CSCI 3500: Lab 4

malloc - Memory Allocation

Operating systems provide functionality through the system call mechanism. System calls tend to be low-level routines that are closely tied to basic system functionality. To make these features more usable, higher level system libraries implement higher-level abstractions. For example, consider the difference between write() and printf(). For this assignment you will take on the role of a system library developer and implement your own version of the C memory allocation routine- malloc().

In this lab, you will:

  1. Write your own memory allocation routines - malloc() , free(), calloc(), and realloc()
  2. Use the sbrk() system call to request memory from the operating system
  3. Track allocated chunks of memory with a linked list
  4. Compile and link other programs to your own allocator


This is a solo assignment. Please do not collaborate with other students on this assignment.


#include <sys/types.h>
void *malloc( size_t size );
void free( void *ptr );
void *calloc( size_t num_of_elts, size_t elt_size );
void *realloc( void *pointer, size_t size);


Link or compile any C/C++ program.


This is an individual assignment. You must write this in C (use the gcc compiler), not in C++.

The goal of this assignment is to replace the memory allocation routines that are provided by the C/C++ standard library. The malloc function is called by programmers to request a contiguous block of memory. The free function frees a block of memory previously allocated, so it can be reused. The calloc and realloc functions are minor variants of malloc.

Read the man page for these functions for more details. In particular, size_t is defined in the include file <sys/types.h> and you can treat it like any other integer type.

You are to create a file which contains code implementing the C library functions malloc, free, realloc, calloc. This is not a complete program, so you'll need to write test programs as well.

malloc should maintain a list of free memory blocks and fill incoming requests for memory from the list. When searching the free list for a block of suffcient size, use the first-fit method. If no large enough block is found, create a new free block by calling sbrk(). The new free block should be a multiple of the system page size, and large enough to fill the request. If sbrk() fails, set errno to ENOMEM and return NULL, as described in the malloc man page.

If the requested block is smaller than the found free block, you'll need to split the free block into two pieces: one that stays on the free list, and one that malloc can return.

malloc should always return values that are divisible by 8 (long word aligned).

The free function frees memory allocated by malloc. It should simply add the block back onto the free list. If free is called with a NULL pointer, it returns. If free is called with a pointer not allocated by malloc, the results are undefined. It would be nice if free combined adjacent free blocks, but that is not required.


Start by writing (or gathering) programs that call malloc, free, etc. Make sure you understand what they do, and test them with the built in malloc, etc.

Call your functions mymalloc, myfree, myrealloc, and mycalloc until you're really, really sure everything works. Once you rename them malloc, free, etc., they get called by constructors, by stream I/O, and in all sorts of places that will cause programs to fail utterly if the memory functions aren't working. This is the reason you are required to use C rather than C++ for this assignment.

Write mymalloc first and test it thoroughly before attempting the other three functions. Test these functions by writing a separate program which has a main() and makes calls to mymalloc, myfree, etc. In your test program, you'll need to declare mymalloc, myfree, ... as extern functions.

To write malloc, use a global variable to keep track of the first block on the linked list of free blocks. At the beginning of each block of memory, leave extra space for a structure that contains the size of the block and a pointer to the next block in linked list. (Use a doubly linked list if you prefer.)

Use sysconf(_SC_PAGESIZE) to find the system's page size when you need to request new memory from the system.

Since blocks need to be long word aligned, you'll need to be able to round a number up to the nearest multiple of 8. This is surprisingly tricky. Write a function to do this and test it separately.

Here is a sample "bad" version of malloc that works, but conforms to very few of the specifications given: bad_malloc.c.

Once you're _really_ sure malloc is working, write free. Test some more, and then finally write realloc and calloc. The calloc function should call malloc and then call memset to clear the newly allocated block. The realloc function should call malloc to make a new block, memcpy to move the old information into the new block, and then free to release the old block. Beware that in realloc, the block can be resized larger or smaller, and the number of bytes you copy is the smaller of the old and new sizes.

When you're sure everything is working, rename your functions malloc, free, realloc, calloc. If you now compile any program along with your malloc.c, they will get called instead of the standard C/C++ memory allocators.

I use the programs churn.c and churn2.c to heavily test your memory allocators. Feel free to test your functions with these programs as well.

Useful man pages



  1. There are no exercises for this lab. Please mark your name clearly in malloc.c and your email.


Create a .tgz archive of your lab directory and email it to Your submission must contain a file malloc.c which contains definitions for malloc, free, realloc, calloc but has no main() and with all output (cout, printf) removed.

The simple syntax for creating a .tgz archive is as follows:

tar -zvcf new_archive.tgz lab_directory

The syntax for unpacking a .tgz archive is:

tar -zvxf archive.tgz

Note that your archive must not include any binary executable files, meaning any compiled programs or intermediate build objects (.o files, for example). This will cause your email to be rejected by most services.