Two consecutive question marks signify the start of a trigraph sequence. According to the C Standard, subclause 5.2.1.1 [ISO/IEC 9899:2011],

All occurrences in a source file of the following sequences of three characters (that is, trigraph sequences) are replaced with the corresponding single character.

??=

#

 

??)

]

 

??!

|

??(

[

 

??'

^

 

??>

}

??/

\

 

??<

{

 

??-

~


Noncompliant Code Example

In this noncompliant code example, a++ is not executed because the trigraph sequence ??/ is replaced by \, logically putting a++ on the same line as the comment:

// What is the value of a now??/
a++;

Compliant Solution

This compliant solution eliminates the accidental introduction of the trigraph by separating the question marks:

// What is the value of a now? ?/
a++;

Noncompliant Code Example

This noncompliant code example includes the trigraph sequence ??!, which is replaced by the character |:

size_t i = /* Some initial value */;
if (i > 9000) {
   if (puts("Over 9000!??!") == EOF) {
     /* Handle error */
   }
}

This example prints Over 9000!| if a C-compliant compiler is used.

Compliant Solution

This compliant solution uses string concatenation to concatenate the two question marks; otherwise, they are interpreted as beginning a trigraph sequence:

size_t i = /* Some initial value */;
/* Assignment of i */
if (i > 9000) {
   if (puts("Over 9000!?""?!") == EOF) {
     /* Handle error */
   }
}

This code prints Over 9000!??!, as intended.

Risk Assessment

Inadvertent trigraphs can result in unexpected behavior. Some compilers provide options to warn when trigraphs are encountered or to disable trigraph expansion. Use the warning options, and ensure your code compiles cleanly. (See MSC00-C. Compile cleanly at high warning levels.)

Recommendation

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

PRE07-C

Low

Unlikely

Medium

P2

L3

Automated Detection

ToolVersionCheckerDescription
Astrée
trigraphFully checked
Axivion Bauhaus Suite

CertC-PRE07

ECLAIR

CC2.PRE07

Fully implemented
GCC

Can detect violation of this recommendation when the -Wtrigraphs flag is used

LDRA tool suite

81 S

Fully implemented
Parasoft C/C++test

CERT_C-PRE07-a

Trigraphs shall not be used

Polyspace Bug Finder

CERT C: Rec. PRE07-CChecks for use of trigraphs (rec. fully covered)


PRQA QA-C
3601Partially implemented
RuleChecker
trigraphFully checked
SonarQube C/C++ Plugin
TrigraphUsage

Related Vulnerabilities

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

Related Guidelines

SEI CERT C++ Coding StandardVOID PRE07-CPP. Avoid using repeated question marks
MISRA C:2012Rule 4.2 (advisory)

Bibliography

[ISO/IEC 9899:2011]Subclause 5.2.1.1, "Trigraph Sequences"