What is a bus error?


What does the "bus error" message mean, and how does it differ from a segfault?

10/18/2015 10:44:24 AM

Accepted Answer

Bus errors are rare nowadays on x86 and occur when your processor cannot even attempt the memory access requested, typically:

  • using a processor instruction with an address that does not satisfy its alignment requirements.

Segmentation faults occur when accessing memory which does not belong to your process, they are very common and are typically the result of:

  • using a pointer to something that was deallocated.
  • using an uninitialized hence bogus pointer.
  • using a null pointer.
  • overflowing a buffer.

PS: To be more precise this is not manipulating the pointer itself that will cause issues, it's accessing the memory it points to (dereferencing).

10/17/2008 3:18:21 PM

A segfault is accessing memory that you're not allowed to access. It's read-only, you don't have permission, etc...

A bus error is trying to access memory that can't possibly be there. You've used an address that's meaningless to the system, or the wrong kind of address for that operation.


mmap minimal POSIX 7 example

"Bus error" happens when the kernel sends SIGBUS to a process.

A minimal example that produces it because ftruncate was forgotten:

#include <fcntl.h> /* O_ constants */
#include <unistd.h> /* ftruncate */
#include <sys/mman.h> /* mmap */

int main() {
    int fd;
    int *map;
    int size = sizeof(int);
    char *name = "/a";

    fd = shm_open(name, O_RDWR | O_CREAT, (mode_t)0600);
    /* THIS is the cause of the problem. */
    /*ftruncate(fd, size);*/
    map = mmap(NULL, size, PROT_READ | PROT_WRITE, MAP_SHARED, fd, 0);
    /* This is what generates the SIGBUS. */
    *map = 0;

Run with:

gcc -std=c99 main.c -lrt

Tested in Ubuntu 14.04.

POSIX describes SIGBUS as:

Access to an undefined portion of a memory object.

The mmap spec says that:

References within the address range starting at pa and continuing for len bytes to whole pages following the end of an object shall result in delivery of a SIGBUS signal.

And shm_open says that it generates objects of size 0:

The shared memory object has a size of zero.

So at *map = 0 we are touching past the end of the allocated object.

Unaligned stack memory accesses in ARMv8 aarch64

This was mentioned at: What is a bus error? for SPARC, but here I will provide a more reproducible example.

All you need is a freestanding aarch64 program:

.global _start
    /* misalign the stack out of 16-bit boundary */
    add sp, sp, #-4
    /* access the stack */
    ldr w0, [sp]

    /* exit syscall in case SIGBUS does not happen */
    mov x0, 0
    mov x8, 93
    svc 0

That program then raises SIGBUS on Ubuntu 18.04 aarch64, Linux kernel 4.15.0 in a ThunderX2 server machine.

Unfortunately, I can't reproduce it on QEMU v4.0.0 user mode, I'm not sure why.

The fault appears to be optional and controlled by the SCTLR_ELx.SA and SCTLR_EL1.SA0 fields, I have summarized the related docs a bit further here.

I believe the kernel raises SIGBUS when an application exhibits data misalignment on the data bus. I think that since most[?] modern compilers for most processors pad / align the data for the programmers, the alignment troubles of yore (at least) mitigated, and hence one does not see SIGBUS too often these days (AFAIK).

From: Here


You can also get SIGBUS when a code page cannot be paged in for some reason.


One classic instance of a bus error is on certain architecures, such as the SPARC (at least some SPARCs, maybe this has been changed), is when you do a mis-aligned access. For instance:

unsigned char data[6];
(unsigned int *) (data + 2) = 0xdeadf00d;

This snippet tries to write the 32-bit integer value 0xdeadf00d to an address that is (most likely) not properly aligned, and will generate a bus error on architectures that are "picky" in this regard. The Intel x86 is, by the way, not such an architecture, it would allow the access (albeit execute it more slowly).


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