno == ERANGE

strtok()

Pointer to first character of a token

NULL

strtok_s()

Pointer to first character of a token

NULL

strtol()

Converted value

LONG_MAX or LONG_MIN, errno == ERANGE

strtold()

Converted value

0, errno == ERANGE

strtoll()

Converted value

LLONG_MAX or LLONG_MIN, errno == ERANGE

strtoumax()

Converted value

UINTMAX_MAX, errno == ERANGE

strtoul()

Converted value

ULONG_MAX, errno == ERANGE

strtoull()

Converted value

ULLONG_MAX, errno == ERANGE

strxfrm()

Length of transformed string

>= n

swprintf()

Number of non-null wide characters

Negative

swprintf_s()

Number of non-null wide characters

Negative

swscanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

swscanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

thrd_create()

thrd_success

thrd_nomem or thrd_error

thrd_detach()

thrd_success

thrd_error

thrd_join()

thrd_success

thrd_error

thrd_sleep()

0

Negative

time()

Calendar time

(time_t)(-1)

timespec_get()

Base

0

tmpfile()

Pointer to stream

NULL

tmpfile_s()

0

Nonzero

tmpnam()

Non-null pointer

NULL

tmpnam_s()

0

Nonzero

tss_create()

thrd_success

thrd_error

tss_get()

Value of thread-specific storage

0

tss_set()

thrd_success

thrd_error

ungetc()

Character pushed back

EOF (see below)

ungetwc()

Character pushed back

WEOF

vfprintf()

Number of characters (nonnegative)

Negative

vfprintf_s()

Number of characters (nonnegative)

Negative

vfscanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

vfscanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

vfwprintf()

Number of wide characters (nonnegative)

Negative

vfwprintf_s()

Number of wide characters (nonnegative)

Negative

vfwscanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

vfwscanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

vprintf_s()

Number of characters (nonnegative)

Negative

vscanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

vscanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

vsnprintf()

Number of characters that would be written (nonnegative)

Negative

vsnprintf_s()

Number of characters that would be written (nonnegative)

Negative

vsprintf()

Number of non-null characters (nonnegative)

Negative

vsprintf_s()

Number of non-null characters (nonnegative)

Negative

vsscanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

vsscanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

vswprintf()

Number of non-null wide characters

Negative

vswprintf_s()

Number of non-null wide characters

Negative

vswscanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

vswscanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

vwprintf_s()

Number of wide characters (nonnegative)

Negative

vwscanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

vwscanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

wcrtomb()

Number of bytes stored

(size_t)(-1)

wcschr()

Pointer to located wide character

NULL

wcsftime()

Number of non-null wide characters

0

wcspbrk()

Pointer to located wide character

NULL

wcsrchr()

Pointer to located wide character

NULL

wcsrtombs()

Number of non-null bytes

(size_t)(-1), errno == EILSEQ

wcsrtombs_s()

0

Nonzero

wcsstr()

Pointer to located wide string

NULL

wcstod()

Converted value

0, errno == ERANGE

wcstof()

Converted value

0, errno == ERANGE

wcstoimax()

Converted value

INTMAX_MAX or INTMAX_MIN, errno == ERANGE

wcstok()

Pointer to first wide character of a token

NULL

wcstok_s()

Pointer to first wide character of a token

NULL

wcstol()

Converted value

LONG_MAX or LONG_MIN, errno == ERANGE

wcstold()

Converted value

0, errno == ERANGE

wcstoll()

Converted value

LLONG_MAX or LLONG_MIN, errno == ERANGE

wcstombs()

Number of non-null bytes

(size_t)(-1)

wcstombs_s()

0

Nonzero

wcstoumax()

Converted value

UINTMAX_MAX, errno == ERANGE

wcstoul()

Converted value

ULONG_MAX, errno == ERANGE

wcstoull()

Converted value

ULLONG_MAX, errno == ERANGE

wcsxfrm()

Length of transformed wide string

>= n

wctob()

Converted character

EOF

wctomb(), s != NULL

Number of bytes stored

−1

wctomb_s(), s != NULL

Number of bytes stored

−1

wctrans()

Valid argument to towctrans

0

wctype()

Valid argument to iswctype

0

wmemchr()

Pointer to located wide character

NULL

wprintf_s()

Number of wide characters (nonnegative)

Negative

wscanf()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

wscanf_s()

Number of conversions (nonnegative)

EOF (negative)

Note: According to FIO35-C. Use feof() and ferror() to detect end-of-file and file errors when sizeof(int) == sizeof(char), callers should verify end-of-file and file errors for the functions in this table as follows:

1 By calling ferror() and feof()
2 By calling ferror()

The ungetc() function does not set the error indicator even when it fails, so it is not possible to check for errors reliably unless it is known that the argument is not equal to EOF. The C Standard [ISO/IEC 9899:2011] states that "one character of pushback is guaranteed," so this should not be an issue if, at most, one character is ever pushed back before reading again (see FIO13-C. Never push back anything other than one read character).

Noncompliant Code Example (setlocale())

In this noncompliant code example, the function utf8_to_wcs() attempts to convert a sequence of UTF-8 characters to wide characters. It first invokes setlocale() to set the global locale to the implementation-defined "en_US.UTF-8" but does not check for failure. The setlocale() function will fail by returning a null pointer, for example, when the locale is not installed. The function may fail for other reasons as well, such as the lack of resources.  Depending on the sequence of characters pointed to by utf8, the subsequent call to mbstowcs() may fail or result in the function storing an unexpected sequence of wide characters in the supplied buffer wcs.

Compliant Solution (setlocale())

This compliant solution checks the value returned by setlocale() and avoids calling mbstowcs() if the function fails. The function also takes care to restore the locale to its initial setting before returning control to the caller.

Noncompliant Code Example (calloc())

In this noncompliant code example, temp_num, tmp2, and num_of_records are derived from a tainted source. Consequently, an attacker can easily cause calloc() to fail by providing a large value for num_of_records

When calloc() fails, it returns a null pointer that is assigned to start. If start is null, an attacker can provide a value for temp_num that, when scaled by sizeof(signal_info), references a writable address to which control is eventually transferred. The contents of the string referenced by tmp2 can then be used to overwrite the address, resulting in an arbitrary code execution vulnerability.

Compliant Solution (calloc())

To correct this error, ensure the pointer returned by calloc() is not null:

Noncompliant Code Example (realloc())

This noncompliant code example calls realloc() to resize the memory referred to by p. However, if realloc() fails, it returns a null pointer and the connection between the original block of memory and p is lost, resulting in a memory leak.

This code example does comply with MEM04-C. Do not perform zero-length allocations.

Compliant Solution (realloc())

In this compliant solution, the result of realloc() is assigned to the temporary pointer q and validated before it is assigned to the original pointer p:

Noncompliant Code Example (fseek())

In this noncompliant code example, the fseek() function is used to set the file position to a location offset in the file referred to by file prior to reading a sequence of bytes from the file. However, if an I/O error occurs during the seek operation, the subsequent read will fill the buffer with the wrong contents.

Compliant Solution (fseek())

According to the C Standard, the fseek() function returns a nonzero value to indicate that an error occurred. This compliant solution tests for this condition before reading from a file to eliminate the chance of operating on the wrong portion of the file if fseek() fails:

Noncompliant Code Example (snprintf())

In this noncompliant code example, snprintf() is assumed to succeed. However, if the call fails (for example, because of insufficient memory, as described in GNU libc bug 441945), the subsequent call to log_message() has undefined behavior because the character buffer is uninitialized and need not be null-terminated.

Compliant Solution (snprintf())

This compliant solution does not assume that snprintf() will succeed regardless of its arguments. It tests the return value of snprintf() before subsequently using the formatted buffer. This compliant solution also treats the case where the static buffer is not large enough for snprintf() to append the terminating null character as an error.

Compliant Solution (snprintf(null))

If unknown, the length of the formatted string can be discovered by invoking snprintf() with a null buffer pointer to determine the size required for the output, then dynamically allocating a buffer of sufficient size, and finally calling snprintf() again to format the output into the dynamically allocated buffer. Even with this approach, the success of all calls still needs to be tested, and any errors must be appropriately handled. A possible optimization is to first attempt to format the string into a reasonably small buffer allocated on the stack and, only when the buffer turns out to be too small, dynamically allocate one of a sufficient size:

Note that this solution uses the goto statement, as suggested in MEM12-C. Consider using a goto chain when leaving a function on error when using and releasing resources.

Exceptions

ERR33-C-EX1: It is acceptable to ignore the return value of a function that cannot fail, or a function whose return value is inconsequential, or if an error condition need not be diagnosed. The function's results should be explicitly cast to void to signify programmer intent. Return values from the functions in the following table do not need to be checked because their historical use has overwhelmingly omitted error checking, and the consequences are not relevant to security.

Functions the Return Values of Which Need Not Be Checked

Function

Successful Return

Error Return

putchar()

Character written

EOF

putwchar()

Wide character written

WEOF

puts()

Nonnegative

EOF (negative)

printf(), vprintf()

Number of characters (nonnegative)

Negative

wprintf(), vwprintf()

Number of wide characters (nonnegative)

Negative

kill_dependency()The input parameter NA
memcpy(), wmemcpy()The destination input parameterNA
memmove(), wmemmove()The destination input parameter NA
strcpy(), wcscpy()The destination input parameter NA
strncpy(), wcsncpy()The destination input parameter NA 
strcat(), wcscat()The destination input parameter NA 
strncat(), wcsncat()The destination input parameter NA
memset(), wmemset()The destination input parameterNA 

Risk Assessment

Failing to detect error conditions can lead to unpredictable results, including abnormal program termination and denial-of-service attacks or, in some situations, could even allow an attacker to run arbitrary code.

Rule

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

ERR33-C

High

Likely

Medium

P18

L1

Automated Detection

Tool

Version

Checker

Description

CodeSonar4.2

LANG.FUNCS.IRV

Ignored return value

Compass/ROSE

  

Can detect violations of this recommendation when checking for violations of EXP12-C. Do not ignore values returned by functions and EXP34-C. Do not dereference null pointers

Coverity

7.5.0

CHECKED_RETURN

Finds inconsistencies in how function call return values are handled. Coverity Prevent cannot discover all violations of this recommendation, so further verification is necessary

Fortify SCA

5.0

 

 

LDRA tool suite

9.5.6

80 D

Partially implemented
Parasoft C/C++test9.5CODSTA-122{a,b}, BD-PB-NPPartially implemented
PRQA QA-C8.2

3200

Partially implemented

Related Vulnerabilities

The vulnerability in Adobe Flash [VU#159523] arises because Flash neglects to check the return value from calloc(). Even when calloc() returns a null pointer, Flash writes to an offset from the return value. Dereferencing a null pointer usually results in a program crash, but dereferencing an offset from a null pointer allows an exploit to succeed without crashing the program.

Search for vulnerabilities resulting from the violation of this rule on the CERT website.

Related Guidelines

Bibliography

[DHS 2006]Handle All Errors Safely
[Henricson 1997]Recommendation 12.1, "Check for All Errors Reported from Functions"
[ISO/IEC 9899:2011]Subclause 7.21.7.10, "The ungetc Function"
[VU#159523] 

 


2 Comments

  1. The calloc() example has many problems, not only the not handled NULL pointer  from the calloc().

    • if temp_num is bigger than num_of_records, the function tries to write outside the allocated memory
    • if tmp2 is shorter than SIG_DESC_SIZE, the memcpy copies data beyond the tmp2 string
    • if tmp2 is longer than SIG_DESC_SIZE, the point->sig_desc will not be null terminated. (This seems to be fixed in the compliant solution)

    Furthermore, the allocated memory is not freed or pointer to it is not conveyed outside of the function.

    1. Good catches! I've corrected the issues you've pointed out, thanks!