Testing for memory leaks in C

Whilst wandering round the Cambridge University bookshop the other weekend, I noticed a book called Memory as a Programming Concept in C and C++. It was just too tempting, so I bought a copy.

Nobody has ever taught me about memory management in C, I've worked this stuff out from experience and probably by reading other peoples code. So it's nice to read a tutorial - even if I've already been doing this stuff for years. If nothing else, it's made me think more carefully before I dynamically allocate some memory. And I thought that I was pretty careful in the first place.

So I decided to write some debug code to test for memory leaks in my H2D2 virtual machine. I was pretty confident I would not find any problems. But, I did actually find a calloc() where I had meant to put a realloc(). A silly mistake where I wasn't being careful enough. This was leaking memory, because I had a malloc() which was being followed by a calloc() instead of realloc() - so the memory allocated in the first place was not getting freed up (only the memory from the calloc() was getting freed up).

Here is an example of the debug code that I've written: view C code (as a text file).

You just need to replace your calls to malloc, calloc, realloc, and free with rmalloc, rcalloc, rrealloc, and rfree. As you can see from the code, it simply maintains an array of pointers to dynamically allocated memory, so when your code exits you can see if there are any 'dangling' pointers left over. Simple, but effective. If there are no pointers left when your code finishes then you're probably not leaking memory. Nice.

Anyway, I'd be happy to recommend the book 'Memory as a Programming Concept in C and C++', I've found it a useful recap on many things and a good reminder to be extra careful with dynamic memory. It's also been fun to write some memory debugging code, which is a tangent that I may not have gone down if I had not bought the book. Although this book was published 9 years ago, it's nice to see a good book on C programming that's less than a decade old. Thanks Frantisek!