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Tracing memory allocations

Having written the basis of a simple memory allocator, I was thinking about debugging memory allocations. Of course there are various tools out there such as dmalloc, Electric Fence, Valgrind and so on. I had a quick look at dmalloc and realized I could spend a week figuring it out. So I wondered what could be put together in a few minutes. Basically I wanted to at least print out the line number and file that a malloc() was called from.

The approach I took, which I think is quite common, is to interject a fake malloc which does my tracing and possible other clever stuff, before calling the real malloc().

My first attempt used functions pointers and was an epic fail. I created a fake_malloc() and the idea was to do this:

  1. Set a function pointer real_malloc with malloc. real_malloc now points at malloc - if you call real_malloc(), malloc() actually gets called. This bit worked fine.
  2. Create a new function fake_malloc which has my tracing in it.
  3. Set malloc = fake_malloc, so that wherever I have malloc my fake_malloc would actually get called. I couldn't get this to work. The compiler doesn't like you assigning something to malloc - even a function pointer.

I then tried another approach where I tried to #define malloc to fake_malloc, but I couldn't quite get the syntax right to make this work. Does anyone out there know?

So, after a bit of reading on Stack Overflow I discovered there are another couple of cool ways you can do this. The first was using GCC's --wrap=malloc option. This allows you to wrap any function with a wrapper function of your own design. But, this only works for GCC. I'm using clang on Mac and I couldn't find a similar option.

Anyway, I ended up modifying something on Stack Overflow which seemed to work fine on Mac.

Here's what I used:

#define _GNU_SOURCE
#include <dlfcn.h>
#include <stdio.h>

void* malloc(size_t sz, char *file, int line)
    void *p;
    void *(*libc_malloc)(size_t) = dlsym(RTLD_NEXT, "malloc");
    p = libc_malloc(sz);
    printf("malloc: %s %d %zu %p\n", file, line, sz, p);
    return p;

void free(void *p)
    printf("free: %p\n", p);
    void (*libc_free)(void*) = dlsym(RTLD_NEXT, "free");

int main()
    void *m = malloc(1024, __FILE__, __LINE__);

    // do interesting stuff

    return 0;

It works fine, but there's a couple of problems:

  1. I have to modify my original malloc calls to accept the filename and line number as parameters. That's a bit of a no-no in a large codebase.
  2. What other useful checks might I do in the fake malloc call?

You can build and run with:

clang -ldl fake_malloc.c -o test

You do get a warning though when you compile. The system knows enough to know that changing malloc(size_t) to malloc(size_t, ...) is probably a dodgy thing to do:

fake_malloc.c:5:7: warning: incompatible redeclaration of library function
      'malloc' [-Wincompatible-library-redeclaration]

The code runs though.

It also worked without the -ldl option.

So, a work in progress. Maybe it's time to learn Valgrind?