Department of Computer Science and Technology

Technical reports

CHERI C/C++ Programming Guide

Robert N. M. Watson, Alexander Richardson, Brooks Davis, John Baldwin, David Chisnall, Jessica Clarke, Nathaniel Filardo, Simon W. Moore, Edward Napierala, Peter Sewell, Peter G. Neumann

June 2020, 33 pages

This work was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), under contracts FA8750-10-C-0237 (“CTSRD”) and HR0011-18-C-0016 (“ECATS”). The views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this report are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the official views or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government. This work was supported in part by the Innovate UK project Digital Security by Design (DSbD) Technology Platform Prototype, 105694. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 789108), ERC Advanced Grant ELVER. We also acknowledge the EPSRC REMS Programme Grant (EP/K008528/1), Arm Limited, HP Enterprise, and Google, Inc. Approved for Public Release, Distribution Unlimited.


This document is a brief introduction to the CHERI C/C++ programming languages. We explain the principles underlying these language variants, and their grounding in CHERI’s multiple architectural instantiations: CHERI-MIPS, CHERI-RISC-V, and Arm’s Morello. We describe the most commonly encountered differences between these dialects and C/C++ on conventional architectures, and where existing software may require minor changes. We document new compiler warnings and errors that may be experienced compiling code with the CHERI Clang/LLVM compiler, and suggest how they may be addressed through typically minor source-code changes. We explain how modest language extensions allow selected software, such as memory allocators, to further refine permissions and bounds on pointers. This guidance is based on our experience adapting the FreeBSD operating-system userspace, and applications such as PostgreSQL and WebKit, to run in a CHERI C/C++ capability-based programming environment. We conclude by recommending further reading.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Watson, Robert N. M. and Richardson, Alexander and Davis,
          	  Brooks and Baldwin, John and Chisnall, David and Clarke,
          	  Jessica and Filardo, Nathaniel and Moore, Simon W. and
          	  Napierala, Edward and Sewell, Peter and Neumann, Peter G.},
  title = 	 {{CHERI C/C++ Programming Guide}},
  year = 	 2020,
  month = 	 jun,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-947}