brk, sbrk — change data segment size


#include <unistd.h>
int brk( void *addr);
void *sbrk( intptr_t increment);
[Note] Note
Feature Test Macro Requirements for glibc (see feature_test_macros(7)):
brk(), sbrk():
Since glibc 2.19:
_DEFAULT_SOURCE || ((_XOPEN_SOURCE >= 500) && ! (_POSIX_C_SOURCE >= 200112L)) From glibc 2.12 to 2.19:
_BSD_SOURCE || _SVID_SOURCE || ((_XOPEN_SOURCE >= 500) && ! (_POSIX_C_SOURCE >= 200112L)) Before glibc 2.12:


brk() and sbrk() change the location of the program break, which defines the end of the process's data segment (i.e., the program break is the first location after the end of the uninitialized data segment). Increasing the program break has the effect of allocating memory to the process; decreasing the break deallocates memory.

brk() sets the end of the data segment to the value specified by addr, when that value is reasonable, the system has enough memory, and the process does not exceed its maximum data size (see setrlimit(2)).

sbrk() increments the program's data space by increment bytes. Calling sbrk() with an increment of 0 can be used to find the current location of the program break.


On success, brk() returns zero. On error, −1 is returned, and errno is set to ENOMEM.

On success, sbrk() returns the previous program break. (If the break was increased, then this value is a pointer to the start of the newly allocated memory). On error, (void *) −1 is returned, and errno is set to ENOMEM.


4.3BSD; SUSv1, marked LEGACY in SUSv2, removed in POSIX.1-2001.


Avoid using brk() and sbrk(): the malloc(3) memory allocation package is the portable and comfortable way of allocating memory.

Various systems use various types for the argument of sbrk(). Common are int, ssize_t, ptrdiff_t, intptr_t.

C library/kernel differences

The return value described above for brk() is the behavior provided by the glibc wrapper function for the Linux brk() system call. (On most other implementations, the return value from brk() is the same; this return value was also specified in SUSv2.) However, the actual Linux system call returns the new program break on success. On failure, the system call returns the current break. The glibc wrapper function does some work (i.e., checks whether the new break is less than addr) to provide the 0 and −1 return values described above.

On Linux, sbrk() is implemented as a library function that uses the brk() system call, and does some internal bookkeeping so that it can return the old break value.


execve(2), getrlimit(2), end(3), malloc(3)


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  Copyright (c) 1993 Michael Haardt, (
and Copyright 2006, 2008, Michael Kerrisk <>
Fri Apr  2 11:32:09 MET DST 1993

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Modified Wed Jul 21 19:52:58 1993 by Rik Faith <>
Modified Sun Aug 21 17:40:38 1994 by Rik Faith <>