Vijay Vijay - 1 year ago 35
C Question

'strncpy' vs. 'sprintf'

I can see many

sprintf
's used in my applications for copying a string.

I have a character array:

char myarray[10];
const char *str = "mystring";


Now if I want want to copy the string
str
into
myarray
, is is better to use:

sprintf(myarray, "%s", str);


or

strncpy(myarray, str, 8);


?

R.. R..
Answer Source

Neither should be used, at all.

  1. sprintf is dangerous, deprecated, and superseded by snprintf. The only way to use the old sprintf safely with string inputs is to either measure their length before calling sprintf, which is ugly and error-prone, or by adding a field precision specifier (e.g. %.8s or %.*s with an extra integer argument for the size limit). This is also ugly and error-prone, especially if more than one %s specifier is involved.

  2. strncpy is also dangerous. It is not a buffer-size-limited version of strcpy. It's a function for copying characters into a fixed-length, null-padded (as opposed to null-terminated) array, where the source may be either a C string or a fixed-length character array at least the size of the destination. Its intended use was for legacy unix directory tables, database entries, etc. that worked with fixed-size text fields and did not want to waste even a single byte on disk or in memory for null termination. It can be misused as a buffer-size-limited strcpy, but doing so is harmful for two reasons. First of all, it fails to null terminate if the whole buffer is used for string data (i.e. if the source string length is at least as long as the dest buffer). You can add the termination back yourself, but this is ugly and error-prone. And second, strncpy always pads the full destination buffer with null bytes when the source string is shorter than the output buffer. This is simply a waste of time.

So what should you use instead?

Some people like the BSD strlcpy function. Semantically, it's identical to snprintf(dest, destsize, "%s", source) except that the return value is size_t and it does not impose an artificial INT_MAX limit on string length. However, most popular non-BSD systems lack strlcpy, and it's easy to make dangerous errors writing your own, so if you want to use it, you should obtain a safe, known-working version from a trustworthy source.

My preference is to simply use snprintf for any nontrivial string construction, and strlen+memcpy for some trivial cases that have been measured to be performance-critical. If you get in a habit of using this idiom correctly, it becomes almost impossible to accidentally write code with string-related vulnerabilities.

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