Memory Bounds Checking

cbmc provides means to verify that pointers are within the bounds of (statically or dynamically) allocated memory blocks. When the option --pointer-check is used, cbmc checks the safety of each pointer dereference in the program. Similarly, the primitive __CPROVER_r_ok(pointer, size) returns true when it is safe to read from the memory segment starting at pointer and extending for size bytes. __CPROVER_w_ok(pointer, size) indicates if writing to the given segment is safe. At present, both primitives behave the same.

Each memory segment is referred to internally in cbmc via an object id. Pointers are represented as bitvectors (typically of length 32 or 64). The topmost n bits encode the id of the memory segment the pointer is pointing to, and the remaining bits encode the offset within the segment. The number of bits used to represent the object id can be specified via --object-bits n. Object offsets are signed. This allows to distinguish the case of when a pointer has been incremented too much from the case of when a pointer has been decremented too much. In the latter case, a negative value would be visible for the offset portion of a pointer in an error trace.

In the following, we describe how the memory bounds checks are implemented in cbmc for dynamically allocated memory. Dynamic memory is allocated in C via the malloc() library function. Its model in cbmc looks as follows (see src/ansi-c/library/stdlib.c, details not related to memory bounds checking are left off):

inline void *malloc(__CPROVER_size_t malloc_size)
void *malloc_res;
malloc_res = __CPROVER_allocate(malloc_size, 0);
return malloc_res;
void * __CPROVER_allocate(__CPROVER_size_t size, __CPROVER_bool zero)
void * malloc(__CPROVER_size_t malloc_size)
Definition: stdlib.c:212

When the option --pointer-check is used, cbmc generates the following verification condition for each pointer dereference expression (e.g., *pointer):

__CPROVER_POINTER_OFFSET(pointer) >= 0 &&
__CPROVER_size_t __CPROVER_OBJECT_SIZE(const void *)
__CPROVER_size_t __CPROVER_POINTER_OFFSET(const void *)

The primitives __CPROVER_POINTER_OFFSET() and __CPROVER_OBJECT_SIZE() extract the pointer offset and size of the object pointed to, respectively. Similar conditions are generated for assert(__CPROVER_r_ok(pointer, size)) and assert(__CPROVER_w_ok(pointer, size)).

To illustrate how the bounds checking works, consider the following example program which is unsafe:

int main()
char *p1 = malloc(1);
char *p2 = malloc(2);
*p1 = 1;
int main(int argc, char *argv[])

Here the verification condition generated for the pointer dereference should fail: for p1 in *p1, __CPROVER_POINTER_OFFSET will evaluate to 1 (owing to the increment p1++, and __CPROVER_OBJECT_SIZE will also evaluate to 1. Consequently, the less-than comparison in the verification condition evaluates to false.

Last modified: 2023-11-29 15:38:05 +0000