Out-of-bounds Write

The product writes data past the end, or before the beginning, of the intended buffer.


Typically, this can result in corruption of data, a crash, or code execution. The product may modify an index or perform pointer arithmetic that references a memory location that is outside of the boundaries of the buffer. A subsequent write operation then produces undefined or unexpected results.


The following examples help to illustrate the nature of this weakness and describe methods or techniques which can be used to mitigate the risk.

Note that the examples here are by no means exhaustive and any given weakness may have many subtle varieties, each of which may require different detection methods or runtime controls.

Example One

The following code attempts to save four different identification numbers into an array.

int id_sequence[3];

/* Populate the id array. */

id_sequence[0] = 123;
id_sequence[1] = 234;
id_sequence[2] = 345;
id_sequence[3] = 456;

Since the array is only allocated to hold three elements, the valid indices are 0 to 2; so, the assignment to id_sequence[3] is out of bounds.

Example Two

In the following code, it is possible to request that memcpy move a much larger segment of memory than assumed:

int returnChunkSize(void *) {

  /* if chunk info is valid, return the size of usable memory,

  * else, return -1 to indicate an error


int main() {
  memcpy(destBuf, srcBuf, (returnChunkSize(destBuf)-1));

If returnChunkSize() happens to encounter an error it will return -1. Notice that the return value is not checked before the memcpy operation (CWE-252), so -1 can be passed as the size argument to memcpy() (CWE-805). Because memcpy() assumes that the value is unsigned, it will be interpreted as MAXINT-1 (CWE-195), and therefore will copy far more memory than is likely available to the destination buffer (CWE-787, CWE-788).

Example Three

This code takes an IP address from the user and verifies that it is well formed. It then looks up the hostname and copies it into a buffer.

void host_lookup(char *user_supplied_addr){

  struct hostent *hp;
  in_addr_t *addr;
  char hostname[64];
  in_addr_t inet_addr(const char *cp);

  /*routine that ensures user_supplied_addr is in the right format for conversion */

  addr = inet_addr(user_supplied_addr);
  hp = gethostbyaddr( addr, sizeof(struct in_addr), AF_INET);
  strcpy(hostname, hp->h_name);


This function allocates a buffer of 64 bytes to store the hostname. However, there is no guarantee that the hostname will not be larger than 64 bytes. If an attacker specifies an address which resolves to a very large hostname, then the function may overwrite sensitive data or even relinquish control flow to the attacker.

Note that this example also contains an unchecked return value (CWE-252) that can lead to a NULL pointer dereference (CWE-476).

Example Four

This code applies an encoding procedure to an input string and stores it into a buffer.

char * copy_input(char *user_supplied_string){

  int i, dst_index;
  char *dst_buf = (char*)malloc(4*sizeof(char) * MAX_SIZE);
  if ( MAX_SIZE <= strlen(user_supplied_string) ){
    die("user string too long, die evil hacker!");
  dst_index = 0;
  for ( i = 0; i < strlen(user_supplied_string); i++ ){

    if( '&' == user_supplied_string[i] ){
      dst_buf[dst_index++] = '&';
      dst_buf[dst_index++] = 'a';
      dst_buf[dst_index++] = 'm';
      dst_buf[dst_index++] = 'p';
      dst_buf[dst_index++] = ';';
    else if ('<' == user_supplied_string[i] ){

      /* encode to &lt; */

    else dst_buf[dst_index++] = user_supplied_string[i];

  return dst_buf;


The programmer attempts to encode the ampersand character in the user-controlled string. However, the length of the string is validated before the encoding procedure is applied. Furthermore, the programmer assumes encoding expansion will only expand a given character by a factor of 4, while the encoding of the ampersand expands by 5. As a result, when the encoding procedure expands the string it is possible to overflow the destination buffer if the attacker provides a string of many ampersands.

Example Five

In the following C/C++ code, a utility function is used to trim trailing whitespace from a character string. The function copies the input string to a local character string and uses a while statement to remove the trailing whitespace by moving backward through the string and overwriting whitespace with a NUL character.

char* trimTrailingWhitespace(char *strMessage, int length) {

  char *retMessage;
  char *message = malloc(sizeof(char)*(length+1));

  // copy input string to a temporary string
  char message[length+1];
  int index;
  for (index = 0; index < length; index++) {
    message[index] = strMessage[index];
  message[index] = '\0';

  // trim trailing whitespace
  int len = index-1;
  while (isspace(message[len])) {
    message[len] = '\0';

  // return string without trailing whitespace
  retMessage = message;
  return retMessage;


However, this function can cause a buffer underwrite if the input character string contains all whitespace. On some systems the while statement will move backwards past the beginning of a character string and will call the isspace() function on an address outside of the bounds of the local buffer.

Example Six

The following code allocates memory for a maximum number of widgets. It then gets a user-specified number of widgets, making sure that the user does not request too many. It then initializes the elements of the array using InitializeWidget(). Because the number of widgets can vary for each request, the code inserts a NULL pointer to signify the location of the last widget.

int i;
unsigned int numWidgets;
Widget **WidgetList;

numWidgets = GetUntrustedSizeValue();
if ((numWidgets == 0) || (numWidgets > MAX_NUM_WIDGETS)) {
  ExitError("Incorrect number of widgets requested!");
WidgetList = (Widget **)malloc(numWidgets * sizeof(Widget *));
printf("WidgetList ptr=%p\n", WidgetList);
for(i=0; i<numWidgets; i++) {
  WidgetList[i] = InitializeWidget();
WidgetList[numWidgets] = NULL;

However, this code contains an off-by-one calculation error (CWE-193). It allocates exactly enough space to contain the specified number of widgets, but it does not include the space for the NULL pointer. As a result, the allocated buffer is smaller than it is supposed to be (CWE-131). So if the user ever requests MAX_NUM_WIDGETS, there is an out-of-bounds write (CWE-787) when the NULL is assigned. Depending on the environment and compilation settings, this could cause memory corruption.

Example Seven

The following is an example of code that may result in a buffer underwrite. This code is attempting to replace the substring "Replace Me" in destBuf with the string stored in srcBuf. It does so by using the function strstr(), which returns a pointer to the found substring in destBuf. Using pointer arithmetic, the starting index of the substring is found.

int main() {
  char *result = strstr(destBuf, "Replace Me");
  int idx = result - destBuf;
  strcpy(&destBuf[idx], srcBuf);

In the case where the substring is not found in destBuf, strstr() will return NULL, causing the pointer arithmetic to be undefined, potentially setting the value of idx to a negative number. If idx is negative, this will result in a buffer underwrite of destBuf.

See Also

Comprehensive Categorization: Memory Safety

Weaknesses in this category are related to memory safety.

ICS Communications: Frail Security in Protocols

Weaknesses in this category are related to the "Frail Security in Protocols" category from the SEI ETF "Categories of Security Vulnerabilities in ICS" as published in ...

Memory Buffer Errors

Weaknesses in this category are related to the handling of memory buffers within a software system.

Comprehensive CWE Dictionary

This view (slice) covers all the elements in CWE.

Weaknesses in the 2023 CWE Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Weaknesses

CWE entries in this view are listed in the 2023 CWE Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Weaknesses.

Weaknesses Addressed by ISA/IEC 62443 Requirements

This view (slice) covers weaknesses that are addressed by following requirements in the ISA/IEC 62443 series of standards for industrial automation and control systems...

Common Weakness Enumeration content on this website is copyright of The MITRE Corporation unless otherwise specified. Use of the Common Weakness Enumeration and the associated references on this website are subject to the Terms of Use as specified by The MITRE Corporation.