Accessing or modifying shared objects in signal handlers can result in race conditions that can leave data in an inconsistent state. The two exceptions (C Standard, 5.1.2.3, paragraph 5) to this rule are the ability to read from and write to lock-free atomic objects and variables of type volatile sig_atomic_t. Accessing any other type of object from a signal handler is undefined behavior. (See undefined behavior 131.)

The need for the volatile keyword is described in DCL22-C. Use volatile for data that cannot be cached.

The type sig_atomic_t is the integer type of an object that can be accessed as an atomic entity even in the presence of asynchronous interrupts. The type of sig_atomic_t is implementation-defined, though it provides some guarantees. Integer values ranging from SIG_ATOMIC_MIN through SIG_ATOMIC_MAX, inclusive, may be safely stored to a variable of the type. In addition, when sig_atomic_t is a signed integer type, SIG_ATOMIC_MIN must be no greater than −127 and SIG_ATOMIC_MAX no less than 127. Otherwise, SIG_ATOMIC_MIN must be 0 and SIG_ATOMIC_MAX must be no less than 255. The macros SIG_ATOMIC_MIN and SIG_ATOMIC_MAX are defined in the header <stdint.h>.

According to the C99 Rationale [C99 Rationale 2003], other than calling a limited, prescribed set of library functions,

the C89 Committee concluded that about the only thing a strictly conforming program can do in a signal handler is to assign a value to a volatile static variable which can be written uninterruptedly and promptly return.

However, this issue was discussed at the April 2008 meeting of ISO/IEC WG14, and it was agreed that there are no known implementations in which it would be an error to read a value from a volatile sig_atomic_t variable, and the original intent of the committee was that both reading and writing variables of volatile sig_atomic_t would be strictly conforming.

The signal handler may also call a handful of functions, including abort(). (See SIG30-C. Call only asynchronous-safe functions within signal handlers for more information.)

Noncompliant Code Example

In this noncompliant code example, err_msg is updated to indicate that the SIGINT signal was delivered.  The err_msg variable is a character pointer and not a variable of type volatile sig_atomic_t.

#include <signal.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>

enum { MAX_MSG_SIZE = 24 };
char *err_msg;

void handler(int signum) {
  strcpy(err_msg, "SIGINT encountered.");
}

int main(void) {
  signal(SIGINT, handler);

  err_msg = (char *)malloc(MAX_MSG_SIZE);
  if (err_msg == NULL) {
    /* Handle error */
  }
  strcpy(err_msg, "No errors yet.");
  /* Main code loop */
  return 0;
}

Compliant Solution (Writing volatile sig_atomic_t)

For maximum portability, signal handlers should only unconditionally set a variable of type volatile sig_atomic_t and return, as in this compliant solution:

#include <signal.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>

enum { MAX_MSG_SIZE = 24 };
volatile sig_atomic_t e_flag = 0;

void handler(int signum) {
  e_flag = 1;
}

int main(void) {
  char *err_msg = (char *)malloc(MAX_MSG_SIZE);
  if (err_msg == NULL) {
    /* Handle error */
  }

  signal(SIGINT, handler);
  strcpy(err_msg, "No errors yet.");
  /* Main code loop */
  if (e_flag) {
    strcpy(err_msg, "SIGINT received.");
  } 
  return 0;
}

Compliant Solution (Lock-Free Atomic Access)

Signal handlers can refer to objects with static or thread storage durations that are lock-free atomic objects, as in this compliant solution:

#include <signal.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <string.h>
#include <stdatomic.h>
 
#ifdef __STDC_NO_ATOMICS__
#error "Atomics are not supported"
#elif ATOMIC_INT_LOCK_FREE == 0
#error "int is never lock-free"
#endif

atomic_int e_flag = ATOMIC_VAR_INIT(0);
 
void handler(int signum) {
  e_flag = 1;
}

int main(void) {
  enum { MAX_MSG_SIZE = 24 };
  char err_msg[MAX_MSG_SIZE];
#if ATOMIC_INT_LOCK_FREE == 1
  if (!atomic_is_lock_free(&e_flag)) {
    return EXIT_FAILURE;
  }
#endif
  if (signal(SIGINT, handler) == SIG_ERR) {
    return EXIT_FAILURE;
  }
  strcpy(err_msg, "No errors yet.");
  /* Main code loop */
  if (e_flag) {
    strcpy(err_msg, "SIGINT received.");
  }
  return EXIT_SUCCESS;
}

Exceptions

SIG31-C-EX1:  The C Standard, 7.14.1.1 paragraph 5 [ISO/IEC 9899:2011], makes a special exception for errno when a valid call to the signal() function results in a SIG_ERR return, allowing errno to take an indeterminate value. (See ERR32-C. Do not rely on indeterminate values of errno.)

Risk Assessment

Accessing or modifying shared objects in signal handlers can result in accessing data in an inconsistent state. Michal Zalewski's paper "Delivering Signals for Fun and Profit" [Zalewski 2001] provides some examples of vulnerabilities that can result from violating this and other signal-handling rules.

Rule

Severity

Likelihood

Remediation Cost

Priority

Level

SIG31-C

High

Likely

High

P9

L2

Automated Detection

Tool

Version

Checker

Description

Astrée
signal-handler-shared-accessPartially checked
Axivion Bauhaus Suite

CertC-SIG31
CodeSonar
CONCURRENCY.DATARACEData race
Compass/ROSE



Can detect violations of this rule for single-file programs

LDRA tool suite

87 D

Fully implemented

Parasoft C/C++test

CERT_C-SIG31-aProperly define signal handlers

Polyspace Bug Finder

CERT C: Rule SIG31-CChecks for shared data access within signal handler (rule partially covered)
PRQA QA-C

2029, 2030
RuleChecker

signal-handler-shared-accessPartially checked

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

ISO/IEC TS 17961:2013Accessing shared objects in signal handlers [accsig]Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship
CWE 2.11CWE-662, Improper Synchronization2017-07-10: CERT: Rule subset of CWE
CWE 2.11CWE-828, Signal Handler with Functionality that is not Asynchronous-Safe

2017-10-30:MITRE:Unspecified Relationship

2018-10-19:CERT:Rule subset of CWE

CERT-CWE Mapping Notes

Key here for mapping notes

CWE-662 and SIG31-C

CWE-662 = Union( SIG31-C, list) where list =

CWE-828 and SIG31-C

CWE-828 = SIG31-C + non-async-safe things besides shared objects.

Bibliography

[C99 Rationale 2003]5.2.3, "Signals and Interrupts"
[ISO/IEC 9899:2011]Subclause 7.14.1.1, "The signal Function"
[Zalewski 2001]