Use of sizeof() on a Pointer Type
Weakness ID: 467 (Weakness Variant)Status: Draft
+ Description

Description Summary

The code calls sizeof() on a malloced pointer type, which always returns the wordsize/8. This can produce an unexpected result if the programmer intended to determine how much memory has been allocated.
+ Time of Introduction
  • Implementation
+ Applicable Platforms




+ Common Consequences

This error can often cause one to allocate a buffer that is much smaller than what is needed, leading to resultant weaknesses such as buffer overflows.

+ Likelihood of Exploit


+ Demonstrative Examples

Example 1

Care should be taken to ensure sizeof returns the size of the data structure itself, and not the size of the pointer to the data structure.

In this example, sizeof(foo) returns the size of the pointer.

(Bad Code)
Example Languages: C and C++ 
double *foo;
foo = (double *)malloc(sizeof(foo));

In this example, sizeof(*foo) returns the size of the data structure and not the size of the pointer.

(Good Code)
Example Languages: C and C++ 
double *foo;
foo = (double *)malloc(sizeof(*foo));

Example 2

This example defines a fixed username and password. The AuthenticateUser() function is intended to accept a username and a password from an untrusted user, and check to ensure that it matches the username and password. If the username and password match, AuthenticateUser() is intended to indicate that authentication succeeded.

(Bad Code)
/* Ignore CWE-259 (hard-coded password) and CWE-309 (use of password system for authentication) for this example. */

char *username = "admin";
char *pass = "password";

int AuthenticateUser(char *inUser, char *inPass) {
printf("Sizeof username = %d\n", sizeof(username));
printf("Sizeof pass = %d\n", sizeof(pass));

if (strncmp(username, inUser, sizeof(username))) {
printf("Auth failure of username using sizeof\n");
/* Because of CWE-467, the sizeof returns 4 on many platforms and architectures. */
if (! strncmp(pass, inPass, sizeof(pass))) {
printf("Auth success of password using sizeof\n");
else {
printf("Auth fail of password using sizeof\n");

int main (int argc, char **argv)
int authResult;

if (argc < 3) {
ExitError("Usage: Provide a username and password");
authResult = AuthenticateUser(argv[1], argv[2]);
if (authResult != AUTH_SUCCESS) {
ExitError("Authentication failed");
else {

In AuthenticateUser(), because sizeof() is applied to a parameter with an array type, the sizeof() call might return 4 on many modern architectures. As a result, the strncmp() call only checks the first four characters of the input password, resulting in a partial comparison (CWE-187), leading to improper authentication (CWE-287).

Because of the partial comparison, any of these passwords would still cause authentication to succeed for the "admin" user:


Because only 4 characters are checked, this significantly reduces the search space for an attacker, making brute force attacks more feasible.

The same problem also applies to the username, so values such as "adminXYZ" and "administrator" will succeed for the username.

+ Potential Mitigations

Phase: Implementation

Use expressions such as "sizeof(*pointer)" instead of "sizeof(pointer)", unless you intend to run sizeof() on a pointer type to gain some platform independence or if you are allocating a variable on the stack.

+ Other Notes

The use of sizeof() on a pointer can sometimes generate useful information. An obvious case is to find out the wordsize on a platform. More often than not, the appearance of sizeof(pointer) indicates a bug.

+ Weakness Ordinalities
(where the weakness exists independent of other weaknesses)
+ Relationships
NatureTypeIDNameView(s) this relationship pertains toView(s)
ChildOfCategoryCategory465Pointer Issues
Development Concepts (primary)699
ChildOfWeakness ClassWeakness Class682Incorrect Calculation
Research Concepts (primary)1000
ChildOfCategoryCategory737CERT C Secure Coding Section 03 - Expressions (EXP)
Weaknesses Addressed by the CERT C Secure Coding Standard (primary)734
ChildOfCategoryCategory740CERT C Secure Coding Section 06 - Arrays (ARR)
Weaknesses Addressed by the CERT C Secure Coding Standard734
CanPrecedeWeakness BaseWeakness Base131Incorrect Calculation of Buffer Size
Research Concepts1000
+ Taxonomy Mappings
Mapped Taxonomy NameNode IDFitMapped Node Name
CLASPUse of sizeof() on a pointer type
CERT C Secure CodingARR01-CDo not apply the sizeof operator to a pointer when taking the size of an array
CERT C Secure CodingEXP01-CDo not take the size of a pointer to determine the size of the pointed-to type
+ White Box Definitions

A weakness where code path has:

1. end statement that passes an identity of a dynamically allocated memory resource to a sizeof operator

2. start statement that allocates the dynamically allocated memory resource

+ References
Robert Seacord. "EXP01-A. Do not take the sizeof a pointer to determine the size of a type". <>.
+ Content History
Submission DateSubmitterOrganizationSource
CLASPExternally Mined
Modification DateModifierOrganizationSource
2008-07-01Eric DalciCigitalExternal
updated Time of Introduction
2008-08-01KDM AnalyticsExternal
added/updated white box definitions
2008-09-08CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Applicable Platforms, Common Consequences, Relationships, Other Notes, Taxonomy Mappings, Weakness Ordinalities
2008-11-24CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Relationships, Taxonomy Mappings
2009-03-10CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative Examples
2009-12-28CWE Content TeamMITREInternal
updated Demonstrative Examples