Dangerous printf

The fragment is taken from TortoiseSVN project. The code contains an error that analyzer diagnoses in the following way: V618 It’s dangerous to call the ‘printf’ function in such a manner, as the line being passed could contain format specification. The example of the safe code: printf(“%s”, str);

BOOL CPOFile::ParseFile(....)


When you want to print or, for example, to write a string to the file, many programmers write code that resembles the following:

fprintf(file, str);

A good programmer should always remember that these are extremely unsafe constructions. The thing is, that if a formatting specifier somehow gets inside the string, it will lead to unpredictable consequences.

Let’s go back to the original example. If the file name is “file%s%i%s.txt”, then the program may crash or print some rubbish. But that’s only a half of the trouble. In fact, such a function call is a real vulnerability. One can attack programs with its help. Having prepared strings in a special way, one can print private data stored in the memory.


More information about these vulnerabilities can be found in this article. You’ll find not only theoretical basis, but practical examples as well.

Correct code

printf("%s", File.getloc().name().c_str());


Printf()-like functions can cause a lot of security related issues. It is better not to use them at all, but switch to something more modern. For example, you may find boost::format or std::stringstream quite useful.

In general, sloppy usage of the functions printf(), sprintf(), fprintf(), and so on, not only can lead to incorrect work of the program, but cause potential vulnerabilities, that someone can take advantage of.

Written by Andrey Karpov.
This error was found with PVS-Studio static analysis tool.

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