CodeQL documentation

Missing return-value check for a ‘scanf’-like function

ID: cpp/missing-check-scanf
Kind: path-problem
Security severity: 7.5
Severity: warning
Precision: medium
   - security
   - correctness
   - external/cwe/cwe-252
   - external/cwe/cwe-253
Query suites:
   - cpp-security-extended.qls
   - cpp-security-and-quality.qls

Click to see the query in the CodeQL repository

This query finds calls of scanf-like functions with missing or improper return-value checking.

Specifically, the query flags uses of variables that may have been modified by scanf and subsequently are used without being guarded by a correct return-value check. A proper check is one that ensures that the corresponding scanf has returned (at least) a certain minimum constant.

Functions in the scanf family return either EOF (a negative value) in case of IO failure, or the number of items successfully read from the input. Consequently, a simple check that the return value is truthy (nonzero) is not enough.

WARNING: This query has medium precision because, in the current implementation, it takes a strict stance on unguarded uses of output variables, and flags them as problematic even if they have already been initialized.


Ensure that all subsequent uses of scanf output arguments occur in a branch of an if statement (or similar), in which it is known that the corresponding scanf call has in fact read all possible items from its input. This can be done by comparing the return value to a numerical constant.


This example shows different ways of guarding a scanf output:

  int i, j, r;

  r = scanf("%d %d", &i, &j);

  use(i); // BAD: i is not guarded

  if (r >= 1) {
    use(i); // GOOD: i is guarded correctly
    use(j); // BAD: j is guarded incorrectly

  if (r != 2)

  use(j); // GOOD: j is guarded correctly


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