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Creating Guard Pages

A guard page provides a one-shot alarm for memory page access. This can be useful for an application that needs to monitor the growth of large dynamic data structures. For example, there are operating systems that use guard pages to implement automatic stack checking.

To create a guard page, set the PAGE_GUARD page protection modifier for the page. This value can be specified, along with other page protection modifiers, in the VirtualAlloc, VirtualAllocEx, VirtualProtect, and VirtualProtectEx functions. The PAGE_GUARD modifier can be used with any other page protection modifiers, except PAGE_NOACCESS.

If a program attempts to access an address within a guard page, the system raises a STATUS_GUARD_PAGE_VIOLATION (0x80000001) exception. The system also clears the PAGE_GUARD modifier, removing the memory page's guard page status. The system will not stop the next attempt to access the memory page with a STATUS_GUARD_PAGE_VIOLATION exception.

If a guard page exception occurs during a system service, the service fails and typically returns some failure status indicator. Since the system also removes the relevant memory page's guard page status, the next invocation of the same system service won't fail due to a STATUS_GUARD_PAGE_VIOLATION exception (unless, of course, someone reestablishes the guard page).

The following short program illustrates the behavior of guard page protection.

/* A program to demonstrate the use of guard pages of memory. Allocate
   a page of memory as a guard page, then try to access the page. That
   will fail, but doing so releases the lock on the guard page, so the
   next access works correctly.

   The output will look like this. The actual address may vary.

   This computer has a page size of 4096.
   Committed 4096 bytes at address 0x00520000
   Cannot lock at 00520000, error = 0x80000001
   2nd Lock Achieved at 00520000

   This sample does not show how to use the guard page fault to
   "grow" a dynamic array, such as a stack. */

#include <windows.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <tchar.h>

int main()
  LPVOID lpvAddr;               // address of the test memory
  DWORD dwPageSize;             // amount of memory to allocate.
  BOOL bLocked;                 // address of the guarded memory
  SYSTEM_INFO sSysInfo;         // useful information about the system

  GetSystemInfo(&sSysInfo);     // initialize the structure

  _tprintf(TEXT("This computer has page size %d.\n"), sSysInfo.dwPageSize);

  dwPageSize = sSysInfo.dwPageSize;

  // Try to allocate the memory.

  lpvAddr = VirtualAlloc(NULL, dwPageSize,
                         MEM_RESERVE | MEM_COMMIT,
                         PAGE_READONLY | PAGE_GUARD);

  if(lpvAddr == NULL) {
    _tprintf(TEXT("VirtualAlloc failed. Error: %ld\n"),
    return 1;

  } else {
    _ftprintf(stderr, TEXT("Committed %lu bytes at address 0x%lp\n"),
              dwPageSize, lpvAddr);

  // Try to lock the committed memory. This fails the first time 
  // because of the guard page.

  bLocked = VirtualLock(lpvAddr, dwPageSize);
  if (!bLocked) {
    _ftprintf(stderr, TEXT("Cannot lock at %lp, error = 0x%lx\n"),
              lpvAddr, GetLastError());
  } else {
    _ftprintf(stderr, TEXT("Lock Achieved at %lp\n"), lpvAddr);

  // Try to lock the committed memory again. This succeeds the second
  // time because the guard page status was removed by the first 
  // access attempt.

  bLocked = VirtualLock(lpvAddr, dwPageSize);

  if (!bLocked) {
    _ftprintf(stderr, TEXT("Cannot get 2nd lock at %lp, error = %lx\n"),
              lpvAddr, GetLastError());
  } else {
    _ftprintf(stderr, TEXT("2nd Lock Achieved at %lp\n"), lpvAddr);

  return 0;

The first attempt to lock the memory block fails, raising a STATUS_GUARD_PAGE_VIOLATION exception. The second attempt succeeds, because the memory block's guard page protection has been toggled off by the first attempt.