Holy cow, I wrote a book!
Often I'll see code that tries to "protect" against invalid
This is usually done by calling a function like
But this is a bad idea.
IsBadWritePtr should really be called
The documentation for the IsBadXxxPtr functions
presents the technical reasons why, but I'm going to dig a little
For one thing, if the "bad pointer" points into a guard
page, then probing the memory will raise a guard page exception.
The IsBadXxxPtr function will catch the exception and
return "not a valid pointer".
But guard page exceptions are raised only once.
You just blew your one chance.
When the code that is managing the guard page accesses the
memory for what it thinks is the first time (but is really the second),
it won't get the guard page exception but will
instead get a normal access violation.
it's possible that your function was called by some code
that intentionally passed a pointer to a guard page (or
a PAGE_NOACCESS page)
expecting to receive that guard page exception or access violation
so that it could
dynamically generate the data that should go onto that page.
(Simulation of large address spaces via pointer-swizzling is one
scenario where this can happen.)
Swallowing the exception in IsBadXxxPtr
means that the caller's exception handler doesn't get a chance
which means that your code rejected a pointer that would
actually have been okay,
if only you had let the exception handler do its thing.
"Yeah, but my code doesn't use guard pages or play games with
PAGE_NOACCESS pages, so I don't care."
Well, for one thing, just because your code doesn't use these features
pages doesn't mean that no other code in your process uses them.
One of the DLLs that you link to might use guard pages, and your
use of IsBadXxxPtr to test a pointer into a guard page
will break that other DLL.
And second, your program does use guard pages; you just don't realize it.
The dynamic growth of the stack is performed via guard pages:
Just past the last valid page on the stack is a guard page.
When the stack grows into the guard page, a guard page exception is
raised, which the default exception handler handles by
committing a new stack page and setting the next page
to be a guard page.
(I suspect this design was chosen in order to avoid having to commit
the entire memory necessary for all thread stacks.
Since the default thread stack size is a megabyte, this would have
meant that a program with ten threads would commit ten megabytes
of memory, even though each thread probably uses only 24KB of that
When you have a small pagefile or are running without a pagefile entirely,
you don't want to waste 97% of your commit limit on unused stack memory.)
"But what should I do, then, if somebody passes me a bad pointer?"
You should crash.
In the Win32 programming model, exceptions are truly exceptional.
As a general rule, you shouldn't try to catch them.
And even if you decide you want to catch them, you need to be
very careful that you catch exactly what you want and no more.
Trying to intercept the invalid pointer and returning an error code
creates nondeterministic behavior.
Where do invalid pointers come from?
Typically they are caused by programming errors.
Using memory after freeing it,
using uninitialized memory,
that sort of thing.
Consequently, an invalid pointer might actually point to
valid memory, if for example the heap page that used to contain
the memory has not been decomitted, or if the uninitialized memory
contains a value that when reinterpreted as a pointer
just happens to be a pointer to memory that is valid right now.
On the other hand, it might point to truly invalid memory.
If you use IsBadWritePtr to "validate" your pointers
before writing to them,
then in the case where it happens to point to memory that is valid,
you end up corrupting memory (since the pointer is "valid"
and you therefore decide to write to it).
And in the case where it happens to point to an invalid address,
you return an error code.
In both cases, the program keeps on running,
and then that memory corruption manifests itself as an
"impossible" crash two hours later.
In other words IsBadWritePtr is really
It tries to corrupt memory, but if doing so raises an exception,
it merely fails the operation.
Many teams at Microsoft have rediscovered that IsBadXxxPtr
causes bugs rather than fixes them.
It's not fun getting a bucketful of crash dumps and finding that
they are all of the "impossible" sort.
You hunt through your code in search of this impossible bug.
Maybe you find somebody who was using IsBadXxxPtr or
equivalently an exception handler that swallows access violation
exceptions and converts them to error codes.
You remove the IsBadXxxPtr in order to let
the exception escape unhandled and crash the program.
Then you run the scenario again.
And wow, look, the program crashes in that function,
and when you debug it, you find the code that was, say,
using a pointer after freeing it.
That bug has been there for years, and it was manifesting itself
as an "impossible" bug because the function was trying to be helpful
by "validating" its pointers, when in fact what it was doing was
taking a straightforward problem and turning it into an "impossible" bug.
There is a subtlety to this advice that you should just crash
when given invalid input, which I'll take up next time.