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Data File Lab – Assignment 1
COMP2100 Revised 6 August 2020
This lab is the first of two assignments in COMP2100.
Commences: Week 1.
Progress: 4pm, Tuesdays of weeks 4, 5, 7, break: 18 Aug, 25 Aug, 8 Sep, 15 Sep
Due: 4pm, second Tuesday of the break – 22 September 2020
Value: 25% (16% for task, 4% weekly progress, 5% for code explanation)
1. Introduction
This is the first of two programming task assignments in COMP2100. In this assignment, you will
work with binary data stored in files, using the Unix I/O interface to read and write such files.
The first part of this document describes the assignment (Data File Lab) in detail. Individual sections
discuss an overview of the lab, how to fetch your personalised assignment specification, how you
submit your work and obtain automatic feedback while you are working, and how the marking
scheme works.
The second part of this document describes each stage of the lab assignment. You should read this
part to understand your task in each lab stage, and you should also refer to the personalised
assignment specification for each stage. You obtain your personalised specification using the lab
command. You should ensure that your personalised specification is kept secure at all times.
You should also read the relevant support documents on iLearn in the section “Programming Task
Support Notes”. The Lab Command Manual will enable you to perform key tasks including checking
your marks and applying for free extensions – it is relevant to both assignments in this unit. There
are documents that define what we expect in programming style, and support notes on C
programming including some key ideas that are relevant to this Data File Lab.
This document is Copyright © 2020 by Macquarie University. Neither this document nor any part of
the assignment may be communicated to any unauthorised person or through any unauthorised
service or website.
2. Overview of the Lab
Data files exist in various formats. In Unix, text files are common for simple data, but large data files
are stored as binary data. In this lab assignment (programming task), you will be developing
programs to read, write, modify, and reformat the data in binary data files. The assignment consists
of a sequence of stages which build on each other. The first three stages develop your skills. In the
final stage you will reverse engineer a data file using your knowledge of data representations. You
have the choice between an easier final stage (stage 4) that can earn you at most 3 marks for the
stage, or a more difficult final stage (stage 5) worth up to 4 marks for the stage. You may attempt
both stages 4 and 5, but only the maximum of the two marks will count towards your total.
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The marking outline is:
Section Value
Stage 1 3
Stage 2 3
Stage 3 3
Stage 4 (max 3 marks) or
stage 5 (max 4 marks)
Code style 3
Progress 4
Code comprehension 5
Total 25
Learning Outcomes
This assignment will involve you in developing the following specific skills and capabilities.
• Able to write programs that use C data structures, pointers and arrays.
• Able to read and write binary data files, and write data in text format.
• Able to convert between different data representations.
• Able to use malloc and free to construct data structures using the heap.
• Able to implement simple command line parameters.
• Able to interpret and recognise binary data representations.
• Research Unix library and system calls
3. Fetching your lab assignment
The lab assignment files are accessed through the lab command which can be found at
There is no Unix man page for the lab command (it is not a Unix system command) but there is
documentation on iLearn and if you don’t give it any command-line parameters or options then it
will print out some brief documentation itself (a similar feature is common in many Unix programs).
To see how this works, try the following command (where the $ symbol represents the Unix
command-line prompt – you should type the command that is underlined in this example).
$ /home/unit/group/comp2100/lab
The option –g is used to get a lab stage. For example, to get lab 1 stage 1, do:
$ /home/unit/group/comp2100/lab –g 1.1
For stage 2, the option would be –g 1.2 instead. Please see the Lab Command Manual in iLearn
for more information about the lab command, including options for submitting assignments, getting
marking reports, checking due dates and claiming your free extension days. Also, you can set up
your Unix account so that you can abbreviate the command and just type “lab” instead of the full
path name “/home/unit/group/comp2100/lab”. For the rest of this document, we will use
the abbreviated name.
The lab get command downloads your lab data as a tar file. For stage 1, the tar file is stage1.tar.
Copyright 2020 Macquarie University.
Tar is an archive utility (like zip) – it stores many files packed into one file. Use tar to extract the
contents of this file. You can read all about tar in the Unix man page
$ man 1 tar
Here is the command to extract the contents of stage1.tar.
$ tar xvf stage1.tar
This will create a directory called stage1 and put the downloaded files in that directory.
4. Feedback during the assignment, submission and marking
In this assignment, you can submit your code as often as you like, and receive immediate feedback
and marks. There are rewards (progress marks) for working consistently throughout the assignment
period and achieving stages of work by their due dates. Most of your final mark will be computed
from the results of the automarker. A small number of marks are awarded for code style which is
manually marked after the assignment closes.
The maximum mark for the assignment is 20 marks. Of those marks, 13 marks are for achievements
in the various stages, 4 marks are for progress and 3 marks are for code style.
A. Introduction to COMP2100 automarking
This is the first of two lab assignments in COMP2100. In both assignments, an automarker will track
your progress and provide feedback to you. This is more than just telling you your mark – it is a
feedback mechanism designed to help you as you work through the assignment. Firstly, the
feedback is immediate, so when you think you have solved a problem you can submit your revised
solution and see immediately whether it has enabled you to pass the automarker tests. Secondly,
the automarker provides a detailed breakdown of your mark, which can help you isolate specific
problems (such as a memory leak when using malloc and free). Thirdly, the automarker sometimes
provides specific hints to help you understand what you need to address – such as identifying which
columns of your data file are incorrect.
You cannot rely only on the automarker, however. In this assignment, you will be provided with test
data files, and you can and should compile your program yourself and run it on the test data files,
examining the output yourself and identifying errors in your code. The automarker does not replace
good old-fashioned debugging – one of the essential skills for all programmers.
B. Individual work and information resources
The stages of the lab are based on data files that will be provided to you. Each student will have
their own specific data files to work with, with their own unique data format.
This lab must be your own work. However, you may use resources on the Internet to obtain general
information including information about the C language and libraries, information about binary and
text data formats, and information about the operating system. If you obtain useful information
from the Internet, you must include comments at the relevant points in your code acknowledging
the source of the information (URL) and briefly describing the key idea(s) that you are using.
(Exception: information from the Unix manual pages does not require citation in your program).
The Unix manual pages are available online on ash and iceberg – use the man command. You can
also find Unix manual pages online through Google. For example, to find out about the printf
library call, use the command “man 3 printf” or Google “man printf” and to find out about the
directory listing command ‘ls’, use the command “man ls” or Google “man ls”. However, you
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should be cautious about using information found online because sometimes there are differences
between different Unix systems and our systems may not behave exactly the same as described in
some online documentation.
The manual pages on the system (man command) are divided into sections:
1. System commands such as ls, wc, etc.
2. Unix system calls such as read(), open(), etc.
3. Unix library such as printf(), fopen(), etc.
4. Sections 4-8 contain other information.
For more information on the man command, use the command “man man” to read the manual
pages about the man command.
C. Submitting your lab solution – achievement marks [13 marks]
Your lab solution can be submitted using the lab command. The option –s is used to submit a
solution to a lab stage. After the option, list all the files that you want to submit. Each time you
submit, it is treated as a fresh submission, so you must list all the files that you want to submit every
time. (If you find that tedious, learn about wildcards in the bash shell.) For example:
$ lab –s 1.1 stage1.c sub.c defs.h
The lab utility sends your submitted files to a server which compiles the C files together into a
program, runs it, and tests that it works correctly for your particular lab assignment. The server
records information about your submission and also sends back information to you through the lab
You can submit as many times as you like. As a matter of personal achievement, you should aim to
achieve a really good score on your initial submit, having checked that your program compiles
without errors and performs correctly on the provided sample data files. However, if there are
problems identified by the auto marker, you can resubmit without penalty.
You must download each stage before you attempt to submit a solution to that stage. Further, you
need to download each stage because the download provides you with the input and output data
files that you need in order to test your program yourself.
The marks awarded by the automarker for each stage of the assignment are called the achievement
marks for that stage.
D. Progress marks [4 marks]
Each lab assignment includes marks that are awarded for progress on the task at specified dates
(approximately each week). The lab assignments are to be done both during lab sessions (with the
assistance of lab supervisors) and in your own time. Each week that the lab is out, you earn a
progress mark if you achieve the specified milestone by 4 pm on the specified date. Each milestone
is achieving a mark of at least 2.0/3.0 in a specific assignment stage. You can earn the progress
marks early, but you cannot earn them late.
If you do not achieve the milestone for a progress mark by the specified date then you lose that
week’s progress mark and the milestone “slips” and becomes due on the next progress date. All the
later milestones also slip to the next due date, but the last milestone is lost. If you achieve the
slipped milestone by the new progress date then you receive the progress mark for that date, but
you have lost the progress mark for the missed date and you cannot make it up later.
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In the lab command, progress marks are identified by the date that they are due.
The Milestones
• Tuesday of Week 4: Stage 1 achievement mark of at least 2.0/3.0
• Tuesday of Week 5: Stage 2 achievement mark of at least 2.0/3.0
• Tuesday of Week 7: Stage 3 achievement mark of at least 2.0/3.0
• Tuesday of the first week of the break: Stage 4 or 5 achievement mark of at least 2.0/3.0 or
• Tuesday of the second week of the break: Lab closes
Sarah earns 2.0/3.0 for stage 1 of the assignment on the Monday of week 4 (17 August). She
receives the first progress mark. Her work on stage 2 is delayed, and she has not achieved 2.0/3.0
for stage 2 of the assignment when the second progress milestone falls due, so she misses that
progress mark. She achieved 2.0/3.0 in stage 2 later that same week and is awarded the third
progress mark because that is the next progress milestone date. When she achieves 2.0/3.0 in stage
3 later on, she is awarded the final progress mark. She cannot be awarded a progress mark for
achieving 2.0/3.0 in stage 4 because she missed the earlier progress mark.
E. Code Style [3 marks]
We will mark one of your submitted programs for code style. We recommend that you adhere to
code style guidelines for all your programs. See the documents Some Important Comments on Code
Style and Systems Programming Style.
Each time you submit a lab 1 solution using the lab command, you will be notified which version of
your program will be marked for style. The decision is made by an algorithm (see below). We prefer
to mark later stages of the lab where your programs will be more sophisticated. However, we prefer
not to mark programs where you have not yet solved the stage.
The stage selected for style marking is the latest stage for which you achieved a mark of at
least 2.0. For example, if you earn 3.0 marks in stage 1, 2.8 marks in stage 2, 2.1 marks in
stage 3 and 1.9 marks in stage 4, we will mark your stage 3 submission for style. We will
mark the last successful or forced submission to that stage. Whenever you submit, the
lab command clearly tells you what stage will be marked for style, and whether it is the
program that you just submitted that will be marked for style.
All your programs should be written with good style. If you write with consistently good style then
you won’t be caught out with a poor style mark if (for example) you manage to achieve 2.0 marks in
stage 4 at the last minute and have no time left to improve the style of your program!
F. Code Explanation [5 marks]
During the semester, your tutor will provide an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you can
explain the code you have written. You will show the tutor your program for a particular stage, and
answer some questions about it. Your mark for this task will be recorded in iLearn as 0, 1 or 2 out of
2, but will be scaled to be worth 5% of your final grade. You will receive full marks (2 out of 2) for
clearly demonstrating that you can explain how your code works and why you wrote it as you did.
You will receive half marks (1 out of 2) if your explanations demonstrate only a limited
understanding of your code. You will receive a mark of zero if you are unable to explain your code.
Copyright 2020 Macquarie University.
5. Detailed information about marking
The lab command computes your marks and records them on the server. Normally, the mark
recorded at the end of the assignment will be your final mark for the achievement and progress
parts of the assignment. The code style will be manually marks later, and that mark will be uploaded
to ilearn. Once the assignment has closed for all students, the automarker marks can also be
uploaded to ilearn. All marks are computed to 1 decimal place as displayed in the marking reports
that you receive from the lab command.
A. Detailed marking guides for each stage
When you download and extract the files for a stage you will find a file called markingguide.txt
in the extracted files. This text file contains a detailed marking rubric for the stage.
The auto marker uses this rubric to mark your submission for the stage. The marking guide includes
detailed notes that describe how each mark is calculated and what is being marked. In particular,
the marking guide will tell you whether each item is marked proportionally, by error count, or as a
Boolean (see “Types of Achievement Marks”, below).
In later stages, some auto marker checks are thresholds. Threshold conditions may not contribute
marks to your total, but are required for your program to be eligible to earn other marks. The
marking report will display if any threshold has failed, and it will indicate which marks are
suppressed due to the failed threshold. Thresholds and marks that require thresholds are indicated
in the marking guide marking-guide.txt. The idea behind threshold marks is that you need to
have a program which meets the basic requirements before awarding you marks for more
sophisticated behaviour of your program.
The marking-guide.txt file is generated by the server from configuration information that is
part of the automarking process. The marking guide itself is the same for all students. However,
generating it in the server and delivering it to you in this way ensures that the marking guide is
consistent with the server’s marking system.
B. Types of Achievement Marks
There are three types of achievement marks, as explained in the marking-guide.txt files.
• Ordinary marks are proportional, computed as a percentage and scaled to the maximum
mark. For example, there is a mark awarded for the correctness of your output file, that is
computed from the proportion of correct rows and the proportion of correct columns in the
output file. After scaling according to the maximum mark, the mark is rounded down to a
multiple of 0.1. For example, if the percentage mark is 98% and the mark is scaled to a
maximum of 1.0, then the rounded mark would be 0.9 (not 1.0). Rounding down ensures
that full marks are only awarded for perfect scores of 100% on the particular marking item.
• Error count marks deduct a fixed amount (usually 0.1 or 0.15) from the maximum mark for
each error that is counted, until the mark reaches 0.0. Error count marks are typically used
for error checking such as checking your structure definition – a fixed amount is deducted
for each error found in the definition, and the automarker gives you are hint identifying the
• Boolean marks are used for test conditions which are either success or failure. The mark is
awarded either as the full mark or as 0.0. The full mark is awarded when the test condition
is satisfied, and 0.0 is awarded when the test fails. Boolean marks typically have small values
(such as 0.1 or 0.2) and are awarded for specific tests such as ensuring that your program
exits without an error status in normal operation, or that there are no memory leaks.
Copyright 2020 Macquarie University.
C. Maximising Your Mark
Here are some hints to get the most marks in this assignment.
1. Work on this assignment every week until the deadline. Don’t wait until you’ve finished the
assignments for your other units before you start this assignment. This assignment is
intended to be worked on over a period of 5 weeks and almost certainly cannot be
completed in a few days.
2. Achieve at least 2.0 marks in each stage of this assignment by the progress mark deadline.
Progress marks reward you for consistently working on the assignment. You show that you
are working consistently by achieving a mark of at least 2.0/3.0 for the next stage of the
assignment each week.
3. Start thinking about the next stage, and start working on it, once you have a reasonably
good mark (at least 2.0) for the earlier stages. You may have an obscure bug that costs you
0.1 or 0.2 marks in the current stage, but you can earn more marks by working on the next
stage than by spending all your time trying to perfect your current stage score.
4. Do your own testing as well as using the hints provided by the automarker. The automarker
can give you a general idea of your problems, but running your program yourself allows you
to examine the particular mistakes that you are making.
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The Stages of Assignment 1
Stage 1: Initialising a C struct and printing it out as text [3 marks]
In this stage you will declare a C data structure, create an instance of it and statically initialise it
(declare it as a static or global variable and initialise it in one statement using braces). You will then
print out the instance. This stage develops the following specific skills:
• Declaring a C struct.
• Initialising a C struct
• Printing various data types using printf
Note: Do not use bit fields in your struct. All the data types that are specified correspond to
ordinary C data types.
Note: The automarker checks your struct definition against expected ways of writing it and
awards marks for correctness. Field names must be exactly correct. Types should be the common C
language data types as defined in ANSI C.
The following documents on iLearn may be helpful:
• Compile, Run, Make C Programs on Linux
• C Programming Notes for Data File Lab
• Decimal, Binary, Octal and Hex
C language features you may need to know:
• struct
• C data types for integers and floating point including
o different sizes of integers
o signed and unsigned integers
o char
• printf, and printf format specifiers
• Writing integer constants in decimal, octal and hexadecimal
Other topics that you may need to understand:
• Binary representation of integers
• 2’s complement representation of negative numbers
• Conversion between decimal, binary, octal and hexadecimal
Your downloaded stage1.tar file contains the following files:
• filestruct-description.txt: A simple description of the fields that are in your
struct – their names and type description.
• initialisation-specification.txt: Specifies the initial value for each field of
your struct. The initial value has to be formatted in a specific way in your source code – this
may mean that you have to convert one representation to another. See the lab note
Decimal, Binary, Octal and Hex. Note: It makes no difference to the data that is stored inside
the computer whether you initialise the field with decimal or the equivalent hexadecimal or
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octal. However, as an exercise, we require you to make the appropriate type conversions
and the automarker will check your code.
• expected-output.txt: Stage 1 expected output file. Use the example in this file to
work out what formatting options to use in printf.
Useful Unix commands
You might find the following Unix system commands helpful.
• cat
• diff
Write a C program that declares your particular data structure as described in the C structure
description file. Statically1 initialise an instance of the data structure to the initial values as specified
in the file – use the data formats as specified in the file such as hexadecimal, decimal or octal
constants. In the main program, print out the data structure using printf formatting to make it
exactly match the provided sample output file. Note that you may need to use various formatting
options with printf to control the appearance of the output. You are expected to read about
printf and work out how to format the data so that it exactly matches the expected output.
Submit your program for automatic assessment using the lab command. Your program style may
be assessed according to the coding standards in the documents Some Important Comments on Code
Style and Systems Programming Style which are available on iLearn.
Stage 2: Reading a binary data file and printing it out [3 marks]
In this stage you will read a binary data file in a known format, storing the information into instances
of a C data structure which you will then print out. This stage develops the following specific skills:
• Reading binary data
• Opening and closing files
• Printing various data types using printf.
• Using a simple command-line parameter.
• filestruct-description.txt: Describes the members of the C data struct which
correspond to fields in the records of the data file.
• input-*.bin: Sample binary input files.
• output-*.txt: Sample text output files corresponding to the input files.
C language features you may need to know:
• fopen system library call to open a file, and a related call to close the file
• fread system library call to read binary data from a file
• sizeof operator in C
• The parameters of main() and how to access the command line parameters
1 Static initialisation means to initialise the whole data structure as part of its declaration, where the field
values are listed inside curly braces. Don’t write separate lines of code that initialise each member of the
struct. The automarker looks specifically for the required type of initialisation.
Copyright 2020 Macquarie University.
Useful Unix commands
You might find the following Unix system commands helpful.
• “more” or “less”
• diff
• od
Write a C program that reads a file of binary data records as described in the structure description
file. The program will obtain the file name as a command line parameter (see below). The program
will read and print all the records in a binary data file where each record has the format described in
filestruct-description.txt. You already developed code to print out a single record in
stage 1, so the focus of this stage is reading a binary data file into memory.
The output formatting requirements for this stage are the same as in stage 1. However, it is possible
that you may need to modify your record printing code – it could be that your printf call worked
correctly for the single initialised record in stage 1 but it may not be correct for all the data records
in the files. You should check the output against the expected output using diff, and improve your
printf statement in whatever way is needed to get the correct output.
Your program must accept one command-line parameter which is the name of the input file. The
automarker will run your program many times, each time with a different input file name as the
parameter, and it will compare the output of each run with the expected output. You should do the
same thing for your own testing.
The fields of the records are stored using the types specified in the data file description. The fields
are stored packed next to each other in the data file. You cannot read the entire record directly into
a C struct in one call because C inserts additional unused space between some of the fields in the
struct (this is called alignment padding; we will discuss it later in COMP2100 lectures)
. You must
read the data record one field at a time. It is suggested to use fread to read each field.
Each record that you read should be printed out as text. Your output should exactly match the
sample output files.
Remember that coding style is important: use good modularisation, and use header files
appropriately. Your program’s style may be assessed according to the coding standards in the
documents Some Important Comments on Code Style and Systems Programming Style.
Submit your program for marking using the lab command. We may use additional data files for
testing, including files that are larger than the samples provided to you.
Stage 3: Sorting a binary data file [3 marks]
In this stage you will sort files of binary data in a known format. This stage develops the following
specific skills:
• Reading and writing binary data files.
• Opening and closing files.
2 The C compiler has a special way of creating structs that are packed, but this is a non-standard extension and
the automarker does not accept programs that use it.
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• Working with pointers to structures.
• Memory allocation, dynamically sizing an array.
• Using system library routines (specifically, a system library sort routine).
• Writing code to compare structures with a lexical sort order.
• Using a function pointer in C.
• filestruct-description.txt: Describes the members of the C data structure which
correspond to fields in the records of the data file.
• filestruct-sort.txt: Specifies the sorting order.
• input-*.bin: Sample binary input files.
• output-*.bin: Sample binary output files corresponding to the input files. The output
files contain the same data as the input files, but the records are sorted.
C language features you may need to know:
• fwrite system library call to write binary data to a file
• qsort system library call to sort data
• Memory allocation, and freeing memory
Useful Unix commands
You might find the following Unix system commands helpful.
• od
• cmp
Modify your program from stage 2 so that it reads the input file (parameter 1), storing all the records
into a dynamic array in memory. The program should then sort the data records and write the
output file (parameter 2) in sorted order. The automarker will test your program by running it many
times, each time with a different input file name and an output file name, and it will then compare
your output file with the expected output file.
Use the Linux library sort routine qsort to perform the sorting. Use the Unix manual (section 3) to
find out how to call the qsort library routine. Hint: you must write a comparison routine that can
compare two structures according to the sort order specified for your lab.
Your program will need to store all the records in memory in order to sort them. The program will
allocate a dynamic array of structs (or some other data structure), and read the data file into the
array. You do not know how large the file may be, so you must accommodate different file sizes.
Here are two possible approaches (there are others).
1. Dynamic sized array: Allocate an initial array of some size (e.g. 100 records) and then if
(while reading the file) you find that the array is not large enough then use realloc to
increase (e.g. double) the size of it. Realloc allocates a new larger array in memory and
copies the data from the existing array to the new larger array, before freeing the original
array. Repeatedly doubling the size allows you to accommodate arbitrarily large data files
without copying the data too many times. See the Unix manual pages for malloc and
2. Compute the number of records from the file size: This is a systems approach that will
require some reading to find out how to achieve. There is a system call stat that can tell
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you the total number of bytes in a file. There are also other ways to find out how many
bytes are in a file but you should NOT read the entire file just to find out how big it is! Your
file description gives you the information about how long each record is, so you can
compute the number of records in the file from the number of bytes. You can then allocate
an array of struct to the exact correct size using malloc. See the Unix manual pages for
stat and malloc.
After sorting the records, write them out in binary form. It is suggested to use fwrite to write
each field individually.
Students aiming for D or HD grade: It is more efficient to sort an array of pointers to the
structs than to sort the structs themselves, because it is cheaper to move pointers than to
move entire records. Therefore, top marks are awarded for sorting pointers. However, it is
suggested to first sort the array itself and then implement pointer sorting if you have time.
The output files must exactly match the sample output files provided.
Remember that coding style is important: use good modularisation, and use header files
appropriately. Your program’s style may be assessed according to the coding sta

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