State of C++ Static Analysis circa 2020

Take the following code:

#include <string_view>

int * f1()
{
    int x = 5;
    return &x;
}

struct V
{
    int * p;
};

V f2()
{
    int x = 5;
    return { &x };
}

std::string_view f3()
{
    char tmp[] = "tmp";
    return tmp;
}

All three functions obviously return dangling pointers to local stack variables. Let’s see what a few major compilers have to say on the matter.

g++ 10.1 -O2 -std=c++2a -fanalyzer -Wall -Wextra ( link ):

f1():
        xor     eax, eax
        ret
f2():
        lea     rax, [rsp-4]
        ret
f3():
        mov     eax, 3
        lea     rdx, [rsp-4]
        ret
<source>: In function 'int* f1()':
<source>:6:12: warning: address of local variable 'x' returned [-Wreturn-local-addr]
    6 |     return &x;
      |            ^~

In addition to the warning in f1 , it even zapped the pointer to nullptr . An interesting choice, with which not everyone agrees, but in my opinion returning a null pointer is much better than returning a dangling pointer to just-deallocated stack memory… which is exactly what happens in f2 and f3 .

Let’s try Microsoft cl.exe 19.24 /O2 /std:c++latest /W4 /analyze ( link ):

<source>(6) : warning C4172: returning address of local variable or temporary: x
<source>(17) : warning C4172: returning address of local variable or temporary: x

That’s better, but not better enough. std::string_view is a rather important type, and a potential rich source of lifetime mistakes.

Maybe Intel icc 19.0.1 -O2 -std=c++17 -Wall -Wextra ( link ) will fare better?

<source>(6): warning #1251: returning pointer to local variable
      return &x;
             ^

Sadly, not really. clang++ 10.0.0 -O2 -std=c++2a -Wall -Wextra ( link ) is our last hope.

<source>:6:13: warning: address of stack memory associated with local variable 'x' returned [-Wreturn-stack-address]
    return &x;
            ^
<source>:17:15: warning: address of stack memory associated with local variable 'x' returned [-Wreturn-stack-address]
    return { &x };
              ^

Good but not still good enough.

Everything is lost, then? We’ll never have compilers that catch obvious lifetime mistakes?

Maybe not. Let’s try our real last hope, the experimental -Wlifetime build of clang ( link ):

<source>:6:13: warning: address of stack memory associated with local variable 'x' returned [-Wreturn-stack-address]
    return &x;
            ^
<source>:6:5: warning: returning a dangling pointer [-Wlifetime]
    return &x;
    ^~~~~~~~~
<source>:6:5: note: pointee 'x' left the scope here
    return &x;
    ^~~~~~~~~
<source>:17:15: warning: address of stack memory associated with local variable 'x' returned [-Wreturn-stack-address]
    return { &x };
              ^
<source>:23:12: warning: address of stack memory associated with local variable 'tmp' returned [-Wreturn-stack-address]
    return tmp;
           ^~~
<source>:23:5: warning: returning a dangling pointer [-Wlifetime]
    return tmp;
    ^~~~~~~~~~
<source>:23:5: note: pointee 'tmp' left the scope here
    return tmp;
    ^~~~~~~~~~

Interesting. Not only did -Wlifetime catch f1 and f3 (but not f2 for some reason!), the normal -Wreturn-stack-address warning caught f3 this time as well, in addition to f1 and f2 .

(Herb Sutter has an interesting post about the experimental -Wlifetime compiler . It can’t arrive soon enough if you ask me.)

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