lclint-interest message 44

From evs Tue Mar 19 15:32:18 1996
Date: Sun, 10 Mar 96 12:53:49 -0500
From: evs (David Evans)
In-Reply-To: Thomas G. McWilliams's message of Fri, 8 Mar 1996 20:15:40 -0500 <>
Subject: Re: LCLint 2.0 anomaly?

> Questions with respect to the example below:
>   What does it mean that storage becomes dependent?
>   What does it mean that storage becomes owned?

A pointer is dependent if it points to storage that is "owned" by some
other reference.  This means the storage should not be dealloacted
through the dependent pointer, since the owner pointer will then point
to dead storage.  For external variables (e.g., parameters, return
values, fields in structures reachable from global variables or
parameters), the annotation on the declaration determines if the
reference is dependent or owned.  For local variables, lclint tries to
determine whether the variable points to dependent storage from the

As your example points out, this doesn't always do the right thing for
real programs:

8    char *buf = malloc(10);
10   if (buf != NULL) {
11	char *line = buf;
12	if (1) {
13	    line = buf;
14	}
15	free(buf);
16   }

At line 8, the result of malloc is assigned to buf.  So, buf is "fresh"
storage, that is not shared by any other reference.

At line 11, buf is assigned to line, so line and buf are aliases.  Now,
buf and line both point to the same storage so there is an
owner/dependent relationship.  It isn't clear from the code which should
be considered the owner and which is dependent, so lclint will
arbitrarily make line the owner and buf the dependent.  Normally, it
won't matter which is which, since lclint keeps track of the aliasing
relationship and can switch them (say, if line is assigned to a new
value).  Note if we wrote,

   if (1) { free (line); } else { free (buf); }

no error would be reported.

Instead, however, line 13 assigns buf to line.  LCLint doesn't know that
that value of line is already buf, so treats this like a normal
assignment.  Before the assignment, buf was dependent (on line) and line
was owned.  The assignment (apparently) reassigns line so the storage
lclint checks that the storage previously pointed to by line is owned by
some other reference.  In this case, buf is an alias to the storage.
Since the other alias to the storage is now lost (since line was
reassigned), buf is no longer a pointer to dependent storage, but
becomes a pointer to owned storage.  In fact, we know that nothing
should change because line is just being reassigned to its current
value.  lclint is not able to detect this however.

So, at the confluence point, buf is dependent (on line) if the if
predicate is false, and independent (because of the reassignment of
line) if the predicate is true.  There is no way to resolve independent
and dependent storage, so lclint reports the anomaly.  If -branchstate
is set, the error is not reported and the state of buf after the branch
will be resolved to an error state.

In summary, its definitely possible to construct programs where lclint
reports spurious error messages because it cannot analyze the code at a
deep enough level to determine that it is correct.  Fortunately, these
situations are not too common in real programs (at least in my limited
experience so far), and often a suprious message does indicate code that
is unnecessarily unclear to human readers also (like in this example.)

--- Dave

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University of Virginia, Computer Science