Testing pointers for validity (C/C++)


Question

Is there any way to determine (programatically, of course) if a given pointer is "valid"? Checking for NULL is easy, but what about things like 0x00001234? When trying to dereference this kind of pointer an exception/crash occurs.

A cross-platform method is preferred, but platform-specific (for Windows and Linux) is also ok.

Update for clarification: The problem is not with stale/freed/uninitialized pointers; instead, I'm implementing an API that takes pointers from the caller (like a pointer to a string, a file handle, etc.). The caller can send (in purpose or by mistake) an invalid value as the pointer. How do I prevent a crash?

1
80
2/15/2009 6:05:11 PM

Accepted Answer

Update for clarification: The problem is not with stale, freed or uninitialized pointers; instead, I'm implementing an API that takes pointers from the caller (like a pointer to a string, a file handle, etc.). The caller can send (in purpose or by mistake) an invalid value as the pointer. How do I prevent a crash?

You can't make that check. There is simply no way you can check whether a pointer is "valid". You have to trust that when people use a function that takes a pointer, those people know what they are doing. If they pass you 0x4211 as a pointer value, then you have to trust it points to address 0x4211. And if they "accidentally" hit an object, then even if you would use some scary operation system function (IsValidPtr or whatever), you would still slip into a bug and not fail fast.

Start using null pointers for signaling this kind of thing and tell the user of your library that they should not use pointers if they tend to accidentally pass invalid pointers, seriously :)

71
7/22/2013 9:27:26 PM

Preventing a crash caused by the caller sending in an invalid pointer is a good way to make silent bugs that are hard to find.

Isn't it better for the programmer using your API to get a clear message that his code is bogus by crashing it rather than hiding it?


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