Buffer Overflow: Diagnostics & Troubleshooting

A buffer overflow is a typical problem that can occur on a Linux server. Buffer overflow happens when a program or process tries to store more data in a buffer than it was intended to hold. Since buffers are created to contain a finite amount of data, the extra information can overflow into adjacent buffers, corrupting or overwriting the valid data held in them.

Why Buffer Overflow Happens

A buffer overflow often happens due to poorly written or insecure code. If a program doesn't validate the size and amount of data it writes to the buffer, it can lead to an overflow. This kind of vulnerability can be exploited by attackers to inject malicious code or cause system crashes.

Diagnosing Buffer Overflow

Buffer overflow issues can be tricky to diagnose because they often result in erratic behavior or crashes that seem unrelated. However, certain tools and commands can help you identify these problems.

For instance, the dmesg command can be used to examine system logs, which may contain clues about a buffer overflow. For example:

dmesg | grep -i "buffer overflow"

Applications That May Cause Buffer Overflow

Applications that handle data input, especially from untrusted sources, are at risk of buffer overflow. This includes web servers, mail servers, or any network-facing applications.

Troubleshooting Buffer Overflow

To troubleshoot a buffer overflow issue, you should first identify the program causing the problem. Once you have identified the problematic program, inspect its source code if possible, especially parts that handle data input.

You can also use various debugging tools available on Linux, such as gdb (GNU Debugger) or valgrind. These tools can help you identify where in the code the buffer overflow is happening.

For instance, to run a program under the control of gdb, you can use:

gdb ./program

Then, to start the program, use the run command in gdb:


If a buffer overflow causes the program to crash, gdb will show you where in the code the problem happened.

Preventing Buffer Overflow

Preventing buffer overflow primarily involves proper coding practices. Always validate input data size and ensure that only the necessary amount of data is written to buffers.

Certain compiler options can also help prevent buffer overflows, such as -fstack-protector option in gcc. This option adds safety checks to detect stack overflows.


Buffer overflow is a common issue on Linux servers that can lead to major vulnerabilities. It is essential to use proper coding practices, diagnostic tools, and preventive measures to avoid this problem. Understanding and being capable of diagnosing and troubleshooting buffer overflow issues is a necessary skill for managing Linux servers.

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