Directly Executing Chunks of Memory: Function Pointers In C

In the first part of this series, we covered the basics of pointers in C, and went on to more complex arrangements and pointer arithmetic in the second part. Both times, we focused solely on pointers representing data in memory.

But data isn’t the only thing residing in memory. All the program code is accessible through either the RAM or some other executable type of memory, giving each function a specific address inside that memory as entry point. Once again, pointers are simply memory addresses, and to fully utilize this similarity, C provides the concept of function pointers. Function pointers provide us with ways to make conditional code execution faster, implement callbacks to make code more modular, and even provide a foothold into the running machine code itself for reverse engineering or exploitation. So read on!

Function Pointers

In general, function pointers aren’t any more mysterious than data pointers: the main difference is that one references variables and the other references functions. If you recall from last time how arrays decay into pointers to their first element, a function equally decays into a pointer to the address of its entry point, with the () operator executing whatever is at that address. As a result, we can declare a function pointer variable fptr and assign a function func() to it: fptr = func;. Calling fptr(); will then resolve to the entry point of function func() and execute it.

Admittedly, the idea of turning a function into a variable may seem strange at first and might require some getting used to, but it gets easier with time and it can be a very useful idiom. The same is true for the function pointer syntax, which can be intimidating and confusing in the beginning. But let’s have a look at that ourselves.

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When 4 + 1 Equals 8: An Advanced Take On Pointers In C

In our first part on pointers, we covered the basics and common pitfalls of pointers in C. If we had to break it down into one sentence, the main principle of pointers is that they are simply data types storing a memory address, and as long as we make sure that we have enough memory allocated at that address, everything is going to be fine.

In this second part, we are going to continue with some more advanced pointer topics, including pointer arithmetic, pointers with another pointer as underlying data type, and the relationship between arrays and pointers. But first, there is one particular pointer we haven’t talked about yet.

The one proverbial exception to the rule that pointers are just memory addresses is the most (in)famous pointer of all: the NULL pointer. Commonly defined as preprocessor macro (void *) 0, we can assign NULL like any other pointer.

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The Basics and Pitfalls of Pointers in C

Pointers — you either love them, or you haven’t fully understood them yet. But before you storm off to the comment section now, pointers are indeed a polarizing subject and are both C’s biggest strength, and its major source of problems. With great power comes great responsibility. The internet and libraries are full of tutorials and books telling about pointers, and you can randomly pick pretty much any one of them and you’ll be good to go. However, while the basic principles of pointers are rather simple in theory, it can be challenging to fully wrap your head around their purpose and exploit their true potential.

So if you’ve always been a little fuzzy on pointers, read on for some real-world scenarios of where and how pointers are used. The first part starts with regular pointers, their basics and common pitfalls, and some general and microcontroller specific examples.

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Unionize Your Variables – An Introduction to Advanced Data Types in C

Programming C without variables is like, well, programming C without variables. They are so essential to the language that it doesn’t even require an analogy here. We can declare and use them as wildly as we please, but it often makes sense to have a little bit more structure, and combine data that belongs together in a common collection. Arrays are a good start to bundle data of the same type, especially when there is no specific meaning of the array’s index other than the value’s position, but as soon as you want a more meaningful association of each value, arrays will become limiting. And they’re useless if you want to combine different data types together. Luckily, C provides us with proper alternatives out of the box.

This write-up will introduce structures and unions in C, how to declare and use them, and how unions can be (ab)used as an alternative approach for pointer and bitwise operations.

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Ray tracing on an Arduino

[Greg] implemented a simple ray tracer for Arduino as a fun exercise and a way to benchmark the processor. He started out with the Moller-Trumbore algorithm, a common ray-tracing algorithm that calculates the intersection of a ray with a triangular plane without doing any pre-calculation of the planes. His code supports one static light and one static camera, which is enough to render a simple scene.

[Greg] started out with a small scene composed of a few polygons, but just finished up a scene with 505 vertices, 901 faces, and reflective surfaces (shown above). He made the above render on his PC emulator, but estimates that it would take just over 4 days to render on the Arduino. [Greg]’s project supports multiple bounces of light, which differentiates his ray tracer from some we’ve covered before (and which explains why it takes so long to render).

The ray tracer is implemented entirely with double-precision floats. This translates to a ton of software float emulation instructions, since the Arduino doesn’t have a floating-point unit. While this ray tracer can’t render anything near real-time graphics due to the slowness of the microcontroller, it’s still a great proof of concept.

The title image for this post was rendered on a modern PC, taking 263 seconds to complete. The same scene, at 64×64 resolution, was rendered on the Arduino, taking 4008 seconds to complete. That render is below.


The International Obfuscated C Code Contest is back

The International Obfuscated C Code Contest is back. The stated goals of the IOCCC are to, “Write the most obscure C program, show the importance of programming style (by doing the opposite), stress the preprocessor to the breaking point, and illustrate some subtleties of the C language.” If you think you’re up to the task of abusing your compiler, check out the rules and guidelines for the contest.

There’s nothing quite like having the code for a flight simulator look like a plane, or calculating pi by measuring the area of C code. The submissions to the IOCCC are classic hacks; very clever things that shouldn’t work, but do despite themselves.

There hasn’t been an IOCCC competition since 2006, and no one knows if it will be around next year. We’ve already seen a few potential entries for this year, like piping chars into /dev/audio to generate a song and hyperlinks all the way down. If you’ve got something you’re working on, feel free to send it in.

via /.