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Counting words

Table of contents

  1. Total count
  2. Frequency count
  3. Error handling
    1. Example 1
    2. Example 2

Programming in C is a very important baseline skill for CS 162. This exercise should make sure you’re comfortable with the basics of the language. In particular, you need to be fluent in working with structs, linked data structures (e.g., lists), pointers, arrays, typedef and such, which CS 61C may have touched only lightly.

You will be writing a program called words. words is a program that counts (1) the total amount of words and (2) the frequency of each word in a file(s). It then prints the results to stdout. Like most UNIX utilities in the real world, your program should read its input from each of the files specified as command line arguments, printing the cumulative word counts. If no file is provided, your program should read from stdin.

In C, header files (suffixed by .h) are how we engineer abstractions. They define the objects, types, methods, and—most importantly—documentation. The corresponding .c file provides the implementation of the abstraction. You should be able to write code with the header file without peeking under the covers at its implementation.

In this case, words/word_count.h provides the definition of the word_count struct, which we will use as a linked list to keep track of a word and its frequency. This has been typedef’d into WordCount. This means that instead of typing out struct word_count, we can use WordCount as shorthand. The header file also gives us a list of functions that are defined in words/word_count.c. Part of this assignment is to write code for these functions in words/word_count.c

We have provided you with a compiled version of sort_words so that you do not need to write the wordcount_sort function. However, you may still need to write your own comparator function (i.e. wordcount_less). The Makefile links this in with your two object files, words.o and word_count.o.

Note that words.o is an ELF formatted binary. As such you will need to use a system which can run ELF executables to test your program (such as the CS 162 VM). Windows and OS X do NOT use ELF and as such should not be used for testing.

For this section, you will be making changes to words/main.c and words/word_count.c. After editing these files, cd into the words directory and run make in the terminal. This will create the words executable. (Remember to run make after making code changes to generate a fresh executable). Use this executable (and your own test cases) to test your program for correctness. The autograder will use a series of test cases to determine your final score for this section.

For the below examples, suppose we have a file called words.txt that contains the following content:

abc def AaA
bbb zzz aaa

Note:Using functions such as rewind and fseek will cause some issues with stdin that might not be apparent when testing locally, so you should avoid using those in your implementation.

Total count

Your first task will be to implement total word count. When executed, words will print the total number of words counted to stdout. At this point, you will not need to make edits to word_count.c. A complete implementation of the num_words() function along with the appropiate changes to main.c can suffice.

A word is defined as a sequence of contiguous alphabetical characters of length greater than one. All words should be converted to their lower-case representation and be treated as not case-sensitive. The maximum length of a word has been defined at the top of main.c.

After completing this part, running ./words words.txt should print:

The total number of words is: 6

Remember to support input from multiple files and standard input! Running ./words words.txt words.txt should print:

The total number of words is: 12

To test reading from standard input, check that ./words < words.txt prints:

The total number of words is: 6

As final sanity check, printf hi | ./words should print:

The total number of words is: 1

Frequency count

Your second task will be to implement frequency counting. Your program should print each unique word as well as the number of times it occurred. This should be sorted in order of frequency (low first). The alphabetical ordering of words should be used as a tie breaker. The wordcount_sort function has been defined for you in wc_sort.o. However, you will need to implement the wordcount_less function in main.c.

You will need to implement the functions in word_count.c to support the linked list data structure (i.e. WordCount a.k.a. struct word_count). The complete implementation of word_count.c will prove to be useful when implementing count_words() in main.c. After completing this part, running ./words -f words.txt should print:

1 abc
1 bbb
1 def
1 zzz
2 aaa

Hint: You can run the code below to verify the basic functionality of your program (don’t treat this as a testing spec though):

cat <filename>
| tr " " "\n"
| tr -s "\n"
| tr "[:upper:]" "[:lower:]"
| tr -d -C "[:lower:]\n"
| sort
| uniq -c
| sort -n

Error handling

In this course, you should get accustomed to writing code defensively. More specifically, you should always include error handling code such that your code does not panic or segfault in the event of errors.

In this assignment, you will implement several functions, all of which have docstrings indicating what you should return if an error occurs during execution of the function. Make sure that whenever you call these functions in the rest of your code, you check the returned value and handle error cases appropriately.

In addition to handling errors, it is always good practice to perform argument validation at the beginning of a function. A simple example of argument validation is ensuring that pointers are not NULL.

Below are a few examples of naive code and their counterparts that handle errors appropriately.

Example 1

Without error handling:

char *new_string(char *str) {
  return strcpy((char *) malloc(strlen(str) + 1), str);

malloc can potentially return a null pointer. If that happens, we will be passing a null pointer as the destination argument to strcpy, which expects a non-null buffer.

With error handling:

char *new_string(char *str) {
  char *new_str = (char *) malloc(strlen(str) + 1);
  if (new_str == NULL) {
    return NULL;
  return strcpy(new_str, str);

Here, we decide explicitly how we want to handle the case where malloc returns a null pointer. Since the function returns a char *, it’s reasonable to return NULL (note that in this assignment, we will be clear about what you should return in error cases). Note that the caller of this function should do error handling of its own by checking if the return value of new_string is NULL.

Example 2

Without error handling:

int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
    FILE *input_file;


    char *file_name = ...
    input_file = fopen(file_name, "r");

    // Perform some logic using input_file.

Here, we perform some downstream tasks under the implicit assumption that the call to fopen succeeded and that input_file is a valid FILE *. But what if fopen fails? For example, the file with name file_name may not exist. In that case, input_file will be NULL. If we try to dereference input_file later, we can segfault or even encounter other undefined behavior which can lead to an uncontrolled crash of our program.

With error handling:

int main(int argc, char *argv[]) {
    FILE *input_file;


    char *file_name = ...
    input_file = fopen(file_name, "r");
    if (input_file == NULL) {
        fprintf(stderr, "File does not exist.\n");
        return 1;

    // Perform some logic using input_file.

Here, we address the case where fopen fails and print a helpful error message before returning the error code 1, which will get propagated to main’s caller and allow for controlled exit of the program.