Functions should provide consistent and usable error-checking mechanisms. Complex interfaces are sometimes ignored by programmers, resulting in code that is not error checked. Inconsistent interfaces are frequently misused and difficult to use, resulting in lower-quality code and higher development costs.

Noncompliant Code Example (strlcpy())

The strlcpy() function copies a null-terminated source string to a destination array. It is designed to be a safer, more consistent, and less error-prone replacement for strcpy().

The strlcpy() function returns the total length of the string it tried to create (the length of the source string).

To detect truncation, perhaps while building a path name, code such as the following might be used:

char *dir, *file, pname[MAXPATHLEN];

/* ... */

if (strlcpy(pname, dir, sizeof(pname)) >= sizeof(pname)) {
  /* Handle source-string-too long error */

Compliant Solution (strcpy_m())

The managed string library [Burch 2006] handles errors by consistently returning the status code in the function return value. This approach encourages status checking because the user can insert the function call as the expression in an if statement and take appropriate action on failure.

The strcpy_m() function is an example of a managed string function that copies a source-managed string into a destination-managed string:

errno_t retValue; 
string_m dest, source;  

/* ... */

if (retValue = strcpy_m(dest, source)) { 
  fprintf(stderr, "Error %d from strcpy_m.\n", retValue);

The greatest disadvantage of this approach is that it prevents functions from returning any other value. Consequently, all values (other than the status) returned by a function must be returned as a pass-by-reference parameter, preventing a programmer from nesting function calls. This trade-off is necessary because nesting function calls can conflict with a programmer's willingness to check status codes.

Risk Assessment

Failure to provide a consistent and usable error-checking mechanism can result in type errors in the program.




Remediation Cost









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 item


ISO/IEC 9945:2003 Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship
ISO/IEC 23360-1:2006 Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship
ISO/IEC TR 24731-1 Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship
ISO/IEC TR 24731-2 Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship
MISRA C:2012Rule 21.3 (required)Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship
MISRA C:2012Directive 4.12 (required)Prior to 2018-01-12: CERT: Unspecified Relationship
CWE 2.11CWE-754, Improper check for unusual or exceptional conditionsPrior to 2018-01-12: CERT:


[Burch 2006] 
[CERT 2006c] 
[Miller 1999] 
[Seacord 2013]Chapter 2, "Strings"