Memory Leak Detection in C++
YAMD (yet another memory debugger) is another package for trapping the boundaries of allocated blocks of memory. It does this by using the paging mechanism of the processor. Read and write out-of-bound conditions are detected. The detection of the error occurs on the instruction that caused it to happen rather than later, when other accesses occur. The traps are logged with the filename and line number with trace-back information. The trace back is useful because most memory allocation is done through a limited number of routines.
The library emulates the malloc and free calls. Doing this catches many indirect malloc calls, such as those made by strdup. It also catches new and delete actions. If the new and delete operators are overloaded, however, they cannot be caught.
YAMD, like other programs of its type, needs a large amount of virtual memory or swap available to perform its magic. On an embedded system, though, this is typically not available. The earlier suggestion to use this tool on a workstation to do prototype debugging is encouraged here as well. When this debug is done, moving the application to the target can proceed with confidence that most, if not all, memory leaks have been found.
YAMD provides a script, run-yamd, that is used to make the program execute easily. It offers several options to try to recover from certain conditions. A log file can be created when the program being checked performs a core dump. A debugger can be used to debug YAMD-controlled programs. However, problems can arise using a debugger when YAMD is preloaded rather than statically linked with the program.
Valgrind is a relatively new open-source memory debugger for x86-GNU Linux systems. It has more capabilities than earlier tools, but it runs only on x86 hosts. When a program is run under the control of Valgrind, all read and writes to memory, as well as calls to malloc, free, new and delete, are checked. Valgrind can detect uninitialized memory, memory leaks, passing of uninitialized or unaddressable memory, some misuse of POSIX threads and mismatched use of malloc/free and new/delete actions.
Valgrind also can be used with gdb to catch errors and allow the programmer to use gdb at the point of error. When doing this, the programmer can look for the source of the problem and fix it much sooner. In some cases, a patch can be made and debugging can continue. Valgrind was designed to work on large as well as small applications, including KDE 3, Mozilla, OpenOffice and others.
One feature of Valgrind is its ability to provide details about cache profiling. It can create a detailed simulation of the CPU's L1-D, L1-I and unified L2 cache, and it calculates a cache hit count for every line of the program being traced. Valgrind has a well-written HOWTO with plenty of examples. Its web site contains a lot of information and is easily traversed. Many different combinations of options are available, and it is left to users to determine their favorite combinations.
Valgrind's error display contains the process ID for the program being examined, followed by the description of the error. Addresses are displayed along with line numbers and source filenames. A complete backtrace also is displayed. Valgrind reads a startup file, which can contain instructions to suppress certain error-checking messages. This allows you to focus more on the code at hand rather than pre-existing libraries that cannot be changed.
Valgrind does its checking by running the application in a simulated processor environment. It forces the dynamic linker/loader to load the simulator first, then loads the program and its libraries into the simulator. All the data is collected while the program is running. When the program terminates, all the log data is either displayed or written to log files.
The mpatrol library can be linked with your program to trace and track memory allocations. It was written and runs on several different operating system platforms. One distinct advantage of the library is it has been ported to many different target processors, including MIPS, PowerPC, x86 and by some MontaVista customers, to StrongARM targets.
mpatrol is highly configurable; instead of using the heap, it can be set to allocate memory from a fixed-size static array. It can be built as a static, shared or threadsafe library. It also can be one large object file so it can be linked to the application instead of contained in a library. This functionality provides a great deal of flexibility for the end user.
The code it creates contains replacements for 44 different memory allocation and string functions. Hooks are provided so these routines can be called from within gdb. This allows for debugging of programs that use mpatrol.
Library settings and heap usage can be displayed periodically as the program runs. All the statistics gathered during runtime are displayed at program termination. The program has built-in defaults that can be overridden by environment variables. By changing these environment variables at runtime, it becomes unnecessary to rebuild the library. Tuning of the various tests can be done dynamically. All logging is done to files in the current working directory; these can be overridden to go to stdout and stderr or to other files.
As the program is running, call stack trace-back information can be gathered and logged. If the program and associated libraries are built with debug information about symbols and line numbers, this information can be displayed in the log file.
If at some point the programmer wants to simulate a stress test on a smaller memory footprint, mpatrol can be instructed to limit the memory footprint. This allows for testing conditions that may not be readily available in the lab environment. Stress testing in emulating a customer environment or setting up a harsh test harness is made easier with this feature. In addition, the test program can be made to fail a random set of memory allocations to test error-recovery routines. This ability can be useful for exception handling in C++. Snapshots of the heap can be taken to allow the measuring of high and low watermarks of memory use.
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- January 2015 Issue of Linux Journal: Security
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- Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.1 beta available on IBM Power Platform
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