Follow @Openwall on Twitter for new release announcements and other news
[<prev] [next>] [thread-next>] [day] [month] [year] [list]
Date: Sat, 21 Dec 2013 18:40:41 -0500
From: Rich Felker <>
Subject: Removing sbrk and brk

Based on a discussion on IRC, we're thinking about removing support
for the legacy sbrk and brk functions. These functions are
fundamentally broken and unfixable: For an application to use them
correctly, it must depend on the malloc subsystem never being used,
but this is impossible to guarantee since malloc may be used
internally by libc functions without documenting this to the
application. The interference is two-way: unexpected malloc would
interfere with an application's management of the heap via sbrk, and
unexpected sbrk interferes with malloc. Other implementations of
malloc (e.g. in glibc) handle this "gracefully", just splitting the
heap and leaving an unfreeable block where the application made a mess
by calling sbrk. musl's malloc does not even check for this (it would
be a mess working it in with musl's page-at-a-time brk adjustment
logic since the application's sbrk adjustments might not be
page-aligned) and therefore horribly crashes if the application has
used sbrk/brk itself.

As far as I can tell, the only remotely legitimate use for sbrk/brk is
for applications to provide their own malloc implementation using it.
This (redefining malloc) is not supported by musl (per ISO C and
POSIX, it results in undefined behavior) so there's really no
legitimate way musl-linked programs can be using sbrk/brk.

What we have encountered is certain programs and libraries (most
notably Boehm GC, but also programs that try to redefine malloc by
default, such as some versions of bash) causing horrible memory
corruption and runtime crashes that are hard to track down, due to
their use of sbrk.

Based on today's discussion, I think the cleanest solution is just to
eliminate sbrk/brk. This could be done in one of several ways:

- making them always-fail
- making the headers break use of them
- completely removing the symbols

The latter options are in some ways preferable, since the failure
would be caught at build-time and the program could be patched (or
different configure options passed) to fix the incorrect sbrk usage.

Unfortunately, this might break otherwise-correct programs that just
use sbrk(0) as a stupid way to "measure heap usage" or similar. I'm
not sure if that's an acceptable cost.

Another option would be providing dummy sbrk of some sort:

- sbrk(positive) == malloc(positive), sbrk(negative) == fail. This of
  course leads to memory leaks, but any usage of sbrk is
  potentially-leaky anyway since you can't always undo it safely.

- First call to sbrk or brk creates a large PROT_NONE mapping to
  provide a fake heap, and subsequent calls adjust an emulated brk
  pointer in this region and use mprotect to 'allocate'/'free'.

- Something else?

Finally, another alternative might be leaving sbrk/brk alone and
modifying malloc not to use the brk at all. This has been proposed
several times (well, supporting non-brk allocation has been proposed
anyway) to avoid spurious malloc failures when the brk cannot be
extended, and if we support that we might as well just drop brk
support in malloc (otherwise there's code with duplicate functionality
and thus more bloat). So this might actually be the best long-term
option. Switching malloc from using brk to PROT_NONE/mprotect (see the
above idea for brk emulation) would also make the malloc
implementation more portable to systems with no concept of brk.
However this option would definitely be a post-1.0 development
direction, and not something we could do right away (of course I'd
probably hold off until after 1.0 for any of these changes since
they're fairly invasive, except possibly the idea of making sbrk


Powered by blists - more mailing lists

Confused about mailing lists and their use? Read about mailing lists on Wikipedia and check out these guidelines on proper formatting of your messages.