The fdelete-null-pointer-checks issue

Kevin Day thekevinday at
Sat Jul 18 13:45:46 PDT 2009

Well, this has been big news thanks to the slashdot effect.

As far as I can tell, GCC is by default (-O2 and above, and possible
-Os) enabling this optimization algorithm.

You can get the details on the exploit here:
(detailed here:,289142,sid14_gci1310528,00.html#)
You can get a small gcc explanation here:

They seem to leave out an important concept of which I am unsure of if
it is being handled or not.

Threading, parallel programming, SMP, etc..

Simply because in a linear application the NULL check wouldn't be
needed based on the described logic does not mean that a non-linear
program will have not freed the pointer at any point between
dereferencing and checking to see if it is still allocated.

This would be a pain in the but to check and confirm for every single
application out there so I am suggesting removing it from the default
options as a security measure.

I am not entirely sure how to do this, so I browsed around in the
gcc-4.4 code and did the following:

diff -r -u gcc-4.4.0.orig/gcc/opts.c gcc-4.4.0/gcc/opts.c
--- gcc-4.4.0.orig/gcc/opts.c   2009-07-18 15:11:04 -0500
+++ gcc-4.4.0/gcc/opts.c        2009-07-18 15:19:37 -0500
@@ -898,7 +898,7 @@
   flag_regmove = opt2;
   flag_strict_aliasing = opt2;
   flag_strict_overflow = opt2;
-  flag_delete_null_pointer_checks = opt2;
+  flag_delete_null_pointer_checks = FALSE;
   flag_reorder_blocks = opt2;
   flag_reorder_functions = opt2;
   flag_tree_vrp = opt2;

In the code, opt2 is defined as: opt2 = (optimize >= 2);

So I assume that settings this to FALSE would have the desired effect.
(I have no clue about -Os and how to handle that one)

I am no gcc expert however, please confirm this for me if anyone knows
any better.

The downside is that the expected behavior is to have the optimization
enabled, but this is a from scratch system afterall.
Tweaking the default system code at the compile level feels right to me.

The other alternative I can think of is by adding in the
-fno-delete-null-pointer-checks into the gcc specs file such that it
gets passed before each and every program in the same manner as the
gcc-4.1.2 SSP patches were applied.

If the passing the -fno-delete-null-pointer-checks is an easier and
better way please tell me, I just do not remember how that works.

Furthermore, for flags like -pthread, the
-fno-delete-null-pointer-checks should be passed along with it.
I can see some sort of specs file adjustment going on with pthread.

Kevin Day

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