c – What is a bus error?

The Question :

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What does the “bus error” message mean, and how does it differ from a segfault?

The Question Comments :
  • I’d like to add a simple explanation for both: Segmentation fault means that you are trying to access memory that you are not allowed to (e. g. it’s not part of your program). However, on a bus error it usually means that you are trying to access memory that does not exist (e. g. you try to access an address at 12G but you only have 8G memory) or if you exceed the limit of usable memory.
  • On what platform did you see this? PC? Mac? x86? 32/64?

The Answer 1

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Bus errors are rare nowadays on x86 and occur when your processor cannot even attempt the memory access requested, typically:

  • using a processor instruction with an address that does not satisfy its alignment requirements.

Segmentation faults occur when accessing memory which does not belong to your process, they are very common and are typically the result of:

  • using a pointer to something that was deallocated.
  • using an uninitialized hence bogus pointer.
  • using a null pointer.
  • overflowing a buffer.

PS: To be more precise this is not manipulating the pointer itself that will cause issues, it’s accessing the memory it points to (dereferencing).

The Answer 2

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A segfault is accessing memory that you’re not allowed to access. It’s read-only, you don’t have permission, etc…

A bus error is trying to access memory that can’t possibly be there. You’ve used an address that’s meaningless to the system, or the wrong kind of address for that operation.

The Answer 3

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mmap minimal POSIX 7 example

“Bus error” happens when the kernel sends SIGBUS to a process.

A minimal example that produces it because ftruncate was forgotten:

#include <fcntl.h> /* O_ constants */
#include <unistd.h> /* ftruncate */
#include <sys/mman.h> /* mmap */

int main() {
    int fd;
    int *map;
    int size = sizeof(int);
    char *name = "/a";

    fd = shm_open(name, O_RDWR | O_CREAT, (mode_t)0600);
    /* THIS is the cause of the problem. */
    /*ftruncate(fd, size);*/
    map = mmap(NULL, size, PROT_READ | PROT_WRITE, MAP_SHARED, fd, 0);
    /* This is what generates the SIGBUS. */
    *map = 0;

Run with:

gcc -std=c99 main.c -lrt

Tested in Ubuntu 14.04.

POSIX describes SIGBUS as:

Access to an undefined portion of a memory object.

The mmap spec says that:

References within the address range starting at pa and continuing for len bytes to whole pages following the end of an object shall result in delivery of a SIGBUS signal.

And shm_open says that it generates objects of size 0:

The shared memory object has a size of zero.

So at *map = 0 we are touching past the end of the allocated object.

Unaligned stack memory accesses in ARMv8 aarch64

This was mentioned at: What is a bus error? for SPARC, but here I will provide a more reproducible example.

All you need is a freestanding aarch64 program:

.global _start
    /* misalign the stack out of 16-bit boundary */
    add sp, sp, #-4
    /* access the stack */
    ldr w0, [sp]

    /* exit syscall in case SIGBUS does not happen */
    mov x0, 0
    mov x8, 93
    svc 0

That program then raises SIGBUS on Ubuntu 18.04 aarch64, Linux kernel 4.15.0 in a ThunderX2 server machine.

Unfortunately, I can’t reproduce it on QEMU v4.0.0 user mode, I’m not sure why.

The fault appears to be optional and controlled by the SCTLR_ELx.SA and SCTLR_EL1.SA0 fields, I have summarized the related docs a bit further here.

The Answer 4

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I believe the kernel raises SIGBUS when an application exhibits data misalignment on the data bus. I think that since most[?] modern compilers for most processors pad / align the data for the programmers, the alignment troubles of yore (at least) mitigated, and hence one does not see SIGBUS too often these days (AFAIK).

From: Here

The Answer 5

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You can also get SIGBUS when a code page cannot be paged in for some reason.

The Answer 6

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I agree with all the answers above. Here are my 2 cents regarding the BUS error:

A BUS error need not arise from the instructions within the program’s code. This can happen when you are running a binary and during the execution, the binary is modified (overwritten by a build or deleted, etc.).

Verifying if this is the case

A simple way to check if this is the cause is by launching a couple of instances of the same binary form a build output directory, and running a build after they start. Both the running instances would crash with a SIGBUS error shortly after the build has finished and replaced the binary (the one that both the instances are currently running).

Underlying Reason

This is because OS swaps memory pages and in some cases, the binary might not be entirely loaded in memory. These crashes would occur when the OS tries to fetch the next page from the same binary, but the binary has changed since the last time it was read.

The Answer 7

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One classic instance of a bus error is on certain architecures, such as the SPARC (at least some SPARCs, maybe this has been changed), is when you do a mis-aligned access. For instance:

unsigned char data[6];
(unsigned int *) (data + 2) = 0xdeadf00d;

This snippet tries to write the 32-bit integer value 0xdeadf00d to an address that is (most likely) not properly aligned, and will generate a bus error on architectures that are “picky” in this regard. The Intel x86 is, by the way, not such an architecture, it would allow the access (albeit execute it more slowly).

The Answer 8

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A specific example of a bus error I just encountered while programming C on OS X:

#include <string.h>
#include <stdio.h>

int main(void)
    char buffer[120];
    fgets(buffer, sizeof buffer, stdin);
    strcat("foo", buffer);
    return 0;

In case you don’t remember the docs strcat appends the second argument to the first by changing the first argument(flip the arguments and it works fine). On linux this gives a segmentation fault(as expected), but on OS X it gives a bus error. Why? I really don’t know.

The Answer 9

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It normally means an un-aligned access.

An attempt to access memory that isn’t physically present would also give a bus error, but you won’t see this if you’re using a processor with an MMU and an OS that’s not buggy, because you won’t have any non-existent memory mapped to your process’s address space.

The Answer 10

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I was getting a bus error when the root directory was at 100%.

The Answer 11

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It depends on your OS, CPU, Compiler, and possibly other factors.

In general it means the CPU bus could not complete a command, or suffered a conflict, but that could mean a whole range of things depending on the environment and code being run.


The Answer 12

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My reason for bus error on Mac OS X was that I tried to allocate about 1Mb on the stack. This worked well in one thread, but when using openMP this drives to bus error, because Mac OS X has very limited stack size for non-main threads.

The Answer 13

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To add to what blxtd answered above, bus errors also occur when your process cannot attempt to access the memory of a particular ‘variable’.

for (j = 0; i < n; j++) {
    for (i =0; i < m; i++) {
        a[n+1][j] += a[i][j];

Notice the ‘inadvertent‘ usage of variable ‘i’ in the first ‘for loop’? That’s what is causing the bus error in this case.

The Answer 14

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I just found out the hard way that on an ARMv7 processor you can write some code that gives you a segmentation fault when unoptimized, but it gives you a bus error when compiled with -O2 (optimize more).

I am using the GCC ARM gnueabihf cross compiler from Ubuntu 64 bit.

The Answer 15

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A typical buffer overflow which results in Bus error is,

    char buf[255];
    sprintf(buf,"%s:%s\n", ifname, message);

Here if size of the string in double quotes (“”) is more than buf size it gives bus error.

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