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The virtual bool bug

, 2 Sep 2003
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Describes the virtual bool bug that exists in mixed mode Managed C++ programs that access unmanaged classes


This bug was first reported by Jochen Kalmbach on April 12th 2002 (no links available to original posting), when VS.NET 7.0 was doing its initial rounds; and it's quite inconceivable why the bug still exists in VS.NET 2003. Just about every week, at least two people report issues related to this bug and I thought it might be a good idea to have an article on it here on CodeProject. What's really annoying is that the developer might spend several hours or even a full day on the problem before realizing that it is not a problem with his code.

The bug

The most common scenario where the bug is reported is when someone has a mixed mode C++ program that has a managed class, which accesses an unmanaged class in an unmanaged DLL. Now if the unmanaged class has a virtual function that returns a bool, then irrespective of what value it returns, the managed caller *always* gets back true. But it's not necessary for the code to be in two separate entities (the EXE and the DLL), the bug occurs if the unmanaged class is defined in a #pragma unmanaged block in a mixed mode EXE or DLL.

Minimal code to reproduce bug

#pragma unmanaged
class Unmanaged
    virtual bool IsAlive()
        return false;

#pragma managed
__gc class Managed
    void Test()
        Unmanaged* um = new Unmanaged();
            //Always executes
            Console::WriteLine("Function returned true. BUG!!!");
            //Never executes
            Console::WriteLine("Function returned false. No Bug :-)");
        delete um;

int _tmain()
    Managed* mg = new Managed();
    return 0;

Trying to figure it out

Let's examine the disassembly for the IsAlive function :-

;virtual bool IsAlive()
004010B0 push ebp 
004010B1 mov ebp,esp 
004010B3 push ecx 
004010B4 mov dword ptr [ebp-4],ecx 

;return false
004010B7 xor al,al ; Notice how AL is made 0 (false)
004010B9 mov esp,ebp 
004010BB pop ebp 
004010BC ret 

As you can see, the result of the function is returned in the AL register and this is what the contents of my registers looked like at this point :-

EAX = 00401000 EBX = 0012EFB4 ECX = 06C42C88 EDX = 00425410 
ESI = 00168930 EDI = 00000000 EIP = 004010B9 ESP = 0012EFA8 
EBP = 0012EFAC EFL = 00000246

Now let's see the disassembly for the caller code :-

00000065 mov eax,dword ptr [ebp-18h] 
00000068 mov eax,dword ptr [eax] 
0000006a mov esi,dword ptr [eax] 
0000006c mov ecx,dword ptr [ebp-18h] 
0000006f mov eax,esi 
00000071 push 1692D0h 
00000076 call F9759F50 ; The call to the function
0000007b movzx esi,al ; Copying the return value to ESI
0000007e test esi,esi ; Checking for true 
00000080 je 0000009A ; If false then jump to 9A  

The return value is obtained from the AL register. Let's see the contents of the registers now :-

EAX = 00000001 EBX = 0012F0C8 ECX = 00000004 EDX = 00000000 
ESI = 00000001 EDI = 04A719C8 EBP = 0012F070 ESP = 0012F044 

Horror of horrors! AL is now 1 (more precisely EAX has been set to 1). I had stepped through the disassembly and AL was 0 at the time the RET instruction was executed; therefore the register corruption must have occurred during the managed-unmanaged transition.


The simple workaround is to use a BOOL (typedef for an int) instead of a bool.

class Unmanaged
    virtual int IsAlive()
        return false;

The casting is implicit from am int to a bool and so we don't really have to do anything extra.

A slightly bizarre looking workaround [see section titled "More info" for heheh more info] suggested by someone (possibly Microsoft Support) is to set EAX to a value under 255 before returning from the unmanaged function.

class Unmanaged
    virtual bool IsAlive()
        __asm mov eax,100
        return false;

More info

I got some more information regarding this issue from Tom Archer (my friend, fellow-CPian and co-author) who got this information from a friend of his, who is in the VC++ compiler team. It seems this bug occurs when one of the upper 24 bits of the EAX register is non-zero. They have a hot-fix for this bug for both VC++.NET 7 and for VC++.NET Everett, but it might be a better idea to wait for the next service pack.

Still more info (Thanks Jochen)

Jochen's post gave me a few links which provided even more info on this bug. The bug occurs due to the way the CLR marshals boolean values. The CLR thinks that a boolean is 4 bytes (as it is under .NET) but the C++ bool type is only a single byte (so much for efficiency and the hassles it brings about). What happens during marshalling is that the CLR examines the higher three bytes and if they contain any data, it assumes that the boolean value being passed is true. As far as I understood from the postings made by MS support, there was a sort of vague argument between the CLR team and the VC++ compiler team. The VC++ compiler team believed (and rightly so in my opinion) that the issue was with the CLR's marshalling code, but it seems the CLR team wanted the VC++ team to emit a custom MarshalAs attribute for the method that returns a bool. But obviously you cannot apply .NET attributes to an unmanaged function, as methods compiled as unmanaged don't appear in the meta-data. Anyway, now we know why its so important to clear the upper 3 bytes of the EAX register.

Related Microsoft KB links


What's really dangerous about this bug is that it's quite easy not to see it, because most functions that return bool return false to indicate an error, and thus by getting true all the time, we never realize that there is anything amiss. Thus it's quite easy to miss the bug until it's really late into the software development cycle. I have been working with mixed mode programs for quite a while now, specially since I began my book with Tom (Extending MFC Applications With the .NET Framework) and this is an issue in which I am quite naturally interested; and I would like to hear more intelligent analysis than mine from some of the gurus that frequent CP.


  • Aug 27 2003 - First published
  • Aug 30 2003 - Updated with more info and related KB link
  • Sep 03 2003 - Updated with more info provided by Jochen


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About the Author

Nish Nishant

United States United States
Nish is a real nice guy who has been writing code since 1990 when he first got his hands on an 8088 with 640 KB RAM. Originally from sunny Trivandrum in India, he has been living in various places over the past few years and often thinks it’s time he settled down somewhere.
Nish has been a Microsoft Visual C++ MVP since October, 2002 - awfully nice of Microsoft, he thinks. He maintains an MVP tips and tricks web site - where you can find a consolidated list of his articles, writings and ideas on VC++, MFC, .NET and C++/CLI. Oh, and you might want to check out his blog on C++/CLI, MFC, .NET and a lot of other stuff -
Nish loves reading Science Fiction, P G Wodehouse and Agatha Christie, and also fancies himself to be a decent writer of sorts. He has authored a romantic comedy Summer Love and Some more Cricket as well as a programming book – Extending MFC applications with the .NET Framework.
Nish's latest book C++/CLI in Action published by Manning Publications is now available for purchase. You can read more about the book on his blog.
Despite his wife's attempts to get him into cooking, his best effort so far has been a badly done omelette. Some day, he hopes to be a good cook, and to cook a tasty dinner for his wife.

Comments and Discussions

NewsStill broken in Compact Framework 3.5 Pinmemberbtj-agilent29-Sep-09 8:45 
GeneralUnmanaged calling Unmanaged PinmemberJim99916-Aug-07 9:22 
QuestionVisual Studio 2005? Pinmemberptulou15-Aug-07 5:15 
Questionmanaged/unmanaged boundary Pinmemberensdorf13-Nov-06 13:34 
AnswerRe: managed/unmanaged boundary PinmemberPaul Tulou15-Aug-07 5:53 
GeneralStill fixed in VC2005-Express Beta 1 PinmemberJochen Kalmbach29-Jun-04 10:53 
GeneralRe: Still fixed in VC2005-Express Beta 1 PinstaffNishant S5-Apr-05 22:22 
QuestionHow did this bug make it into a release? PinsussAnonymous16-Jun-04 17:36 
AnswerRe: How did this bug make it into a release? PinstaffNishant S5-Apr-05 22:21 
GeneralFixed in Whidbey alpha.... PinmemberJochen Kalmbach16-Jan-04 9:00 
GeneralRe: Fixed in Whidbey alpha.... PinstaffNishant S5-Apr-05 22:20 
GeneralReminder: Avoid Mixed DLLs PinmemberRoy Muller4-Sep-03 6:29 
GeneralRe: Reminder: Avoid Mixed DLLs PinmemberJochen Kalmbach5-Sep-03 1:25 
GeneralRe: Reminder: Avoid Mixed DLLs PinmemberRoy Muller5-Sep-03 6:07 
GeneralI am not the first... PinmemberJochen Kalmbach3-Sep-03 5:55 
GeneralRe: I am not the first... PineditorNishant S3-Sep-03 6:04 
GeneralRe: I am not the first... PinmemberJochen Kalmbach3-Sep-03 7:54 
GeneralRe: I am not the first... PinmemberJochen Kalmbach3-Sep-03 7:55 
GeneralRe: I am not the first... PineditorNishant S3-Sep-03 16:28 
GeneralRe: I am not the first... PineditorNishant S3-Sep-03 6:06 
GeneralIsnt this the same as.... Pinmemberleppie30-Aug-03 3:55 
GeneralRe: Isnt this the same as.... PinmemberGary R. Wheeler30-Aug-03 14:11 
GeneralA bit more detail PinmemberTom Archer29-Aug-03 12:21 
GeneralRe: A bit more detail PinmemberJohn M. Drescher29-Aug-03 12:40 
GeneralRe: A bit more detail PinmemberTom Archer29-Aug-03 12:50 
GeneralRe: A bit more detail PineditorNishant S29-Aug-03 20:34 
GeneralRe: A bit more detail PineditorNishant S29-Aug-03 20:24 
GeneralRe: A bit more detail Pinmembergraham_k_200428-Sep-04 9:28 
QuestionWhy mixed mode? PinsussAnonymous27-Aug-03 13:09 
AnswerRe: Why mixed mode? PineditorNishant S27-Aug-03 16:10 
AnswerRe: Why mixed mode? PinmemberTom Archer29-Aug-03 12:18 
GeneralThanks for pointing that out... PinmemberJohn M. Drescher27-Aug-03 10:23 
GeneralRe: Thanks for pointing that out... PineditorNishant S27-Aug-03 10:28 

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