Getting rid of alignment faults in userspace

Nicolas Pitre nicolas.pitre at
Sat Jun 18 14:42:51 UTC 2011

On Sat, 18 Jun 2011, Paul Brook wrote:

> > > >       char buf[8];
> > > >       void *v = &buf[1];
> > > >       unsigned int *p = (unsigned int *)v;
> > > 
> > > This does not (reliably) do what you expect.  The compiler need not align
> > > buf.
> > 
> > Printing the value of p should clarify this.
> > 
> > And, as we can see above, the "simple" accesses are left to the hardware
> > to fix up.  However, if the misaligned access is performed using a
> > 64-bit value pointer, then the kernel will trap an exception and the
> > access will be simulated.
> I think you've missed my point.  gcc may (though unlikely in this case) choose 
> to place buf at an odd address.  In which case p will happen to be properly 
> aligned.

Sorry for being too vague.

My point is to print the value of p i.e. the actual address used to 
perform the access, which would confirm that the access is truly 
misaligned or not.  That won't force any particular alignment on the 
buffer obviously, but at least this would clear any doubt as to the 
validity of the test.

> I'm not sure where you get "64-bit value pointer" from.  *p is only a word 
> sized access, and memcpy is defined in terms of bytes so will only be promoted 
> to wider accesses when the compiler believes it is safe.

Again I probably was too vague.  So let me provide the actual code 
modified from Andy's expressing what I mean:

int main(int argc, char * argv[])
     char buf[8];
     void *v = &buf[1];
     unsigned int *p = (unsigned int *)v;

     strcpy(buf, "abcdefg");

     printf("*%p = 0x%08x\n", p, *p);

     return 0;

That's the original, modified to print the actual address used, which 
should confirm there is actually a misaligned access performed.  And in 
this case, confirmed by the kernel code I quoted previously, the 
hardware will perform the misaligned access by itself on ARMv6 and 

Now, if we use this code instead:

int main(int argc, char * argv[])
     char buf[8];
     void *v = &buf[1];
     unsigned long long *p = (unsigned long long *)v;

     strcpy(buf, "abcdefg");

     printf("*p = 0x%016x\n", p, *p);

     return 0;

In this case the kernel alignment trap will be involved, and the stats 
in /proc/cpu/alignment will increase, as the hardware won't perform the 
access automatically here.

In both cases the result would be what people expects, although the 
second case will be far more expensive.


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