Why do I get a segmentation fault when writing to a “char *s” initialized with a string literal, but not “char s[]”?

The following code receives seg fault on line 2:

char *str = "string";
str[0] = 'z';  // could be also written as *str="z"
printf("%sn", str);

While this works perfectly well:

char str[] = "string";
str[0] = 'z';
printf("%sn", str);

Tested with MSVC and GCC.

See the C FAQ, Question 1.32

Q: What is the difference between these initializations?
char a[] = "string literal";
char *p = "string literal";
My program crashes if I try to assign a new value to p[i].

A: A string literal (the formal term
for a double-quoted string in C
source) can be used in two slightly
different ways:

  1. As the initializer for an array of char, as in the declaration of char a[] , it specifies the initial values
    of the characters in that array (and,
    if necessary, its size).
  2. Anywhere else, it turns into an unnamed, static array of characters,
    and this unnamed array may be stored
    in read-only memory, and which
    therefore cannot necessarily be
    modified. In an expression context,
    the array is converted at once to a
    pointer, as usual (see section 6), so
    the second declaration initializes p
    to point to the unnamed array’s first

Some compilers have a switch
controlling whether string literals
are writable or not (for compiling old
code), and some may have options to
cause string literals to be formally
treated as arrays of const char (for
better error catching).

Normally, string literals are stored in read-only memory when the program is run. This is to prevent you from accidentally changing a string constant. In your first example, "string" is stored in read-only memory and *str points to the first character. The segfault happens when you try to change the first character to 'z'.

In the second example, the string "string" is copied by the compiler from its read-only home to the str[] array. Then changing the first character is permitted. You can check this by printing the address of each:

printf("%p", str);

Also, printing the size of str in the second example will show you that the compiler has allocated 7 bytes for it:

printf("%d", sizeof(str));

Most of these answers are correct, but just to add a little more clarity…

The “read only memory” that people are referring to is the text segment in ASM terms. It’s the same place in memory where the instructions are loaded. This is read-only for obvious reasons like security. When you create a char* initialized to a string, the string data is compiled into the text segment and the program initializes the pointer to point into the text segment. So if you try to change it, kaboom. Segfault.

When written as an array, the compiler places the initialized string data in the data segment instead, which is the same place that your global variables and such live. This memory is mutable, since there are no instructions in the data segment. This time when the compiler initializes the character array (which is still just a char*) it’s pointing into the data segment rather than the text segment, which you can safely alter at run-time.

Why do I get a segmentation fault when writing to a string?

C99 N1256 draft

There are two different uses of character string literals:

  1. Initialize char[]:

    char c[] = "abc";      

    This is “more magic”, and described at 6.7.8/14 “Initialization”:

    An array of character type may be initialized by a character string literal, optionally
    enclosed in braces. Successive characters of the character string literal (including the
    terminating null character if there is room or if the array is of unknown size) initialize the
    elements of the array.

    So this is just a shortcut for:

    char c[] = {'a', 'b', 'c', ''};

    Like any other regular array, c can be modified.

  2. Everywhere else: it generates an:

    • unnamed
    • array of char What is the type of string literals in C and C++?
    • with static storage
    • that gives UB if modified

    So when you write:

    char *c = "abc";

    This is similar to:

    /* __unnamed is magic because modifying it gives UB. */
    static char __unnamed[] = "abc";
    char *c = __unnamed;

    Note the implicit cast from char[] to char *, which is always legal.

    Then if you modify c[0], you also modify __unnamed, which is UB.

    This is documented at 6.4.5 “String literals”:

    5 In translation phase 7, a byte or code of value zero is appended to each multibyte
    character sequence that results from a string literal or literals. The multibyte character
    sequence is then used to initialize an array of static storage duration and length just
    sufficient to contain the sequence. For character string literals, the array elements have
    type char, and are initialized with the individual bytes of the multibyte character
    sequence […]

    6 It is unspecified whether these arrays are distinct provided their elements have the
    appropriate values. If the program attempts to modify such an array, the behavior is

6.7.8/32 “Initialization” gives a direct example:

EXAMPLE 8: The declaration

char s[] = "abc", t[3] = "abc";

defines “plain” char array objects s and t whose elements are initialized with character string literals.

This declaration is identical to

char s[] = { 'a', 'b', 'c', '' },
t[] = { 'a', 'b', 'c' };

The contents of the arrays are modifiable. On the other hand, the declaration

char *p = "abc";

defines p with type “pointer to char” and initializes it to point to an object with type “array of char” with length 4 whose elements are initialized with a character string literal. If an attempt is made to use p to modify the contents of the array, the behavior is undefined.

GCC 4.8 x86-64 ELF implementation


#include <stdio.h>

int main(void) {
    char *s = "abc";
    printf("%sn", s);
    return 0;

Compile and decompile:

gcc -ggdb -std=c99 -c main.c
objdump -Sr main.o

Output contains:

 char *s = "abc";
8:  48 c7 45 f8 00 00 00    movq   $0x0,-0x8(%rbp)
f:  00 
        c: R_X86_64_32S .rodata

Conclusion: GCC stores char* it in .rodata section, not in .text.

If we do the same for char[]:

 char s[] = "abc";

we obtain:

17:   c7 45 f0 61 62 63 00    movl   $0x636261,-0x10(%rbp)

so it gets stored in the stack (relative to %rbp).

Note however that the default linker script puts .rodata and .text in the same segment, which has execute but no write permission. This can be observed with:

readelf -l a.out

which contains:

 Section to Segment mapping:
  Segment Sections...
   02     .text .rodata

In the first code, “string” is a string constant, and string constants should never be modified because they are often placed into read only memory. “str” is a pointer being used to modify the constant.

In the second code, “string” is an array initializer, sort of short hand for

char str[7] =  { 's', 't', 'r', 'i', 'n', 'g', '' };

“str” is an array allocated on the stack and can be modified freely.

Because the type of "whatever" in the context of the 1st example is const char * (even if you assign it to a non-const char*), which means you shouldn’t try and write to it.

The compiler has enforced this by putting the string in a read-only part of memory, hence writing to it generates a segfault.

To understand this error or problem you should first know difference b/w the pointer and array
so here firstly i have explain you differences b/w them

string array

 char strarray[] = "hello";

In memory array is stored in continuous memory cells, stored as [h][e][l][l][o][] =>[] is 1 char byte size memory cell ,and this continuous memory cells can be access by name named strarray here.so here string array strarray itself containing all characters of string initialized to it.in this case here "hello"
so we can easily change its memory content by accessing each character by its index value

`strarray[0]='m'` it access character at index 0 which is 'h'in strarray

and its value changed to 'm' so strarray value changed to "mello";

one point to note here that we can change the content of string array by changing character by character but can not initialized other string directly to it like strarray="new string" is invalid


As we all know pointer points to memory location in memory ,
uninitialized pointer points to random memory location so and after initialization points to particular memory location

char *ptr = "hello";

here pointer ptr is initialized to string "hello" which is constant string stored in read only memory (ROM) so "hello" can not be changed as it is stored in ROM

and ptr is stored in stack section and pointing to constant string "hello"

so ptr[0]=’m’ is invalid since you can not access read only memory

But ptr can be initialised to other string value directly since it is just pointer so it can be point to any memory address of variable of its data type

ptr="new string"; is valid

char *str = "string";  

The above sets str to point to the literal value "string" which is hard-coded in the program’s binary image, which is probably flagged as read-only in memory.

So str[0]= is attempting to write to the read-only code of the application. I would guess this is probably compiler dependent though.

char *str = "string";

allocates a pointer to a string literal, which the compiler is putting in a non-modifiable part of your executable;

char str[] = "string";

allocates and initializes a local array which is modifiable

The C FAQ that @matli linked to mentions it, but no one else here has yet, so for clarification: if a string literal (double-quoted string in your source) is used anywhere other than to initialize a character array (ie: @Mark’s second example, which works correctly), that string is stored by the compiler in a special static string table, which is akin to creating a global static variable (read-only, of course) that is essentially anonymous (has no variable “name”). The read-only part is the important part, and is why the @Mark’s first code example segfaults.


 char *str = "string";

line defines a pointer and points it to a literal string. The literal string is not writable so when you do:

  str[0] = 'z';

you get a seg fault. On some platforms, the literal might be in writable memory so you won’t see a segfault, but it’s invalid code (resulting in undefined behavior) regardless.

The line:

char str[] = "string";

allocates an array of characters and copies the literal string into that array, which is fully writable, so the subsequent update is no problem.

String literals like “string” are probably allocated in your executable’s address space as read-only data (give or take your compiler). When you go to touch it, it freaks out that you’re in its bathing suit area and lets you know with a seg fault.

In your first example, you’re getting a pointer to that const data. In your second example, you’re initializing an array of 7 characters with a copy of the const data.

// create a string constant like this - will be read only
char *str_p;
str_p = "String constant";

// create an array of characters like this 
char *arr_p;
char arr[] = "String in an array";
arr_p = &arr[0];

// now we try to change a character in the array first, this will work
*arr_p = 'E';

// lets try to change the first character of the string contant
*str_p = 'G'; // this will result in a segmentation fault. Comment it out to work.

 *  String constants can't be modified. A segmentation fault is the result,
 *  because most operating systems will not allow a write
 *  operation on read only memory.

//print both strings to see if they have changed
printf("%sn", str_p); //print the string without a variable
printf("%sn", arr_p); //print the string, which is in an array. 

In the first place, str is a pointer that points at "string". The compiler is allowed to put string literals in places in memory that you cannot write to, but can only read. (This really should have triggered a warning, since you’re assigning a const char * to a char *. Did you have warnings disabled, or did you just ignore them?)

In the second place, you’re creating an array, which is memory that you’ve got full access to, and initializing it with "string". You’re creating a char[7] (six for the letters, one for the terminating ‘’), and you do whatever you like with it.

Assume the strings are,

char a[] = "string literal copied to stack";
char *p  = "string literal referenced by p";

In the first case, the literal is to be copied when ‘a’ comes into scope. Here ‘a’ is an array defined on stack. It means the string will be created on the stack and its data is copied from code (text) memory, which is typically read-only (this is implementation specific, a compiler can place this read-only program data in read-writable memory also).

In the second case, p is a pointer defined on stack (local scope) and referring a string literal (program data or text) stored else where. Usually modifying such memory is not good practice nor encouraged.

First is one constant string which can’t be modified. Second is an array with initialized value, so it can be modified.

Section 5.5 Character Pointers and Functions of K&R also discusses about this topic:

There is an important difference between these definitions:

char amessage[] = "now is the time"; /* an array */
char *pmessage = "now is the time"; /* a pointer */

amessage is an array, just big enough to hold the sequence of characters and '' that initializes it. Individual characters within the array may be changed but amessage will always refer to the same storage. On the other hand, pmessage is a pointer, initialized to point to a string constant; the pointer may subsequently be modified to point elsewhere, but the result is undefined if you try to modify the string contents.

Segmentation fault is caused when you try to access the memory which is inaccessible.

char *str is a pointer to a string that is nonmodifiable(the reason for getting segfault).

whereas char str[] is an array and can be modifiable..

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