This is an unofficial snapshot of the ISO/IEC JTC1 SC22 WG21 Core Issues List revision 112e. See for the official list.


28. 'exit', 'signal' and static object destruction

Section:  [basic.start.dynamic]     Status: CD1     Submitter: Martin J. O'Riordan     Date: 19 Oct 1997

[Voted into the WP at the June, 2008 meeting.]

The C++ standard has inherited the definition of the 'exit' function more or less unchanged from ISO C.

However, when the 'exit' function is called, objects of static extent which have been initialised, will be destructed if their types posses a destructor.

In addition, the C++ standard has inherited the definition of the 'signal' function and its handlers from ISO C, also pretty much unchanged.

The C standard says that the only standard library functions that may be called while a signal handler is executing, are the functions 'abort', 'signal' and 'exit'.

This introduces a bit of a nasty turn, as it is not at all unusual for the destruction of static objects to have fairly complex destruction semantics, often associated with resource release. These quite commonly involve apparently simple actions such as calling 'fclose' for a FILE handle.

Having observed some very strange behaviour in a program recently which in handling a SIGTERM signal, called the 'exit' function as indicated by the C standard.

But unknown to the programmer, a library static object performed some complicated resource deallocation activities, and the program crashed.

The C++ standard says nothing about the interaction between signals, exit and static objects. My observations, was that in effect, because the destructor called a standard library function other than 'abort', 'exit' or 'signal', while transitively in the execution context of the signal handler, it was in fact non-compliant, and the behaviour was undefined anyway.

This is I believe a plausible judgement, but given the prevalence of this common programming technique, it seems to me that we need to say something a lot more positive about this interaction.

Curiously enough, the C standard fails to say anything about the analogous interaction with functions registered with 'atexit' ;-)

Proposed Resolution (10/98):

The current Committee Draft of the next version of the ISO C standard specifies that the only standard library function that may be called while a signal handler is executing is 'abort'. This would solve the above problem.

[This issue should remain open until it has been decided that the next version of the C++ standard will use the next version of the C standard as the basis for the behavior of 'signal'.]

Notes (November, 2006):

C89 is slightly contradictory here: It allows any signal handler to terminate by calling abort, exit, longjmp, but (for asynchronous signals, i.e. not those produced by abort or raise) then makes calling any library function other than signal with the current signal undefined behavior (C89 For synchronous signals, C99 forbids calls to raise, but imposes no other restrictions. For asynchronous signals, C99 allows only calls to abort, _Exit, and signal with the current signal (C99 The current C++ WP refers to “plain old functions” and “conforming C programs” (17.13 [support.runtime] paragraph 6).

Proposed Resolution (November, 2006):

Change the footnote in 17.13 [support.runtime] paragraph 6 as follows:

In particular, a signal handler using exception handling is very likely to have problems. Also, invoking std::exit may cause destruction of objects, including those of the standard library implementation, which, in general, yields undefined behavior in a signal handler (see 6.9.1 [intro.execution]).