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Homework Help: Implementing strcpy without <string.h>

  1. Oct 26, 2014 #1
    • Moved here from non-homework forum, therefore template is missing
    Hi everyone. I ran into a problem while trying to code the string function, strcpy, without the use of <string.h>. The function, strcpy, which I have to make myself is exactly the same as the strcpy in <string.h>.The question in my homework is:

    Implement the my_strcpy(s1,s2) function that copies string s2 to s1, including the terminating null character, topping after the null character has been copied. String s1 is returned. Use char *my_strcpy(char* s1, const char* s2) as your function and write the main program to test the functionality of your function.

    My codes are below:

    Code (Text):
     #include <stdio.h>

    char *my_strcpy(char* s1, const char* s2);

    int main(void)
         char str1[4]={"Cat"};
         char str2[4]={"Dog"};
        char* s1;
        char* s2;
        s1 = &str1[0];
        s2 = &str2[0];

       my_strcpy(s1, s2);

       printf("New string: %s\n", s1);

       return 0;

    char *my_strcpy(char* s1, const char* s2)
         while(s1 <= s2)
             *s1 = *s2;
    When I ran the above code, it gave me a segmentation fault. I have a feeling there is something wrong with my printf and my_strcpy function (in terms of how it is called in main) and most prolly, my loop construct, cos a seg. fault probably means my program accessed memory it was not allocated with.

    Any help is greatly appreciated! :D

    Warmest Regards,

    Last edited: Oct 26, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 26, 2014 #2


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    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    First of all, post your code inside [ code ] [ /code ] tags (without the spaces), so indentations aren't lost.

    Now ask yourself, within my_strcpy(), when is s1 <= s2 true, and when is it false, and why do think that's relevant?

    (As an aside, didn't your compiler complain that my_strcpy() didn't return anything?)
  4. Oct 26, 2014 #3
    Hi DrGreg. I have put my codes into the <code> blocks. Thank you.

    My idea is that as long as string1 has a corresponding box with string2, I will copy the respective element in string2 box into string1 box. When s1<=s2 is false, the loop will stop and return the result from the my_strcpy function to the main function.

    Oh wait. I forgot that I re-edited my code before I compiled with gcc in vim. Before I edited the code, vim returned a seg. fault, but now, everything compiles nicely, but I still got 'Cat' back.

    However, when I put gcc -Wall, it gave:
    tut9q1b.c: In function 'my_strcpy':
    tut9q1b.c:30:2: warning: 'return' with no value, in function returning non-void

    which I think is what you mentioned right?
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2014
  5. Oct 26, 2014 #4
    Ah! I think I know why... my_strcpy is not a void function, so I must return something at the end of it to the main function! Gosh. What am I doing?! >< I will try again. Thank you for pointing out my mistake. :)
  6. Oct 26, 2014 #5
    What if s1 and s2 are of different lengths? Then your function doesn't work.

    Also, use ++s1 and ++s2 rather than s1++ and s2++. You should only use ++ as a postfix when it's embedded in a larger expression and you want to increment after evaluating the rest of the expression.

    char * my_strcpy (char* s1, const char* s2)
    char * temp = s1;
    while (s1 && s2)
    *s1++ = *s2++;
    if (s1 != s2) throw ("Uh oh ....");
    else return temp;
  7. Oct 27, 2014 #6
    Hi Jamin2112. Thank you for your reply. I am assuming that the user will put s1 and s2 of the same lengths. :) I did not learn pre-increment in my course, so I don't think I know how to use that properly, so I will stick to s1++ for the time being. Thank you.
  8. Oct 27, 2014 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    First time I hear such a thing.

    Segmentation fault waiting to happen.
  9. Oct 27, 2014 #8


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    Staff: Mentor

    This is not the condition you are looking for. You need to check if the character copied (the one pointed to by s1) is not zero.
  10. Oct 27, 2014 #9
    Hi Borek. Thank you for your reply. I managed to solve the question after my teacher explained the answer to me. Thank you! :D And yupp, the first thing in the while loop is, "while(s2 != '\0')" to make sure the first element is not null, if it is null, nothing will be copied.
  11. Oct 27, 2014 #10


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    Staff: Mentor

    Better, but still wrong. You are comparing a pointer to '\0', that's not what you should do.

    Do you understand the difference between pointer and the object it points to?

    IOW: what is the difference between s1 and *s1?
  12. Oct 27, 2014 #11
    Oh my gosh! Sorry. I think I left out a star in front of s2. It should be "while(*s2 != '\0')".

    Yes, I understand the difference between a pointer and the object it points to. A pointer is something that points to the address of something, like int* ptr, is a pointer bearing the name, "ptr", pointing to the address of an integer value. Am I right?

    s1 is a pointer pointing to the first box of str1, as I defined
    Code (Text):
    char* s1;
    then, I wrote
    Code (Text):
    s1 = &str1[0];
    in main program.

    Sorry. ><

    Thank you for pointing out my mistake. I am struggling to learn C as the teacher goes very fast so I am pretty much lagging behind. Do you have any advice for me? I know that practice is of paramount importance when it comes to programming, especially for an absolute new beginner. However, I keep finding that I get stuck whenever I try to solve the questions given to me by my teacher, thus I find it very hard to proceed on. :( Hence, may I know if you have any advice for me? Thank you once again. :)[/code]
  13. Oct 27, 2014 #12
    I'd say you are on the right track. Pointer arithmetic was the hardest part for me.

    How can you debug errors? Use simple examples where you can track every step. Also when something works as expected.
    Finally I'd advise to try and understand the task at hand as good as possible. For functions like these that's a small task.
    When you implement a simulation, for example you need to understand the algorithms and the problem you are going to solve very well.

    For now, keep going at it. It seems that you understand the issues with your code whenever they are brought up. Which means to me that you are capable already, just a bit chaotic/over enthusiastic in your coding endeavours :-)
  14. Oct 27, 2014 #13
    Hi JorisL. Thank you. :) Oh yes, pointers are very confusing. They are still confusing to me, especially when my teachers passes pointers from functions to functions, etc.

    I see. I am currently in a University now, so most of the tasks now required quite complex codes as we are gearing up for the final exams. For now, I try to write the pseudocodes first before proceeding, which I think helps a little, rather than having to digest a large chunk of information all at once. :) Algorithms are the most irritating thing I think. If one is unable to get the algorithm, the question is as good as gone.

    Yupp I will. Actually, I am not very clear, but I think I can get a gut feeling of where I am wrong. :X Thanks again for your encouragement! :D:D I really appreciate it. :)
  15. Oct 27, 2014 #14


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    Staff: Mentor

    That's OK, although it can be still simplified - just

    Code (Text):
    while (*s2)
    will do. Whether it is a better coding or not - some will say it is, some will say it is not. You don't have to write it this way, but understanding why it can be written this way is important.

    Point to something, not to address of something.

    Code (Text):
    s1 = str1
    will do - an array is a pointer. From what I know what you wrote sometimes is equivalent, but sometimes is not; I believe someone posted recently piece of code that generated runtime errors in a very similar situation.

    I am afraid I don't have any simple advice, other than what you already know. Feel free to ask your questions here.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 27, 2014
  16. Oct 27, 2014 #15
    Thank, you, Borek. :)

    I don't understand why "while(*s2)" is equivalent to "while(*s2 != '\0')". I thought I must specifically tell the program to stop when it hits a null character? I am not sure if I am correct, but if I link it to the idea of str in C, it automatically terminates on a null char. Is this why you can write "while(*s2)"?

    Oh. A pointer points to something, and it holds the address of that thing it points to.

    I see. My teacher told me that too:
    . I guess this is the confusing part on pointers.

    It's alright. I will continue practising. Thanks for your help! :) Okay. I think I ran into a problem again for a new problem. Let me post a new thread. ><
  17. Oct 28, 2014 #16
    That's why I usually access arrays, even those passed as pointers, using the square bracket-indices.

    Code (Text):

    while( *s2 ){
       //do stuff
    will terminate at the last character of a string, the string null terminator has various representations (might be somewhat bad terminology).
    One of them is '\0', the other one of interest is NULL.
    See for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASCII#ASCII_control_code_chart
    Now if you use
    Code (Text):

    while(*s2 != '\0')
    The while-loop continues until you hit '\0', the expression *s2 != '\0' will evaluate as false and terminate the loop.
    We have that NULL is the same as FALSE in C, that is why both codes are equivalent

    Another code that will move through the string and end up pointing to the first location after the string is
    Code (Text):
       //do stuff
    You can check this behaviour to get acquainted with some different approaches handling strings.
    One last point, only strings should be null terminated. An array of integers manipulated using pointer arithmetic will require you to think a little different
  18. Oct 28, 2014 #17


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    Staff: Mentor

    If s2 is a pointer, this is plain wrong. Loop will end once s2 point to memory address 0x0, not when the content of what it points to is zero.

    So far your posts have been 50/50 right and wrong, please don't confuse OP.
  19. Oct 28, 2014 #18
    To JorisL: I think I am much clearer now after your explanation. :D Thank you so much! :D

    To Borek: I see. Just wondering, is pointing to 0x0 the same as pointing to NULL? (I have a feeling it is not.) Haha. Dont' worry, I think it is okay if JorisL posts something wrong, because the other programmings pros can point the mistake out and we can learn in the process. Thanks a lot for your help! I shall go and look at my strcat.. I seemed to have made a lot of mistakes. Sigh.
  20. Oct 28, 2014 #19


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    Staff: Mentor

    Depends on what you mean by "pointing to".

    Technically pointer is just an address of the memory position (which means it is just an integer number). So "pointing to 0x0" can mean either "pointing to memory position which holds number 0" or "pointing to memory position located at memory address 0 and containing something".
  21. Oct 28, 2014 #20
    I see. Oh oops. :X Sorry. I keep linking the word pointer to pointing. :X Thanks for the clarification! :D
  22. Oct 28, 2014 #21


    Staff: Mentor

    One of the toughest roadblocks for beginning programming students to comprehend is the concept of pointers. Over the course of many years of teaching C and other programming languages in colleges and industry, I came up with a visual aid to help get the ideas across.

    The illustration below is intended to be a visual representation of this code:
    Code (C):

    int num = 17;
    int * ptr = &num;
    In the upper left corner of each box in the drawing is the name of the variable, with ptr being the name of the pointer variable, and num being the name of the other variable. The upper right corner of each box holds the location in memory of the variable. I'm assuming that num is stored at memory location 100. In a real program, the address of the variable won't be 100, but I'm using 100 for simplicity. The ptr variable is also stored somewhere in memory, but I don't care where it is, so I didn't include its address in my drawing.

    The value that is stored in a pointer variable is an address. In the illustration, ptr's value is 100, the assumed location in memory of num. When a pointer variable is initialized with a valid memory location in memory, we say that the pointer variable "points to" or is a "pointer to" that location. The arrow in the illustration means that ptr points to num's memory location.


    One thing we can do with a pointer is dereference it (using the * operator) to read from or write to the memory location it points to. If I add a line to the code above l add a line to the code above, let's see what happens.
    Code (C):

    int num = 17;
    int * ptr = &num;
    *ptr = 25;
    By dereferencing ptr, I don't change the value of ptr -- I change the value of what ptr points to. The effect of the last line of code is to change the value of num to 25.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2014
  23. Oct 28, 2014 #22
    Thank you, Mark44. I think I am much clearer after your explanation and diagram. :D Thank you for taking time off to do such a detailed explanation. :)
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