Warnings Are Your Friend – A Code Quality Primer

If there’s one thing C is known and (in)famous for, it’s the ease of shooting yourself in the foot with it. And there’s indeed no denying that the freedom C offers comes with the price of making it our own responsibility to tame and keep the language under control. On the bright side, since the language’s flaws are so well known, we have a wide selection of tools available that help us to eliminate the most common problems and blunders that could come back to bite us further down the road. The catch is, we have to really want it ourselves, and actively listen to what the tools have to say.

We often look at this from a security point of view and focus on exploitable vulnerabilities, which you may not see as valid threat or something you need to worry about in your project. And you are probably right with that, not every flaw in your code will lead to attackers taking over your network or burning down your house, the far more likely consequences are a lot more mundane and boring. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about them.

Buggy, unreliable software is the number one cause for violence against computers, and whether you like it or not, people will judge you by your code quality. Just because Linus Torvalds wants to get off Santa’s naughty list, doesn’t mean the technical field will suddenly become less critical or loses its hostility, and in a time where it’s never been easier to share your work with the world, reliable, high quality code will prevail and make you stand out from the masses.

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Code Review Lamp Subtly Reminds You To Help Your Fellow Developer

[Dimitris Platis] works in an environment with a peer review process for accepting code changes. Code reviews generally are a good thing. One downside though, is that a lack of responsiveness from other developers can result in a big hit to team’s development speed. It isn’t that other developers are unwilling to do the reviews, it’s more that individuals are often absorbed in their own work and notification emails are easily missed. There is also a bit of a “tragedy of the commons” vibe to the situation, where it’s easy to feel that someone else will surely attend to the situation, but often no one does. To combat this, [Dimitris] built this Code Review Lamp, a subtle notification that aims to prod reviewers into action.

The lamp is based on a ring of RGB LEDs and a Wemos D1 Mini board. The Wemos utilizes the popular ESP8266, so it’s easy to develop for. The LED ring and Wemos are tied together with a slick custom PCB. Mounting the LED ring on the top of the PCB and the Wemos on the bottom allows for easy powering via a USB cable while directing light upward.  The assembly is placed in a translucent 3D printed enclosure creating a pleasant diffuse light source.

Every developer gets a Code Review Lamp. The lamps automatically log in to the change management system to check whether anything is awaiting review. If a review is ready, the Lamp glows in a color specific to the individual developer. All this serves as a gentle but persistent reminder that someone’s work is being held up until a review is completed.

We love the way that the device has a clear purpose: it does its job without any unnecessary features or parts. It’s similar to this ESP8266 IoT Motion Sensor in that it has a single job to do, and focuses on it well.

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Branch out your SQLite Database with LiteTree

Whether you want some quick and dirty data storage, or simply don’t have that heavy requirements for your local database system, SQLite is always a good choice. With its portable single-file approach, bindings to all major languages, and availability on systems of all sizes, it is relatively easy to integrate a SQLite database in your undertakings. And if you tend to develop directly in your production environment, you may be interested to hear that the folks at [aergo] made this a lot more flexible (and interesting) by adding Git-style branching to the SQLite engine.

Similar to Git, each database operation is now stored as a commit with a unique id as reference point, and new branches will keep track how they diverge from their parent reference point. This essentially lets you modify your data set or database schema on the fly, while keeping your original data not only untouched, but fully isolated and functional. Unfortunately, merging branches is not yet supported, but it is planned for the near future.

In case you don’t see much use for git-alike functionality in a database, how about the other way around then: using Git as a database, among other tricks?

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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