In a comment on Google+ to my previous post The Size Of Strings, my colleague Lee Berg asked:

Other than sizeof(), what is the best way to ensure a safe implementation?

This is a damn good question because a built-in function to retrieve the size of the memory allocated is the thing that I would like to have in C. On the other hand, I know that this would limit (or be error prone with) some kinds of memory managements.

With "some kinds of memory management" I mean all the dirty tricks that C programmers use to do but also standard usages. Look at this example:

void foobar(int *something);

int main()
        int myarray[10];

        return 0;

If some magic mechanism to determine the size of allocated memory would exist, it would be in trouble if asked to return a value that makes sense when used inside foobar().

The GLib Solution

The technique used by GLib for gchars is quite interesting, even if not particularly original. If you look for the basic type, you'll find this:

#define gchar   char

Where is the trick? Simply, the functions that return a pointer to gchar allocate some more bytes at the beginning of the string with the allocated size and then return a pointer to the beginning of the "real" string. In this way you can use gchar * almost whenever a char * is needed.

The drawback is that you have to remember to use g_free() and other GLib specific functions when you need to deal with the pointer itself.

My Solution

What I usually do is to create a structure with three members: the pointer to the allocated memory, and two integers (or size_t). The first represents the number of allocated items of the array and the second is the number of used items. Something like this:

struct mystruct {
        unsigned int max;
        unsigned int used;
        int *myarray;

This is nothing special, but it allows to keep track of both the reserved (max) and the filled (used) items of the array. In this way it's easier to manage arrays that can grow over time and re-allocate when needed.

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons (public domain).