Defective Error/Pointer Interactions in the Linux Kernel

This research was conducted by Cindy Rubio González and Ben Liblit. The paper appeared in the 2011 International Symposium on Software Testing and Analysis (ISSTA 2011).


Linux run-time errors are represented by integer values referred to as error codes. These values propagate across long function-call chains before being handled. As these error codes propagate, they are often temporarily or permanently encoded into pointer values. Error-valued pointers are not valid memory addresses, and therefore require special care by programmers. Misuse of pointer variables that store error codes can lead to serious problems such as system crashes, data corruption, unexpected results, etc. We use static program analysis to find three classes of bugs relating error-valued pointers: bad dereferences, bad pointer arithmetic, and bad overwrites. Our tool finds 57 true bugs among 52 different Linux file system implementations, the virtual file system (VFS), the memory management module (mm), and 4 drivers.

Full Paper

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