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Checked C is an extension to C that lets programmers write C code with bounds checking and improved type-safety. The goal is to let people easily make their existing C code type-safe and eliminate entire classes of errors.

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Checked C

Checked C extends C with bounds checking and improved type safety. It helps programmers retrofit existing C code to be more secure. This repo contains the Checked C specification, sample code, and test code.

  • For a quick overview of Checked C and pointers to sample code, see our Wiki.
  • You can download Checked C clang compiler releases for Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu here.
  • The specification is available here.
  • The repo for the Checked C clang compiler is here. The compiler is a fork of LLVM/clang. Instructions for building the compiler from source code are on the Checked C clang wiki.

Build Status

Checked C Clang CI [Linux]

Checked C Clang CI [MacOS]

Checked C Clang CI [WINDOWS]

History

Checked C is an independent open-source project. It started as a research project at Microsoft in 2015. similar to Checked C. We were looking for a way to improve the security of existing systems software and eliminate classes of bugs.

One approach is to rewrite the software in a newer language such as Rust. However, rewriting code is challenging for a number of reasons: it is costly, there are subtle differences in even basic language features such as arithmetic across languages, and it can take a long time before you have a working system. Combined, this makes a rewrite a high-risk software development project. These kinds of rewrites are unlikely to be done just to improve security. We decided to pursue an incremental approach that allows existing C code to be improved gradually and at much lower cost.

Researchers from many universities and companies have contributed to Checked C. Researchers at the University of Maryland, the University of Rochester, the University of Washington, Samsung, Rutgers University, and the University of Pennsylvania have contributed to Checked C. Apple has proposed a C extension similar to Checked C that relies on more dynamic checking.

Publications and Presentations

  • Fat Pointers For Temporal Memory Safety of C by Jie Zhou, John Criswell, and Michael Hicks. This appeared in OOPSLA 2023. It describes an extension to Checked C that adds new pointers that provide temporal memory safety.

  • C to Checked C by 3C, by Aravind Machiry, John Kastner, Matt McCutchen, Aaron Eline, Kyle Headley, and Michael Hicks. This paper describes the semi-automated 3C tool for converting C to Checked C. It won a SIGPLAN Distinguished Paper award at OOPSLA 2022.

  • A Formal Model of Checked C, by Liyi Li, Deena Postol, Leonida Lampropoulos, David Van Horn, and Michael Hicks. This was published in the 2022 IEEE 35th Computer Security Foundations Symposlium. It describe a formal model of Checked C. The model was formalized using the Coq theorem prover.

  • Achieving Safety Incrementally With Checked C. This was presented at the 2019 Principles of Security and Trust Conference:. This paper describes an early version of 3C that convert existing C code to use Ptr types. It also proves a blame property about checked regions that shows that checked regions are blameless for any memory corruption. This proof is formalized for a core subset of the language extension.

  • Checked C: Making C Safe by Extension by David Tarditi, Samuel Elliott, Andrew Ruef, and Michael Hicks. This appeared in the IEEE 2018 Cybersecurity Development Conference. It describes the key ideas of Checked C bounds checking in 8 pages. We have added features to Checked C since then. The Wiki and specification provide up-to-date descriptions of Checked C.

  • There was a poster presented at the LLVM Dev Meeting 2019: "Overflows Be Gone: Checked C for Memory Safety". The poster provides an introduction to Checked C, outlines the compiler implementation and presents an experimental evaluation of Checked C.

  • There was a talk (slides) at the 2020 LLVM Virtual Dev Meeting: "Checked C: Adding memory safety support to LLVM". The talk describes the design of bounds annotations for checked pointers and array pointers as well as the framework for the static checking of the soundness of bounds. The talk also briefly describes novel algorithms to automatically widen bounds for null-terminated arrays and for comparison of expressions for equivalence.

Participating

We are happy to have the help. You can contribute by trying out Checked C, reporting bugs, and giving us feedback. There are other ways to contribute too.

Licensing

The software in this repository is covered by the MIT license. See the file LICENSE.TXT for the license. The Checked C specification is made available by Microsoft under the OpenWeb Foundation Final Specification Agreement, version 1.0. Contributions of code to the Checked LLVM/clang repos are subject to the LLVM/clang licensing terms.

Code of conduct

This project has adopted a Code of Conduct.

About

Checked C is an extension to C that lets programmers write C code with bounds checking and improved type-safety. The goal is to let people easily make their existing C code type-safe and eliminate entire classes of errors.

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