free() function interview question c programming language


Question: The following program seg-faults (crashes) when user supplies input as ‘freeze’ while it works fine with input ‘zebra’. Why?
#include

int main(int argc, char *argv[])
{
    char *ptr = (char*)malloc(10);

    if(NULL == ptr)
    {
        printf("\n Malloc failed \n");
        return -1;
    }
    else if(argc == 1)
    {
        printf("\n Usage  \n");
    }
    else
    {
        memset(ptr, 0, 10);

        strncpy(ptr, argv[1], 9);

        while(*ptr != 'z')
        {
            if(*ptr == '')
                break;
            else
                ptr++;
        }

        if(*ptr == 'z')
        {
            printf("\n String contains 'z'\n");
            // Do some more processing
        }

       free(ptr);
    }

    return 0;
}
Answer: The problem here is that the code changes the address in ‘ptr’ (by incrementing the ‘ptr’) inside the while loop. Now when ‘zebra’ is supplied as input, the while loop terminates before executing even once and so the argument passed to free() is the same address as given by malloc(). But in case of ‘freeze’ the address held by ptr is updated inside the while loop and hence incorrect address is passed to free() which causes the seg-fault or crash.

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