Thursday, November 17, 2011

Your own linker warnings using the GNU toolchain

You've probably seen linker warnings like these:

linkwarnmain.c:(.text+0x1d): warning: foo is deprecated, please use the shiny new foobar function
linkwarnmain.c:(.text+0x27): warning: the use of `tmpnam' is dangerous, better use `mkstemp'

These warnings are actually stored in ELF sections named .gnu.warning.symbolname:

$ objdump -s -j .gnu.warning.gets /lib/

/lib/     file format elf32-i386

Contents of section .gnu.warning.gets:
 0000 74686520 60676574 73272066 756e6374  the `gets' funct
 0010 696f6e20 69732064 616e6765 726f7573  ion is dangerous
 0020 20616e64 2073686f 756c6420 6e6f7420   and should not
 0030 62652075 7365642e 00                 be used..

So when you try to use a symbol, if the linker sees a section whose name matches the above pattern, it emits the corresponding warning message.

You can add your own linker warnings to your source files:

void foo(void)

static const char foo_warning[] __attribute__((section(""))) =
        "foo is deprecated, please use the shiny new foobar function";

void foo(void);

int main()

        return 0;

Then, when you compile, you will get a warning:

$ gcc -Wall -c linkwarn.c
$ gcc -Wall -o linkwarnmain linkwarnmain.c linkwarn.o
/tmp/ccyHLTw6.o: In function `main':
linkwarnmain.c:(.text+0x1d): warning: foo is deprecated, please use the shiny new foobar function

glibc machinery for emitting linker warnings is a little bit more complicated:

#ifdef HAVE_ELF

/* We want the .gnu.warning.SYMBOL section to be unallocated.  */
#  define __make_section_unallocated(section_string)    \
  asm (".section " section_string "\n\t.previous");
#  define __make_section_unallocated(section_string)    \
  asm (".pushsection " section_string "\n\t.popsection");
# else
#  define __make_section_unallocated(section_string)
# endif

/* Tacking on "\n\t#" to the section name makes gcc put it's bogus
   section attributes on what looks like a comment to the assembler.  */
#  define __sec_comment "\"\n\t#\""
# else
#  define __sec_comment "\n\t#"
# endif
# define link_warning(symbol, msg) \
  __make_section_unallocated (".gnu.warning." #symbol) \
  static const char __evoke_link_warning_##symbol[]     \
    __attribute__ ((used, section (".gnu.warning." #symbol __sec_comment))) \
    = msg;

The warning message is marked as used so the optimizer doesn't decide to completely optimize it out of existence. Also, the section is not marked as allocatable to prevent the loader from loading it into memory. Since gcc's section attribute doesn't allow to change its default flags, the solution is to declare the section using asm, return to the previous section (the one the compiler was using beforehand), and prevent (via __sec_comment) the assembler from seeing the flags that gcc adds in its section attribute output. Otherwise we'd have something similar to:

$ gcc -Wall -S linkwarn.c
$ cat linkwarn.s
        .file   "linkwarn.c"
.globl foo
        .type   foo, @function
        pushl   %ebp
        movl    %esp, %ebp
        popl    %ebp
        .size   foo, .-foo
        .align 32
        .type   foo_warning, @object
        .size   foo_warning, 60
        .string "foo is deprecated, please use the shiny new foobar function"
        .section        .note.GNU-stack,"",@progbits
        .ident  "GCC: (GNU) 3.4.5 (Gentoo 3.4.5-r1, ssp-3.4.5-1.0, pie-8.7.9)"

... where the section is marked as allocatable via the "a" flag.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Terminals in *nix

Terminals were hardware devices that consisted of a keyboard and an output device (initially a line printer, later a CRT monitor). A large computer could have several remote terminals connected to it. Each terminal would have a protocol for communicating efficiently with the computer, for CRT-based terminals this includes having special "control sequences" to change cursor position, erase parts of the current line/screen, switch to an alternate full-screen mode, ...

A terminal emulator is an application emulating one of those older terminals. It allows to do functions like cursor positioning, setting foreground and background colors, ... Terminal emulators try to emulate some specific terminal protocol, but each has its own set of quirks and deviations.

Unix systems have databases describing terminals and terminal emulators, so applications are abstracted away from the particular terminal (or terminal emulator) in use. An older database is termcap(5), while terminfo(5) is a newer database. These databases allow applications to query for the capabilities of the terminal in use. Capabilities can be booleans, numeric capabilities, or even string capabilities, e.g.: if a specific terminal type has/supports a F12 key, it will have a capability "key_f12" (long terminfo name), "kf12" (short terminfo name), "F2" (termcap name) describing the string that key produces. Try it with: tput kf12 | od -tx1.

Since programming directly with capabilities can be cumbersome, applications typically use a higher-level library like curses/ncurses, slang, etc...

There is a special environment variable called TERM that tells applications what terminal type they are talking to. This variable should be set to the exact terminal type if it exists in the database, for best results. This just tells the application which precise protocol and protocol deviations does the terminal understand. Changing the TERM variable does not change the terminal type, it just changes the terminal type the application thinks it is talking to.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I remember SuSE Linux had a motd that simply said: "Have fun..." That has always been the spirit of Unix, having an environment in which it is fun to work and tinker about. We owe that to Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie and their colleagues at Bell Labs (

Dennis Ritchie also evolved Thompson's B into C, giving us a concise and practical systems programming language. Kernighan and Ritchie taught many people how to write great code, some of those people taught other people, directly, or simply by sharing great code. The end result has been a ripple effect that has had a profound and positive impact on how many of us code. Not many people in history have influenced the work of others so much.

Dennis Ritchie is no longer with us, he will be greatly missed. He is among those luminaries we will never forget. The computing community will never forget Jon Postel, Richard Stevens and Dennis Ritchie.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Tentative Definitions in C

Suppose you want to access a variable from several translation units. You would declare it in a header file:

int foo;

You would optionally define it on a translation unit:

int foo = 2;

And you would refer to it on some other(s) translation unit(s):

#include <stdio.h>

#include "example.h"

int main()
        printf("foo = %d\n", foo);

        return 0;

If we compile and run the above we get:

$ gcc -Wall -o example example-main.c example.c
$ ./example
foo = 2

int foo; from header.h is a tentative definition. If you comment out the definition in example.c, the tentative definition acts as a definition with an initializer of 0:

$ gcc -Wall -o example example-main.c example.c
$ ./example
foo = 0

But it can be considered to be better style to restrict header files to contain declarations, and not definitions, not even tentative ones. In that case, we would add a extern storage specifier, which would turn our declaration on the header file from a tentative definition to a mere declaration:

extern int foo;

In this case, if we don't define foo in any translation unit, the linker will error out:

$ gcc -Wall -o example example-main.c example.c
/tmp/ccS3FMxx.o: In function `main':
example-main.c:(.text+0x1d): undefined reference to `foo'
collect2: ld returned 1 exit status

All of the above is for C. C++ doesn't have tentative declarations, and therefore has some different rules on what constitutes a definition. In C++, int foo; constitutes a definition, while extern int foo; constitutes a declaration. So, if we leave out the extern storage specifier in C++, the linker will error out:

$ g++ -Wall -o example example-main.cpp example.cpp
/tmp/cc8fzx4x.o:(.data+0x0): multiple definition of `foo'
/tmp/ccxLfXPo.o:(.bss+0x0): first defined here
collect2: ld returned 1 exit status

Friday, September 23, 2011

Spring @Transactional Propagation Reference

Spring's propagation types for the @Transactional annotation differ in how they behave in presence/absence of an existing transaction:

Propagation types and their behaviour
PROPAGATION TYPE no current transaction there's a current transaction
MANDATORY throw exception use current transaction
NEVER don't create a transaction, run method outside any transaction throw exception
NOT_SUPPORTED don't create a transaction, run method outside any transaction suspend current transaction, run method outside any transaction
SUPPORTS don't create a transaction, run method outside any transaction use current transaction
REQUIRED (default) create a new transaction use current transaction
REQUIRES_NEW create a new transaction suspend current transaction, create a new independent transaction
NESTED create a new transaction create a new nested transaction

It could be argued that NEVER and NOT_SUPPORTED (and arguably SUPPORTS also) don't serve any useful purpose, and exist only for completeness; after all, why would you want to explicitly run something outside of any transaction?

As for the other propagation types, REQUIRED/MANDATORY/SUPPORTS would be used when you want your code to be part of the current transaction, sharing its commit/rollback fate; NESTED would come into use in cases where you want to be able to rollback only parts of a bigger transaction; and finally REQUIRES_NEW is to be used when you want to do something totally unrelated to the current transaction.

The difference between REQUIRED, MANDATORY and SUPPORTS strives in how they behave when there is no existing transaction. MANDATORY acts as a sort of assert directive, ensuring there is an opened transaction. REQUIRED creates a new transaction, being safe to use outside any transaction. SUPPORTS rides along an existing transaction, but doesn't create a new one if none exists.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Introduction to regexes

Let Σ be an alphabet.

  • ε (the empty string) is a regular expression.
  • If a is a symbol from the alphabet Σ, a is a regular expression.
  • If a and b are symbols from the alphabet Σ, ab (a and b concatenated) is a regular expression.
  • If a and b are symbols from the alphabet Σ, a|b (a or b) is a regular expression.
  • If a is a symbol from the alphabet Σ, a* (a repeated 0 or more times) is a regular expression.
A regular language is the language defined by a regular expression. A regular language is the language matched by a finite automaton. A word w from a regular language can be recognized in O(n).

Unix regexes:

  • . means any character.
  • Concatenation is represented without any symbol.
  • Union (alternation) is represented by |.
  • * means Kleene closure (0 or more repetitions).
  • + means 1 or more repetitions.
  • ? means 0 or 1 repetition.
  • ^ means start of line.
  • $ means end of line.
  • \< means start of word (in some programs).
  • \> means end of word (in some programs).
  • {n} means n repetitions (in some programs).
  • {,m} means from 0 to m repetitions (in some programs).
  • {n,m} means from n to m repetitions (in some programs).
  • a|b|c|d|e|f can be written as [abcdef] or [a-f].
  • a|b|c|d|h|i can be written as [a-dhi] or [a-dh-i], ...
  • [^list] matches characters not in list.
  • () is used for grouping.
  • \ escapes special meaning of a metacharacter, e.g.: \*
Precedence is: repetition, concatenation, union.

The supported regular expression syntax varies among programs, (e.g: gawk vs mawk, vi vs vim, ...).


Many programs allow the use of \n (where n is a number) to match a subexpression enclosed in () or \(\), e.g: in vim, \<\(.\)\(.\).\2\1\> matches five-letter palindromes. Regular expressions using these back-references are no longer true regular expressions, and not all of them can be matched in O(n) time.

Regex/Regexp vs regular expressions:

Since modern regexes match things that cannot be matched with true regular expressions, it's been proposed (by Larry Wall) to call them regexes, not regular expressions. Perl regexes have been gaining expressive power through the years, and have grown, among many other things, support for look-around assertions, support for calling Perl code, and support for recursion. Many regex engines have taken things from Perl's regexes. On the other hand, Google's re2 library uses true regular expressions and a DFA-based implementation (in contrast to the NFA-based implementation of backtracking-regex engines) to achieve very high performance.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


There are some limitations to using non-MMU CPUs in *nix, e.g: there are restrictions to fork(), mmap(), shmat() and brk(). Let's talk about fork().

fork(2) creates a child process with a copy of the memory of the current process (and a copy of the file descriptors, signal handlers, filesystem namespace, ...) This copy has the same virtual addresses as those used on the parent. In a CPU with a MMU, the MMU translates each process' virtual addresses to different physical addresses, so everything works and everyone is happy.

However, in a MMU-less CPU, virtual addresses are the same as physical addresses (said another way, there are no virtual addresses), so fork() cannot work in a MMU-less system in the general case (at least in an efficient manner, you can always move processes in memory at each context switch).

Often, fork(2) is used to immediately call execve(2) in the child. There is a special system call fot this: vfork(2). Typically, vfork() doesn't create a new copy of the parent's memory, but uses the parent's memory. It's also typical for the parent to remain blocked until the child calls execve() or _exit().

The only safe things you can do after vfork() on the child are the following:
  • Calling execve().
  • Calling _exit() (Note it's _exit(), not exit(), exit() can run C library finalization code, such as closing and freeing file handles, which in vfork() implementations using the parent's memory would also close and free them for the parent, leading to very bad things).
  • Use the pid_t value returned by vfork().

Of course, vfork() can be implemented simply as:
#define vfork fork

As vfork() uses a shared address space, it works perfectly fine on non-MMU CPUs. Also, creating a child to immediately call execve() is a very common use of fork()/vfork().

The other *nix classical API to create processes/threads/tasks is pthread_create(). As the different threads share the memory address space, this works for non-MMU CPUs. POSIX also introduces a posix_spawn() function.

In the specific case of Linux, there is also clone(2). In non-MMU CPUs, clone() works fine if it's passed the CLONE_VM flag.

An interesting detail in vfork() (explained by Jamie Loker at uclinux-dev at is how it's implemented in uClibc:

popl %ecx
movl $__NR_vfork,%eax
int $0x80
pushl %ecx
cmpl $-4095,%eax
jae __syscall_error

When you call vfork(), Linux first returns control to the child. The parent hasn't yet returned from vfork(). The call to execve() in the child can corrupt vfork()'s stack frame in the parent.

The solution is not depending on vfork()'s stack frame. In the previous i386 example, the first thing that is done is save the return address (which is the only think saved on vfork()'s stack frame, as vfork() has neither parameters nor local variables) in a register, where it is safe. The int $0x80 instruction is the one to pass control to sys_vfork() at the kernel. On return from sys_vfork(), we push the return address into the stack frame again, check for errors, and return from vfork().

(Originally published at (in Spanish))

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Integer Promotions and Conversions in C

Suppose you have the following code:
#include <stdio.h>

int main()
    unsigned x = 1;
    char y = -1;

    if (x > y)
        printf("x > y\n");
        printf("x <= y\n");

    return 0;
What does really happen here? Since we are dealing with integer types, first the integer promotions are applied, and then the arithmetic conversions are applied.

If char is equivalent to signed char:
  • char is promoted to int (Integer Promotions, ISO C99 § ¶2)
  • Since int and unsigned have the same rank, int is converted to unsigned (Arithmetic Conversions, ISO C99 §
If char is equivalent to unsigned char:
  • char may be promoted to either int or unsigned int:
    • If int can represent all unsigned char values (typically because sizeof(int) > sizeof(char)), char is converted to int.
    • Otherwise (typically because sizeof(char)==sizeof(int)), char is converted to unsigned.
  • Now we have one operand that is either int or unsigned, and another that is unsigned. The first operand is converted to unsigned.

The rules that are applied are the following:

Integer promotions: An expression of a type of lower rank that int is converted to int if int can hold all of the values of the original type, to unsigned otherwise.

Arithmetic conversions: Try to convert to the larger type. When there is conflict between signed and unsigned, if the larger (including the case where the two types have the same rank) type is unsigned, go with unsigned. Otherwise, go with signed only in the case it can represent all the values of both types.

Conversions between integer types(ISO C99 §
  • Conversion of an out-of-range value to an unsigned integer type is done via wrap-around (modular arithmetic).
  • Conversion of an out-of-range value to a signed integer type is implementation defined, and can raise a signal (such as SIGFPE).
Ranks: Every type has a rank. unsigned types have the same rank as the corresponding signed type. Ranks satisfy the following: char < short < int < long < long long.

Representation of integer types:
  • Signed types consist of sign bits, padding bits and value bits.
  • Unsigned types consists of padding bits and value bits.
  • An unsigned type has to have a number of value bits greater or equal to the number of value bits of its corresponding signed type.
Now we can rephrase part of the above as:
  • unsigned char may be promoted to either int or unsigned int:
    • If int can represent all unsigned char values (because the number of value bits of int >= number of value bits of unsigned char), unsigned char is converted to int.
    • Otherwise (because the number of value bits of int < number of value bits of unsigned char), unsigned char is converted to unsigned.
Borderline example: a system with an unsigned char type with 1 padding bit and 31 value bits, and an int type with 1 sign bit and 31 value bits would fall into the first condition (and be an exception to the previous rule of thumb using sizeof()).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Character by Character Input on *nix

A frequently asked question is how to read a single key on *nix. Many people expect read(2) of a single byte to return immediately, but by default it doesn't.

On Unix you don't deal with keyboards, you deal with a terminal. A terminal can be the physical console, a terminal (or terminal emulator) on a serial port, an xterm, ...

By default, input lines are not made available to programs until the terminal (or terminal emulator) sees a line delimiter.

On POSIX, terminals are controlled by the termios(3) functions. These include tcgetattr(3) and tcsetattr(3), which can be used to modify terminal attributes. These include input modes, output modes, and local modes.

One of the local modes is canonical mode (enabled by default), in which input is made available line by line, and certain line editing characters are enabled.

So, to read input character by character, you need to do something like the following:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>
#include <errno.h>

#include <unistd.h>
#include <poll.h>
#include <signal.h>
#include <termios.h>
#include <sys/ioctl.h>

static volatile sig_atomic_t end = 0;

static void sighandler(int signo)
        end = 1;

int main()
        struct termios oldtio, curtio;
        struct sigaction sa;

        /* Save stdin terminal attributes */
        if (tcgetattr(0, &oldtio) < 0) {

        /* Make sure we exit cleanly */
        memset(&sa, 0, sizeof(struct sigaction));
        sa.sa_handler = sighandler;
        if (sigaction(SIGINT, &sa, NULL) < 0) {
        if (sigaction(SIGQUIT, &sa, NULL) < 0) {
        if (sigaction(SIGTERM, &sa, NULL) < 0) {

        /* This is needed to be able to tcsetattr() after a hangup (Ctrl-C)
         * see tcsetattr() on POSIX
        memset(&sa, 0, sizeof(struct sigaction));
        sa.sa_handler = SIG_IGN;
        if (sigaction(SIGTTOU, &sa, NULL) < 0) {

        /* Set non-canonical no-echo for stdin */
        if (tcgetattr(0, &curtio) < 0) {
        curtio.c_lflag &= ~(ICANON | ECHO);
        /* This could be interrupted by a signal if it used
         * TCSADRAIN or TCSAFLUSH, but it wouldn't matter, since
         * we would have not changed terminal attributes yet
        if (tcsetattr(0, TCSANOW, &curtio) < 0) {
        if (tcgetattr(0, &curtio) < 0) {
        if (curtio.c_lflag & (ICANON | ECHO)) {
                fprintf(stderr, "couldn't set non-canonical no-echo mode\n");

        /* main loop */
        while (!end) {
                struct pollfd pfds[1];
                int ret;
                char c;

                /* See if there is data available */
                pfds[0].fd = 0;
                pfds[0].events = POLLIN;
                ret = poll(pfds, 1, 0);
                if (ret < 0 && errno != EINTR) {

                /* Consume data */
                if (ret > 0) {
                        printf("Data available\n");
                        if (read(0, &c, 1) < 0 && errno != EINTR) {

        /* restore terminal attributes */
        /* This could be interrupted by a signal if it used TCSADRAIN
         * or TCSAFLUSH
        if (tcsetattr(0, TCSANOW, &oldtio) < 0) {

        return 0;