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Some implementations provide a nonportable environment pointer that is valid when main() is called but may be invalidated by operations that modify the environment.

The C Standard, J.5.1 [ISO/IEC 9899:2011], states

In a hosted environment, the main function receives a third argument, char *envp[], that points to a null-terminated array of pointers to char, each of which points to a string that provides information about the environment for this execution of the program.

Consequently, under a hosted environment supporting this common extension, it is possible to access the environment through a modified form of main():

main(int argc, char *argv[], char *envp[]){ /* ... */ }

However, modifying the environment by any means may cause the environment memory to be reallocated, with the result that envp now references an incorrect location. For example, when compiled with GCC 4.8.1 and run on a 32-bit Intel GNU/Linux machine, the following code,

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
 
extern char **environ;

int main(int argc, const char *argv[], const char *envp[]) {
  printf("environ:  %p\n", environ);
  printf("envp:     %p\n", envp);
  setenv("MY_NEW_VAR", "new_value", 1);
  puts("--Added MY_NEW_VAR--");
  printf("environ:  %p\n", environ);
  printf("envp:     %p\n", envp);
  return 0;
}

yields

% ./envp-environ
environ: 0xbf8656ec
envp:    0xbf8656ec
--Added MY_NEW_VAR--
environ: 0x804a008
envp:    0xbf8656ec

It is evident from these results that the environment has been relocated as a result of the call to setenv(). The external variable environ is updated to refer to the current environment; the envp parameter is not.

An environment pointer may also become invalidated by subsequent calls to getenv(). (See ENV34-C. Do not store pointers returned by certain functions for more information.)

Noncompliant Code Example (POSIX)

After a call to the POSIX setenv() function or to another function that modifies the environment, the envp pointer may no longer reference the current environment. The Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX®), Base Specifications, Issue 7 [IEEE Std 1003.1:2013], states

Unanticipated results may occur if setenv() changes the external variable environ. In particular, if the optional envp argument to main() is present, it is not changed, and thus may point to an obsolete copy of the environment (as may any other copy of environ).

This noncompliant code example accesses the envp pointer after calling setenv():

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
 
int main(int argc, const char *argv[], const char *envp[]) {
  if (setenv("MY_NEW_VAR", "new_value", 1) != 0) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  if (envp != NULL) {
    for (size_t i = 0; envp[i] != NULL; ++i) {
      puts(envp[i]);
    }
  }
  return 0;
}

Because envp may no longer point to the current environment, this program has undefined behavior.

Compliant Solution (POSIX)

Use environ in place of envp when defined:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
 
extern char **environ;

int main(void) {
  if (setenv("MY_NEW_VAR", "new_value", 1) != 0) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  if (environ != NULL) {
    for (size_t i = 0; environ[i] != NULL; ++i) {
      puts(environ[i]);
    }
  }
  return 0;
}

Noncompliant Code Example (Windows)

After a call to the Windows _putenv_s() function or to another function that modifies the environment, the envp pointer may no longer reference the environment.

According to the Visual C++ reference [MSDN]

The environment block passed to main and wmain is a "frozen" copy of the current environment. If you subsequently change the environment via a call to _putenv or _wputenv, the current environment (as returned by getenv / _wgetenv and the _environ / _wenviron variable) will change, but the block pointed to by envp will not change.

This noncompliant code example accesses the envp pointer after calling _putenv_s():

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
 
int main(int argc, const char *argv[], const char *envp[]) {
  if (_putenv_s("MY_NEW_VAR", "new_value") != 0) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  if (envp != NULL) {
    for (size_t i = 0; envp[i] != NULL; ++i) {
      puts(envp[i]);
    }
  }
  return 0;
}

Because envp no longer points to the current environment, this program has undefined behavior.

Compliant Solution (Windows)

This compliant solution uses the _environ variable in place of envp:

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
 
_CRTIMP extern char **_environ;

int main(int argc, const char *argv[]) {
  if (_putenv_s("MY_NEW_VAR", "new_value") != 0) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  if (_environ != NULL) {
    for (size_t i = 0; _environ[i] != NULL; ++i) {
      puts(_environ[i]);
    }
  }
return 0;
}

Compliant Solution

This compliant solution can reduce remediation time when a large amount of noncompliant envp code exists. It replaces

int main(int argc, char *argv[], char *envp[]) {
  /* ... */
}

with

#if defined (_POSIX_) || defined (__USE_POSIX)
  extern char **environ;
  #define envp environ
#elif defined(_WIN32)
  _CRTIMP extern char **_environ;
  #define envp _environ
#endif

int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
  /* ... */
}

This compliant solution may need to be extended to support other implementations that support forms of the external variable environ.

Risk Assessment

Using the envp environment pointer after the environment has been modified can result in undefined behavior.

Rule

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

ENV31-C

Low

Probable

Medium

P4

L3

Automated Detection

Tool

Version

Checker

Description

Compass/ROSE




LDRA tool suite
9.7.1
118 SFully Implemented
Parasoft C/C++test

10.4.2

CERT_C-ENV31-a

Do not rely on an environment pointer following an operation that may invalidate it

Polyspace Bug Finder

R2018a

Environment pointer invalidated by previous operationCall to setenv or putenv family function modifies environment pointed to by pointer
PRQA QA-C

9.5

4991, 4992, 4993

Related Vulnerabilities

Search for vulnerabilities resulting from the violation of this rule on the CERT website.

Related Guidelines

Key here (explains table format and definitions)

Taxonomy

Taxonomy item

Relationship

CERT CVOID ENV31-CPP. Do not rely on an environment pointer following an operation that may invalidate itPrior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship

Bibliography

[IEEE Std 1003.1:2013]XSH, System Interfaces, setenv
[ISO/IEC 9899:2011]J.5.1, "Environment Arguments"
[MSDN]_environ, _wenviron,
getenv, _wgetenv,
_putenv_s, _wputenv_s



2 Comments

  1. In a multi-threaded environment, could the string become invalidated by a different thread calling setenv()? In that case, is a compliant solution even possible? Or do we not care since we can assume that a user will use mutexes around environment operations?

  2. This rule seems to violate our requirement that the noncompliant code example can be expressed using standard C.  That being said, I think it is a valid exception to the requirement.