Of Memory Management, Heap Corruption, and C++


So, I need some help. I am working on a project in C++. However, I think I have somehow managed to corrupt my heap. This is based on the fact that I added an std::string to a class and assigning it a value from another std::string:

std::string hello = "Hello, world.\n";
/* exampleString = "Hello, world.\n" would work fine. */
exampleString = hello;

crashes on my system with a stack dump. So basically I need to stop and go through all my code and memory management stuff and find out where I've screwed up. The codebase is still small (about 1000 lines), so this is easily do-able.

Still, I'm over my head with this kind of stuff, so I thought I'd throw it out there. I'm on a Linux system and have poked around with valgrind, and while not knowing completely what I'm doing, it did report that the std::string's destructor was an invalid free. I have to admit to getting the term 'Heap Corruption' from a Google search; any general purpose articles on this sort of stuff would be appreciated as well.

(In before rm -rf ProjectDir, do again in C# :D)

EDIT: I haven't made it clear, but what I'm asking for are ways an advice of diagnosing these sort of memory problems. I know the std::string stuff is right, so it's something I've done (or a bug, but there's Not A Problem With Select). I'm sure I could check the code I've written up and you very smart folks would see the problem in no time, but I want to add this kind of code analysis to my 'toolbox', as it were.

8/21/2017 7:53:43 PM

Accepted Answer

These are relatively cheap mechanisms for possibly solving the problem:

  1. Keep an eye on my heap corruption question - I'm updating with the answers as they shake out. The first was balancing new[] and delete[], but you're already doing that.
  2. Give valgrind more of a go; it's an excellent tool, and I only wish it was available under Windows. I only slows your program down by about half, which is pretty good compared to the Windows equivalents.
  3. Think about using the Google Performance Tools as a replacement malloc/new.
  4. Have you cleaned out all your object files and started over? Perhaps your make file is... "suboptimal"
  5. You're not assert()ing enough in your code. How do I know that without having seen it? Like flossing, no-one assert()s enough in their code. Add in a validation function for your objects and call that on method start and method end.
  6. Are you compiling -wall? If not, do so.
  7. Find yourself a lint tool like PC-Lint. A small app like yours might fit in the PC-lint demo page, meaning no purchase for you!
  8. Check you're NULLing out pointers after deleteing them. Nobody likes a dangling pointer. Same gig with declared but unallocated pointers.
  9. Stop using arrays. Use a vector instead.
  10. Don't use raw pointers. Use a smart pointer. Don't use auto_ptr! That thing is... surprising; its semantics are very odd. Instead, choose one of the Boost smart pointers, or something out of the Loki library.
5/23/2017 10:29:25 AM

Oh, if you want to know how to debug the problem, that's simple. First, get a dead chicken. Then, start shaking it.

Seriously, I haven't found a consistent way to track these kinds of bugs down. Because there's so many potential problems, there's not a simple checklist to go through. However, I would recommend the following:

  1. Get comfortable in a debugger.
  2. Start tromping around in the debugger to see if you can find anything that looks fishy. Check especially to see what's happening during the exampleString = hello; line.
  3. Check to make sure it's actually crashing on the exampleString = hello; line, and not when exiting some enclosing block (which could cause destructors to fire).
  4. Check any pointer magic you might be doing. Pointer arithmetic, casting, etc.
  5. Check all of your allocations and deallocations to make sure they are matched (no double-deallocations).
  6. Make sure you aren't returning any references or pointers to objects on the stack.

There are lots of other things to try, too. I'm sure some other people will chime in with ideas as well.


Some places to start:

If you're on windows, and using visual C++6 (I hope to god nobody still uses it these days) it's implentation of std::string is not threadsafe, and can lead to this kind of thing.

Here's an article I found which explains a lot of the common causes of memory leaks and corruption.

At my previous workplace we used Compuware Boundschecker to help with this. It's commercial and very expensive, so may not be an option.

Here's a couple of free libraries which may be of some use

Hope that helps. Memory corruption is a sucky place to be in!


It could be heap corruption, but it's just as likely to be stack corruption. Jim's right. We really need a bit more context. Those two lines of source don't tell us much in isolation. There could be any number of things causing this (which is the real joy of C/C++).

If you're comfortable posting your code, you could even throw all of it up on a server and post a link. I'm sure you'd gets lots more advice that way (some of it undoubtedly unrelated to your question).


Your code as I can see has no errors. As has been said more context is needed.

If you haven't already tried, install gdb (the gcc debugger) and compile the program with -g. This will compile in debugging symbols which gdb can use. Once you have gdb installed run it with the program (gdb <your_program>). This is a useful cheatsheat for using gdb.

Set a breakpoint for the function that is producing the bug, and see what the value of exampleString is. Also do the same for whatever parameter you are passing to exampleString. This should at least tell you if the std::strings are valid.

I found the answer from this article to be a good guide about pointers.


The code was simply an example of where my program was failing (it was allocated on the stack, Jim). I'm not actually looking for 'what have I done wrong', but rather 'how do I diagnose what I've done wrong'. Teach a man to fish and all that. Though looking at the question, I haven't made that clear enough. Thank goodness for the edit function. :')

Also, I actually fixed the std::string problem. How? By replacing it with a vector, compiling, then replacing the string again. It was consistently crashing there, and that fixed even though it...couldn't. There's something nasty there, and I'm not sure what. I did want to check the one time I manually allocate memory on the heap, though:

 this->map = new Area*[largestY + 1];
 for (int i = 0; i < largestY + 1; i++) {
     this->map[i] = new Area[largestX + 1];

and deleting it:

for (int i = 0; i < largestY + 1; i++) {
    delete [] this->map[i];
delete [] this->map;

I haven't allocated a 2d array with C++ before. It seems to work.


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