October 6, 2018

AddressSanitizer (ASAN) examples

AddressSanitizer is a great tool for finding bugs in C or C++ projects. It consists of some instrumentation added to code at compile time, as well as a dynamically linked runtime. Good test coverage is required, as it detects problems at runtime, while running your test-suite. To use it, supply -fsanitize=address to both the compiler and linker when building for tests (works in newer versions of clang and gcc). There are great resources for understanding how it works, but when I started, I was missing a few simple examples.

A minimal C code example - the buffer overflow

$ cat test.c
#include <stdio.h>

int main(void)
    int a[8] = {0};
    int b[8] = {0};
    b[1] = 1;
    for (int i = 0, x = 0, y = 0; i <= 8; ++i) // uh oh
        // This loop looks like it only reads / writes inside b
        b[i] += x + y;
        y = x;
        x = b[i];
    // a has been altered, b[8] is actually a[0]
    return a[0];

(Note: In my case b[8] == a[0], order and padding of the stack variables may be different on other compilers/platforms).

This is a very common mistake in C/++, the for loop’s condition is wrong, so it will read/write outside the buffer.

It compiles and runs:

$ gcc -o test test.c && ./test
$ echo $?

ASAN output

When run with ASAN, we see that this is detected as a stack-buffer-overflow :

$ gcc -fsanitize=address -o test test.c && ./test
==45808==ERROR: AddressSanitizer: stack-buffer-overflow on address 0x7ffee419d4c0 at pc 0x00010ba62d3b bp 0x7ffee419d430 sp 0x7ffee419d428
READ of size 4 at 0x7ffee419d4c0 thread T0
    #0 0x10ba62d3a in main (test:x86_64+0x100000d3a)
    #1 0x7fff6b0f0014 in start (libdyld.dylib:x86_64+0x1014)
  This frame has 2 object(s):
    [32, 64) 'a'
    [96, 128) 'b' <== Memory access at offset 128 overflows this variable

I stripped away some of the output to highlight important information. The stacktrace and variable name is usually sufficient to find the error.

Smaller example without arrays

Here is an even shorter example, which is very similar, and detected in exactly the same way:

$ cat test.c
#include <stdio.h>

int main(void)
    int a = 1, b = 2, c = 3;
    // ASAN should detect that we are accessing memory outside b:
    return *((&b) + 1) + *((&b) - 1); // Return 1 + 3 without ASAN

Adding ASAN to bigger projects

Bigger C projects typically use autotools or CMake to build. You need to make sure both the compiler (gcc/clang) and the linker (ld) gets the correct flags. In CFEngine, which I work on, I had to use CFLAGS and LDFLAGS:

$ ./autogen.sh --enable-debug
$ make CFLAGS="-fsanitize=address" LDFLAGS="-fsanitize=address -pthread"

The same flags worked for unit tests:

$ cd tests/unit
$ make CFLAGS="-fsanitize=address" LDFLAGS="-fsanitize=address -pthread" check

© Ole Herman Schumacher Elgesem 2021

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