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4  Control Flow

Rules describe a property that Coccinelle must match, and when the property described is matched the rule is considered successful. One aspect that is taken into account in determining a match is the program control flow. A control flow describes a possible run time path taken by a program.

4.1  Basic dots

When using Coccinelle, it is possible to express matches of certain code within certain types of control flows. Ellipses (“...”) can be used to indicate to Coccinelle that anything can be present between consecutive statements. For instance the following SmPL patch tells Coccinelle that rule r0 wishes to remove all calls to function c().

1 @r0@ 2 @@ 3 4 -c();

The context of the rule provides no other guidelines to Coccinelle about any possible control flow other than this is a statement, and that c() must be called. We can modify the required control flow required for this rule by providing additional requirements and using ellipses in between. For instance, if we only wanted to remove calls to c() that also had a prior call to foo() we’d use the following SmPL patch:

1 @r1@ 2 @@ 3 4 foo() 5 ... 6 -c();

4.2  Dot variants

There are two possible modifiers to the control flow for ellipses, one (<... ...>) indicates that matching the pattern in between the ellipses is optional, and another (<+... ...+>) indicates that the pattern in between the ellipses must be matched at least once, on some control-flow path. In the latter, the + is intended to be reminiscent of the + used in regular expressions. For instance, the following SmPL patch tells Coccinelle to remove all calls to c(). if foo() is present at least once since the beginning of the function.

1 @r2@ 2 @@ 3 4 <+... 5 foo() 6 ...+> 7 -c();

Alternatively, the following indicates that foo() is allowed but optional. This case is typically most useful when all occurrences, if any, of foo() prior to c() should be transformed.

1 @r3@ 2 @@ 3 4 <... 5 foo() 6 ...> 7 -c();

4.3  An example

Let’s consider some sample code to review: flow1.c.

1 2 int main(void) 3 { 4 int ret, a = 2; 5 6 a = foo(a); 7 ret = bar(a); 8 c(); 9 10 return ret; 11 }

Applying the SmPL rule r0 to flow1.c would remove the c() line as the control flow provides no specific context requirements. Applying rule r1 would also succeed as the call to foo() is present. Likewise rules r2 and r3 would also succeed. If the foo() call is removed from flow1.c only rules r0 and r3 would succeed, as foo() would not be present and only rules r0 and r3 allow for foo() to not be present.

One way to describe code control flow is in terms of McCabe cyclomatic complexity. The program flow1.1 has a linear control flow, it has no branches. The main routine has a McCabe cyclomatic complexity of 1. The McCabe cyclomatic complexity can be computed using pmccabe (

1 pmccabe /flow1.c 2 1 1 5 1 10 flow1.c(1): main

Since programs can use branches, often times you may also wish to annotate requirements for control flows in consideration for branches, for when the McCabe cyclomatic complexity is > 1. The following program, flow2.c, enables the control flow to diverge on line 7 due to the branch, if (a) – one control flow possible is if (a) is true, another when if (a) is false.

1 int main(void) 2 { 3 int ret, a = 2; 4 5 a = foo(a); 6 ret = bar(a); 7 if (a) 8 c(); 9 10 return ret; 11 }

This program has a McCabe cyclomatic complexity of 2.

1 pmccabe flow2.c 2 2 2 6 1 11 flow2.c(1): main

Using the McCabe cyclomatic complexity is one way to get an idea of the complexity of the control graph for a function, another way is to visualize all possible paths. Coccinelle provides a way to visualize control flows of programs, this however requires dot ( and gv to be installed (typically provided by a package called graphviz). To visualize control flow or a program using Coccinelle you use:

spatch –control-flow-to-file flow1.c spatch –control-flow-to-file flow2.c

Behind the scenes this generates a dot file and uses gv to generate a PDF file for viewing. To generate and inspect these manually you can use the following:

spatch –control-flow-to-file flow2.c dot -Tpdf > flow1.pdf

By default properties described in a rule must match all control flows possible within a code section being inspected by Coccinelle. So for instance, in the following SmPL patch rule r1 would match all the control flow possible on flow1.c as its linear, however it would not match the control possible on flow2.c. The rule r1 would not be successful in flow2.c

1 @r1@ 2 @@ 3 4 foo() 5 ... 6 -c();

The default control flow can be modified by using the keyword “exists” following the rule name. In the following SmPL patch the rule r2 would be successful on both flow1.c and flow2.c

1 @r2 exists@ 2 @@ 3 4 foo() 5 ... 6 -c();

If the rule name is followed by the “forall” keyword, then all control flow paths must match in order for the rule to succeed. By default when a semantic patch has “-” and “+”, or when it has no annotations at all and only script code, ellipses (“...”) use the forall semantics. And when the semantic patch uses the context annotation (“*”), the ellipses (“...”) uses the exists semantics. Using the keyword “forall” or “exists” in the rule header affects all ellipses (“...”) uses in the rule. You can also annotate each ellipses (“...”) with “when exists” or “when forall” individually.

Rules can also be not be successful if requirements do not match when a rule name is followed by “depends on XXX”. When “depends on” is used it means the rule should only apply if rule XXX matched with the current metavariable environment. Alternatively, “depends on ever XXX” can be used as well, this means this rule should apply if rule XXX was ever matched at all. A counter to this use is “depends on never XXX”, which means that this rule should apply if rule XXX was never matched at all.

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