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Re: Use `strsave()`, not `strdup()`.

From: Ingo Schwarze
Subject: Re: Use `strsave()`, not `strdup()`.
Date: Sun, 7 Nov 2021 14:57:28 +0100

Hi Branden,

G. Branden Robinson wrote on Sun, Nov 07, 2021 at 03:06:05AM -0500:

> gbranden pushed a commit to branch master
> in repository groff.
> commit 5b7fee5d6392edf90dc1f0fa7d013f36fea5964c
> Author: G. Branden Robinson <>
> AuthorDate: Sun Nov 7 09:40:14 2021 +1100
>     [libgroff,pic]: Use `strsave()`, not `strdup()`.

That's a bad idea.
The opposite should be done, see below for multiple reasons.

>     * src/libs/libgroff/font.cpp (font::load_desc): Do it.  Also emit
>       shorter diagnostic if `strsave()` returned a null pointer.
>     * src/preproc/pic/troff.cpp (troff_output::set_location): Do it.
>     groff has for 30+ years used its own alternative to strdup() called
>     strsave().  The reason for this is not clear to me

   $ man strdup
    A strdup() macro was first used in the 4.1cBSD debugger, dbx.
    It was rewritten as a C function for the 4.3BSD inetd(8) and
    first appeared in the C library of 4.3BSD-Reno. 

So even though strdup(3) was invented for BSD in 1982, it wasn't
available in the C library (even in BSD) before 1990.  Other systems
may have adopted it even later.  I dimly remember having heard that some
implementations were buggy in the early 1990ies (hard to believe given
how simple the function is - but see below...), and a quick web search
actually turned up a hilarious, pre-historic bug report on very ancient
32bit Microsoft Windows:

When James Clark started the groff project in 1989, he definitely couldn't
rely on strdup(3) yet.  But it is needless to say that all the above
concerns have become irrelecant more than a decade ago, or maybe even two
decades ago.  POSIX (SUSv2/XPG5) requires strdup(3) since at least 1997.

>     but the code has been consistent.  This change fixes `strdup()`s
>     I introduced in ee0942bd (2 November) and 423e3c0b (28 September),
>     respectively.

That's definitely making matters worse rather than better:

 1. strsave() contains a severe bug.  If malloc(3) fails, the
    function segfaults.  So every time you call strsave(), that's
    a place where groff(1) may crash in a non-deterministic manner.

 2. strsave() contains a highly dangerous idiom.  When called with
    a NULL pointer, it does *NOT* crash (as it should!) but instead
    returns to the caller.  That is very dangerous because it can
    hide bugs in the calling code.  Even though the caller is
    obviously in an invalid state handling invalid pointers, it
    will prod on doing god knows what.  Executing more code in an
    uncontrolled manner after it is already known that something
    went wrong is never a good idea.

 3. Using your own replacement functions for Standard C and/or
    POSIX functions is a bad idea because:

 3.1. It makes the code harder to read and audit for experienced
      programmers.  Instead of being able to use their knowledge
      of standards, they have to figure out what your private
      functions do and how they are meant to be used, slowing
      down the process of understanding the code and making it
      more likely that auditors miss bugs when inspecting the
      code and that maintainers introduce new bugs when trying
      to change and improve the code.

 3.2. Apart from the above observations that rolling your own
      breeds bugs in the *calling* code, again and again, i have
      seen that people trying to re-invent standard functionality
      do so badly und have both design errors and implementation
      errors in their home-grown stuff.  If you doubt my words,
      see items 1 and 2 above...

So, i think the groff codebase should be audited for all uses
of strsave() - because every one of them is a bug site.  The auditor
should understand what every call does, replace it with strdup(3), and
test the code afterwards.  This needs to be done with the brain switched
on and *NOT* with Coccinelle and not in in some other mechanical way
because it is likely that many call sites are buggy, too, and that
different changes are needed at different sites - for example, some
sites will likely need a NULL check while others will not.

See below for two examples of why this cannot be done mechanically
because the calling code is likely just as wrong as the function
strsave() itself.

> ---
>  ChangeLog                  |  8 ++++++++
>  src/libs/libgroff/font.cpp | 11 ++++++++---
>  src/preproc/pic/troff.cpp  |  2 +-
>  3 files changed, 17 insertions(+), 4 deletions(-)
> diff --git a/ChangeLog b/ChangeLog
> index 9758a40..f349e1e 100644
> --- a/ChangeLog
> +++ b/ChangeLog
> @@ -1,5 +1,13 @@
>  2021-11-07  G. Branden Robinson <>
> +     [libgroff,pic]: Use `strsave()`, not `strdup()`.
> +
> +     * src/libs/libgroff/font.cpp (font::load_desc): Do it.  Also
> +     emit shorter diagnostic if `strsave()` returned a null pointer.
> +     * src/preproc/pic/troff.cpp (troff_output::set_location): Do it.
> +
> +2021-11-07  G. Branden Robinson <>
> +
>       * src/libs/libgroff/fontfile.cpp (font::open_file): Don't open
>       user-specified font file names with slashes in them; i.e., don't
>       traverse directories outside the configured font path.  Also
> diff --git a/src/libs/libgroff/font.cpp b/src/libs/libgroff/font.cpp
> index 2168afa..b7960b7 100644
> --- a/src/libs/libgroff/font.cpp
> +++ b/src/libs/libgroff/font.cpp
> @@ -1144,7 +1144,7 @@ bool font::load_desc()
        if (0 == p) {
        t.error("'papersize' directive requires an argument");
>       return false;
>        }

So at this point we know that p is not a NULL pointer.

>        bool found_paper = false;
> -      char *savedp = strdup(p);

As long as strdup was used, at this point, savedp could be NULL
if malloc(3) failed.

> +      char *savedp = strsave(p);

Now that strsave() is used, the logic changed - and i doubt you were
aware of that when changing the code.  Now savedp can only be NULL
if p is NULL, but we know p is not NULL (or else, calling strdup(3)
would have been a bug in the first place), so savedp can no longer
be NULL.  Unless you go fix the bug in strsave(), in which case
savedp will be NULL again after malloc(3) failure.  See how home-
grown stuff complicates things for no benefit whatsoever?

>        while (p) {
>       double unscaled_paperwidth, unscaled_paperlength;
>       if (scan_papersize(p, &papersize, &unscaled_paperlength,
> @@ -1157,8 +1157,13 @@ bool font::load_desc()
>       p = strtok(0, WS);
>        }
>        if (!found_paper) {
> -     t.error("unable to determine a paper format from '%1'", savedp);
> -     free(savedp);
> +     if (0 == savedp)
> +       t.error("unable to determine a paper format");

This is wrong for two reasons.

First, savedp cannot be NULL, see above.

Second, even if it could, the error message is extremely misleading.
The actual problem is memory exhaustion, and you go and tell the user
"unable to determine a paper format"?  You are sending that poor guy
on a wild goose chase!

Read on, another bug is visible in this patch...

> +     else {
> +       t.error("unable to determine a paper format from '%1'",
> +               savedp);
> +       free(savedp);
> +     }
>       return false;
>        }
>        free(savedp);
> diff --git a/src/preproc/pic/troff.cpp b/src/preproc/pic/troff.cpp
> index 3ccd681..810067a 100644
> --- a/src/preproc/pic/troff.cpp
> +++ b/src/preproc/pic/troff.cpp
> @@ -560,7 +560,7 @@ void troff_output::set_location(const char *s, int n)
>      printf(".lf %d\n", n);
>    else {
>      printf(".lf %d %s\n", n, s);
> -    last_filename = strdup(s);
> +    last_filename = strsave(s);

Error checking is obviously missing here.  As long as strdup(3)
was used, the error was totally obvious, and no auditor could
possibly have missed it even when half asleep: unchecked malloc(3).
With strsave(3), the error is much less obvious, and the consequences
of the bug changed: before, the program prodded on with invalid data,
having stored a NULL pointer in last_filename.  Now, it segfaults
right away.  But the bug survived, it just changed colour.

I think i said so before: the groff codebase is teeming with bugs.
Look at anything, and it is almost certain that you will instantly find
some obvious bugs.  Unfortunately, i don't have the time to do the badly
needed audit myself.


>    }
>  }

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