Debug Allocator for C

I’ve made a debug allocator for the C; hopefully this will make it easier for NYU students to learn C and debug their C programs for CSO. The files are:

  • debug_allocator.h - This is the file that defines the macros that make the allocator work; you’ll want to include it in your projects with #include "debug_allocator.h".
  • debug_allocator.c - This is the implementation file; it calls malloc and free, while tracking file and line numbers of allocations.


These two files provide the following features

  • malloc, free, and realloc macros - These macros are defined in debug_allocator.h, and simply call __debug_alloc, __debug_dealloc, and __debug_realloc respectively, while also passing in the file and line number they were called at.
  • Allocation tracking - debug_allocator.c tracks all allocations made during the program’s execution.
  • Defined unitialized/freed values - unitialized memory is initialized with the value 0xdadfaded and freed memory is overwritten with 0xdeadbeef
  • Oversized allocations and accompanying defined values - Every allocation made is over-allocated by 5x, and the extra space is used as a buffer on either side of the allocated region. These regions are initialized to 0xaabcdeff, and overwritten with 0xbadadded on free.
  • check macro - This macro calls __debug_check_alloc, and makes sure that the given pointer is a valid reference to the heap. Additionally, it uses the allocation information given to give better error messages.

How to Use

To use these files, first download them (and/or copy-paste them) into your project. Usually C projects come with a source folder, often abbreviated src, so that’s where they should go. Then any time you need to use malloc, add the following line near the beginning of the file:

#include "debug_allocator.h"

Then, just use malloc normally! The macros will take care of the rest.

Please note: don’t keep these files in your project! They’re useful for debugging, but are terrible for performance. Every deallocation is a linear scan through the list of all allocations that you’ve made over the course of the program, so ultimately a program that just allocates and then immediately deallocates a few hundred times is quadratic.

How it Works

This allocator doesn’t do much, but what it does still might be worth explaining.

  • Usage of Macros - All of the macros used in this allocator make use of the same tools: __FILE__ and __LINE__. __FILE__ is a macro that expands to the name of the file it is used in, and __LINE__ likewise expands to the line number of the file it is used in; this means that if malloc(x) expands to __debug_alloc(x, __FILE__, __LINE__), then __debug_alloc will get access to the file and line number it was called at, which is exactly what we want.
  • Tracking Allocations - This allocator uses a type called AllocVec to emulate the behavior of an ArrayList in Java or a vector in C++. Every time you allocate, it does the equivalent of ArrayList.add, and when you deallocate it searches through the list of allocations and marks the correct allocation as freed.