time to bleed by Joe Damato

technical ramblings from a wanna-be unix dinosaur

Archive for the ‘osx’ Category

Ripping OAuth tokens (or other secrets) out of TweetDeck, Twitter.app, and other apps

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the setup

So, you have some sort of OSX app. Maybe it’s Twitter.app, TweetDeck, or something else that has a secret stored inside the binary. You want to extract this secret, maybe because you want to impersonate the official client of a service or maybe just because you want to see if you can hack the gibson.

I don’t actually really care about Twitter clients, personally. I just wanted to see if I could rip the OAuth token out of some official clients and how long it would take me.

strings, MITM, objdump, gdb, et al.

Not surprisingly, there are many different ways to rip data out of a binary. You can use strings to dump printable strings, play with mitmproxy, or simply reverse engineer the binary by reading objdump (or GDB or whatever) output. I’ve used all of these methods before with great success when attempting to hack the planet, but I had an idea for something a little bit more interesting that can be easily reused.

what happens at a low level

Turns out that, at least at a low level, usually malloc/calloc/whatever and free end up getting called to allocate and deallocate memory regions used by applications. Sure, some apps only use static memory, other apps are built in languages that have a custom allocator, but there are enough apps out there that after you peel away the various candy coated layers of abstraction just end up calling malloc and free provided in the libc on their system provided by the vendor.

So, I assumed that TweetDeck, Twitter.app, and everyone else would be doing something like this underneath all the fancy frameworks:

/* psuedo code, obviously */
buf = malloc(N);
memcpy(buf, "secretkey", strlen("secretkey"));
/* some functions that talk to the api server and do other stuff */

malloc shims

Many malloc implementations provide an interface for the user to create custom shim functions to execute in place of the system-provided malloc/calloc/realloc/free functions. These shim interfaces are useful for many reasons, including but not limited to memory profilers, leak checkers, and other useful debugging tools.


What if I abuse malloc’s shim interface on OSX and provide a free function that prints the contents of every buffer it is supposed to free before actually freeing it?

shim code

About 50 lines of horrible C code (also available here.):

void (*real_free)(malloc_zone_t *zone, void *ptr);
void (*real_free_definite_size)(malloc_zone_t *zone, void *ptr, size_t size);

void my_free(malloc_zone_t *zone, void *ptr)
  char *tmp = ptr;
  char tmp_buf[1025] = {0};
  size_t total = 0;

  /* lol its fine */
  while (*tmp != '\0') {
    tmp_buf[total] = *tmp;
    if (total == 1024)

  malloc_printf("%s\n", tmp_buf);
  real_free(zone, ptr);

void my_free_definite_size(malloc_zone_t *zone, void *ptr, size_t size)
  char tmp_buf[1024] = {0};

  if (size < 1024) {
    memcpy(tmp_buf, ptr, size);
  } else {
    memcpy(tmp_buf, ptr, 1023);

  malloc_printf("%s\n", tmp_buf);
  real_free_definite_size(zone, ptr, size);

void __attribute__((constructor)) my_init() {
  malloc_zone_t *zone = malloc_default_zone();

  /* save the addresses of the REAL free functions */
  real_free = zone->free;
  real_free_definite_size = zone->free_definite_size;

  /* replace there with my shims */
  zone->free_definite_size = my_free_definite_size;
  zone->free = my_free;


All you have to do is build a dylib of the above C code and insert it like this:

% DYLD_INSERT_LIBRARIES="mallshim.dylib" /Applications/Twitter.app/Contents/MacOS/Twitter

And, boom. A lot of strings will get printed out, so you should use grep to help sift through the output.


Let’s see what happens if we insert this little guy into TweetDeck and Twitter.app:


% DYLD_INSERT_LIBRARIES="mallshim.dylib" /Applications/Twitter.app/Contents/MacOS/Twitter 2>&1| egrep -i "oauth_token|oauth_consumer|oauth_timestamp|oauth_nonce" --color=auto

(I censored out some of the good stuff)


DYLD_INSERT_LIBRARIES="mallshim.dylib" /Applications/TweetDeck.app/Contents/MacOS/TweetDeck -psn_0_12827707 2>&1 | egrep -i "oauth_token|oauth_consumer|oauth_timestamp|oauth_nonce" --color=auto

arms race

There isn’t much the app can do about this sort of hack. I mean, sure, the app could zero memory the memory before freeing it. But, then I’ll just use GDB or a hexeditor or whatever to disable the call to memcpy. So on and so forth.

If you ship a binary to a person’s computer and that binary has a secret embedded in it, that secret will eventually be discovered.

other apps

What other interesting strings fall out of OSX apps you use everyday?

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Written by Joe Damato

August 20th, 2012 at 9:14 am

The Broken Promises of MRI/REE/YARV

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This post is going to explain a serious design flaw of the object system used in MRI/REE/YARV. This flaw causes seemingly random segfaults and other hard to track corruption. One popular incarnation of this bug is the “rake aborted! not in gzip format.”

theme song

This blog post was inspired by one of my favorite Papoose verses. If you don’t listen to this while reading, you probably won’t understand what I’m talking about: get in the zone.

rake aborted! not in gzip format
[BUG] Segmentation fault

If you’ve seen either of these error messages you are hitting a fundamental flaw of the object model in MRI/YARV. An example of a fix for a single instance of this bug can be seen in this patch. Let’s examine this specific patch so that we can gain some understanding of the general case.

FACT: What you are about to read is absolutely not a compiler bug.

A small, but important piece of background information

The amd64 ABI1 states that some registers are caller saved, while others are callee saved. In particular, the register rax is caller saved. The callee will overwrite the value in this register to store its return value for the caller so if the caller cares about what is stored in this register, it must be copied prior to a function call.

stare into the abyss part 1

Let’s look at the C code for gzfile_read_raw_ensure WITHOUT the fix from above:

#define zstream_append_input2(z,v)\
    zstream_append_input((z), (Bytef*)RSTRING_PTR(v), RSTRING_LEN(v))

static int
gzfile_read_raw_ensure(struct gzfile *gz, int size)
    VALUE str;

    while (NIL_P(gz->z.input) || RSTRING_LEN(gz->z.input) < size) {
	str = gzfile_read_raw(gz);
	if (NIL_P(str)) return Qfalse;
	zstream_append_input2(&gz->z, str);
    return Qtrue;

It looks relatively sane at first glance, but to understand this bug we’ll need to examine the assembly generated for this thing. I’m going to rearrange the assembly a bit to make it easier to follow and add few comments a long the way.

First, the code begins by setting the stage:

  push   %rbp
  movslq %esi,%rbp    # sign extend "size" into rbp
  push   %rbx
  mov    %rdi,%rbx    # rbx = gz
  sub    $0x8,%rsp    # make room on the stack for "str"

The above is pretty basic. It is your typical amd64 prologue. After things are all setup, it is time to enter into the while loop in the C code above:

  jmp    1180  # JUMP IN to the loop

Next comes the NIL_P(gz->z.input) portion of the while-loop condition:

  mov    0x18(%rbx),%rax    # rax = gz->z.input
  cmp    $0x4,%rax          # in Ruby, nil is represented as 4.
  je     1190 [gzfile_read_raw_ensure+0x30]  # if gz->z.input is nil, enter the loop

Now the RSTRING_LEN(gz->z.input) < size portion:

  cmp    %rbp,0x10(%rax)        # compare size and gz->z.input->len
  jge    11b0 [gzfile_read_raw_ensure+0x50]  # jump out of loop
                                             # if  gz->z.input->len is >= size

Next comes the call to gzfile_read_raw and the NIL_P(str) check. If this check fails, the code just falls through and exits the loop:

 mov    %rbx,%rdi            # rdi = gz, rdi holds the first argument to a function.
 callq  1090 [gzfile_read_raw]  # call gzfile_read_raw
 cmp    $0x4,%rax   # compare return value (%rax) to nil
 jne    1170 [gzfile_read_raw_ensure+0x10] # if it is NOT nil jump to the good stuff

The return value of gzfile_read_raw_ensure (an address of a ruby object) is stored in rax.

And finally, the good stuff. The call to zstream_append_input:

  mov    0x10(%rax),%rdx # RSTRING_LEN(v) as 3rd arg
  mov    0x18(%rax),%rsi # RSTRING_PTR(v) as 2nd arg
  mov    %rbx,%rdi       # set gz->z as the 1st arg
  callq  10e0 [zstream_append_input]  # let it rip

Note that the arguments to zstream_append_input are moved into registers by offsetting from rax and that when the call to zstream_append occurs, the ruby object returned from gzfile_read_raw_ensure is still stored in rax and not written to it's slot on the stack because the extra write is unnecessary.

stare into the abyss part 2

Aright, so the patch changes the zstream_append_input2 macro to this:

#define zstream_append_input2(z,v)\
    zstream_append_input((z), (Bytef*)RSTRING_PTR(v), RSTRING_LEN(v))

And, RB_GC_GUARD is defined as:

#define RB_GC_GUARD_PTR(ptr) \
    __extension__ ({volatile VALUE *rb_gc_guarded_ptr = (ptr); rb_gc_guarded_ptr;})

#define RB_GC_GUARD(v) (*RB_GC_GUARD_PTR(&(v)))

That code is just a hack to mark the memory location holding v with the volatile type qualifier. This tells the compiler that memory backing v acts in ways that the compiler is too stupid to understand, so the compiler must ensure that reads and writes to this location are not optimized out.

A common usage of this qualifier is for memory mapped registers. Reads from memory mapped registers should not be optimized away since a hardware device may update the value stored at that location. The compiler wouldn't know when these updates could happen so it must make sure to re-read the value from this memory location when it is needed. Similarly, writes to memory mapped registers may modify the state of a hardware device and should not be optimized away.

Most of the code generated with the patch applied is the same as without except for a few slight differences before zstream_append_input is called. Let's take a look:

  mov    %rax,-0x18(%rbp)    # write str to the stack 
  mov    -0x18(%rbp),%rax    # read the value in str back to rax
  mov    0x10(%rcx),%rdx      # RSTRING_LEN(v)
  mov    0x18(%rcx),%rsi       # RSTRING_PTR(v)
  mov    %rbx,%rdi                # z
  callq  1f60 [_zstream_append_input]

The key difference is that the return value of gz_file_read_raw is written back to it's memory location (which, in this case, happens to be on the stack and is called str).

the bug

The bug is triggered because:

  1. The address of the ruby object str is stored in a caller saved register, rax.
  2. The callee (zstream_append_input) does not save the value of rax (it is not required to) and rax is overwritten in the function, leaving no references to the ruby object returned by gzfile_read_raw.
  3. The callee (zstream_append_input) eventually calls rb_newobj. rb_newobj may trigger a GC run, if there are no available objects on the freelist.
  4. The GC run finds the object returned by gzfile_read_raw but sees no references to it and frees the memory associated with it.
  5. The freed object is used as it were it were valid, and memory corruption occurs causing the VM to explode.

The patch prevents this bug from happening because:

  1. The address of the ruby object str is stored in a caller saved register, rax.
  2. The volatile type qualifier causes the compiler to generate code which writes the return value back into it's memory location on the stack.
  3. The callee (zstream_append_input) eventually calls rb_newobj. rb_newobj may trigger a GC run, if there are no available objects on the freelist.
  4. The GC run finds the object returned by gzfile_read_raw and finds a reference to it and therefore does not free it.
  5. Everyone is happy.

The general case

Given valid C code, gcc will generate machine instructions that correctly do what you want. Of course, there are bugs in gcc just like any other piece of software. The problem in this case is not gcc. The problem is that the object and garbage collection implementations in REE/MRI/YARV are not valid C code, so it is not possible for gcc to generate machine instructions that do the right thing. In other words, Ruby's object and GC implementations are breaking their contract with gcc.

The end result is the need for shit like RB_GC_GUARD in REE/MRI/YARV and also in Ruby gems to selectively paper over valid gcc optimizations. Having an API that might cause the Ruby VM to fucking explode unless you proactively mark things with RB_GC_GUARD is not on the path of least resistance toward building a maintainable, safe, and performant system. Very few people out there know that the volatile type qualifier exists, let alone what it does. Essentially, this means that authors of Ruby gems must understand how GC works in the VM to prevent their gems from causing GC to break the universe.

That is fucking beyond stupid.

How to detect this bug class

This could be detected by building a simple static analysis tool. You won't catch 100% of cases, and you will definitely have false positives, but it is better than nothing. Something like this should work:

  1. Build a call digraph of the VM and/or the set of gems you care about.
  2. Find all paths leading to the rb_newobj sink.
  3. Find all paths which call rb_newobj, but do not save rax prior to making another function call which is also on a path to rb_newobj.
  4. The functions found are very likely to be causing corruption. A human will need to examine the found cases to weed out false positives and to fix the code.

If you have found yourself wondering who the fuck would write such a test? it is important for you to note that rtld in Linux does not save the SSE registers (which are supposed to be caller saved) prior to entering the fixup function, however to ensure that such an optimization does not cause the fucking universe to come crashing down, a test ships with the code to run objdump after building the binary. The objdump output is then grepped for any instructions which might modify the SSE registers. As long as no one touches the SSE registers, there is no need to save and restore them.

If Ruby's object and GC subsystems want to prevent the universe from exploding, it must supply an equivalent test to ensure that corruption is impossible.


  • MRI/YARV/REE are inherently fatally flawed.
  • I'm never writing another Ruby-related blog post.
  • I'm not a Ruby programmer.

No comments

I'm taking a page from the book of coda and disabling comments. If you got something to say, write a blog post.

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  1. System V Application Binary Interface: AMD64 Architecture Processor Supplement []

Written by Joe Damato

July 5th, 2011 at 6:00 am

Slides from Defcon 18: Function hooking for OSX and Linux

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Written by Aman Gupta

August 1st, 2010 at 11:24 am

Dynamic symbol table duel: ELF vs Mach-O, round 2

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The intention of this post is to continue highlighting some of the similarities and differences between ELF and Mach-O that I encountered while building memprof. The previous post in this series can be found here.

What is a symbol table?

A symbol table is simply a list of names in an object. The names in the list may be names of functions, initialized/uninitialized memory regions, or other things depending on the object format. The symbol table does not need to be mapped into a running process and is only useful for debugging. The symbol table (and other sections) may be removed from an object when you use strip.

Symbol tables in ELF objects

An entry in the symbol table in an ELF object can best be described by the following struct from /usr/include/elf.h:

typedef struct
  Elf64_Word    st_name;                /* Symbol name (string tbl index) */
  unsigned char st_info;                /* Symbol type and binding */
  unsigned char st_other;               /* Symbol visibility */
  Elf64_Section st_shndx;               /* Section index */
  Elf64_Addr    st_value;               /* Symbol value */
  Elf64_Xword   st_size;                /* Symbol size */
} Elf64_Sym;

In most cases, this structure is used to find the mapping from a symbol name to the address where it lives. Although, different symbol types (specified by st_info) provide mappings from symbols to other data.

The st_name field is an index into a section called strtab which is just a table of strings.

Symbol tables in Mach-O objects

Let’s take a look at the struct for a symbol table entry in a Mach-O object from /usr/include/mach-o/nlist.h:

struct nlist_64 {
    union {
        uint32_t  n_strx; /* index into the string table */
    } n_un;
    uint8_t n_type;        /* type flag */
    uint8_t n_sect;        /* section number or NO_SECT */
    uint16_t n_desc;       /* see  */
    uint64_t n_value;      /* value of this symbol (or stab offset) */

It looks very similar. The immediately noticeable difference with ELF:

  • lack of size field – The only noticeable difference on your first glance is the lack of a size field. The size field in ELF objects describes the number of bytes occupied by the symbol. This is actually pretty useful, especially for memprof. The lack of this field in Mach-O was a source of frustration for Jake when he was implementing Mach-O support.

What is a dynamic symbol table?

Shared objects in both Mach-O and ELF have a symbol table listing only functions that are exporteed by the object.

This table is used during dynamic linking and is mapped into the process’ address space when the object is loaded, unlike the symbol table which is just used for debugging.

The dynamic symbol table is a subset of the symbol table.

Dynamic symbol table in ELF objects

The dynamic symbol table in ELF objects is stored in a section named dynsym. The indexes stored in the st_name field (from the structure listed above) are indexes into the string table in a section named dynstr. dynstr is a string table specifically for entries in the dynamic symbol table.

If you know the symbol you care about, you can simply calculate a hash of the symbol name to find the symbol table entry for that symbol. Unfortunately, there is not very much documentation about the hash function that is to be used.

Your two options are:

The sections storing the hash table data for an object are called .hash and .gnu.hash.

Dynamic symbol table in Mach-O objects

Finding the dynamic symbol table in a Mach-O object is a bit complicated. The pieces to the puzzle are found across different structures and the documentation on how it all works is sparse.

Mach-O objects have a load command called LC_DYSYMTAB which describes information about the dynamic symbol table in Mach-O objects.

I’ve shortened the structure definition, as it is quite large and contains documentation about stuff that is not directly relevant to this post. From /usr/include/mach-o/loader.h:

struct dysymtab_command {
    uint32_t cmd; /* LC_DYSYMTAB */
    uint32_t cmdsize; /* sizeof(struct dysymtab_command) */

    /* .... */

     * The sections that contain "symbol pointers" and "routine stubs" have
     * indexes and (implied counts based on the size of the section and fixed
     * size of the entry) into the "indirect symbol" table for each pointer
     * and stub.  For every section of these two types the index into the
     * indirect symbol table is stored in the section header in the field
     * reserved1.  An indirect symbol table entry is simply a 32bit index into
     * the symbol table to the symbol that the pointer or stub is referring to.
     * The indirect symbol table is ordered to match the entries in the section.
    uint32_t indirectsymoff; /* file offset to the indirect symbol table */
    uint32_t nindirectsyms;  /* number of indirect symbol table entries */

    /* .... */

The LC_DYSYMTAB load command provides the fields indirectsymoff and nindirectsyms which describe the offset into the file where the indirect symbol tables lives and the number of entries in the table, respectively.

The dynamic symbol table in Mach-O is surprisingly simple. Each entry in the table is just a 32bit index into the symbol table. The dynamic symbol table is just a list of indexes and nothing else.

It turns out there are a few more pieces to the puzzle.

Take a look at the definition for a Mach-O section:

struct section_64 { /* for 64-bit architectures */
  char    sectname[16]; /* name of this section */
  char    segname[16];  /* segment this section goes in */
  uint64_t  addr;   /* memory address of this section */
  uint64_t  size;   /* size in bytes of this section */
  uint32_t  offset;   /* file offset of this section */
  uint32_t  align;    /* section alignment (power of 2) */
  uint32_t  reloff;   /* file offset of relocation entries */
  uint32_t  nreloc;   /* number of relocation entries */
  uint32_t  flags;    /* flags (section type and attributes)*/
  uint32_t  reserved1;  /* reserved (for offset or index) */
  uint32_t  reserved2;  /* reserved (for count or sizeof) */
  uint32_t  reserved3;  /* reserved */

It turns out that the fields reserved1 and reserved2 are useful too.

If a section_64 structure is describing a symbol_stub or __la_symbol_ptr sections (read the previous post to learn about these sections), then the reserved1 field hold the index into the dynamic symbol table for the sections entries in the table.

symbol_stub sections also make use of the reserved2 field; the size of a single stub entry is stored in reserved2 otherwise, the field is set to 0.

Two notable differences between the dynamic symbol tables

  • There is an explicit section in ELF that contains Elf64_Sym entries. On Mach-O it’s just a list of 32bit offsets.
  • ELF provides a .hash section and/or .gnu_hash section to speed up symbol lookup. Mach-O does not.

What happens when you run strip?

Let’s use strip with no options (other than the filename).


  • All .debug_* sections are removed. These sections contain extra debugging information that helps debuggers figure out more precisely what went wrong.
  • .symtab section is removed.
  • .strtab section is removed.

On Mach-O:

  • Only undefined symbols and dynamic symbols are left in the symbol table. Everything else is removed.

How to strip so I can debug later (linux only)

If you decide to strip your binary please be considerate to future hackers who may need to debug your app for some reason.

You can be considerate by following the directions in strip(1):

1. Link the executable as normal. Assuming that is is called
“foo” then…

2. Run “objcopy –only-keep-debug foo foo.dbg” to
create a file containing the debugging info.

3. Run “objcopy –strip-debug foo” to create a
stripped executable.

4. Run “objcopy –add-gnu-debuglink=foo.dbg foo”
to add a link to the debugging info into the stripped executable.

And don’t forget to put your debugging information somewhere easily accessible and googleable.

If you do this: you are cool. If you don’t…


  1. I like the way ELF does dynamic symbol tables, the gnu_debuglink section, and the lookup hash table for dynamic symbols. All of these pieces are really useful and I am glad they exist.
  2. The indirect symbol table was a bit of a pain to track down on Mach-O as the information is hard to parse on the first pass. To be fair, it is all there if you google around a bit and put the pieces together.
  3. On Linux, if you strip, please add a gnu_debuglink section and put the debug information somewhere I can find it.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to subscribe (via RSS or e-mail) and follow me on twitter.


Written by Joe Damato

June 1st, 2010 at 5:59 am

Posted in linux,osx,systems,x86

Tagged with , , , , , ,

Dynamic Linking: ELF vs. Mach-O

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The intention of this post is to highlight some of the similarities and differences between ELF and Mach-O dynamic linking that I encountered while building memprof.

I hope to write more posts about similarities and differences in other aspects of Mach-O and ELF that I stumbled across to shed some light on what goes on down there and provide (in some cases) the only documentation.

Procedure Linkage Table

The procedure linkage table (PLT) is used to determine the absolute address of a function at runtime. Both Mach-O and ELF objects have PLTs that are generated at compile time. The initial table simply invokes the dynamic linker which finds the symbol you want. The way this works is very similar at a high level in ELF and Mach-O, but there are some implementation differences that I thought were worth mentioning.

Mach-O PLT arrangement

Mach-O objects have several different sections across different segments that are all involved to create a PLT entry for a specific symbol.

Consider the following assembly stub which calls out to the PLT entry for malloc:

# MACH-O calling a PLT entry (ELF is nearly identical)
0x000000010008c504 [str_new+52]:	callq  0x10009ebbc [dyld_stub_malloc]

The dyld_stub prefix is added by GDB to let the user know that the callq instruction is calling a PLT entry and not malloc itself. The address 0x10009ebbc is the first instruction of malloc‘s PLT entry in this Mach-O object. In Mach-O terminology, the instruction at 0x10009ebbc is called a symbol stub. Symbol stubs in Mach-O objects are found in the __TEXT segment in the __symbol_stub1 section.

Let’s examine some instructions at the symbol stub address above:

# MACH-O "symbol stubs" for malloc and other functions
0x10009ebbc [dyld_stub_malloc]:	  jmpq   *0x3ae46(%rip)        # 0x1000d9a08
0x10009ebc2 [dyld_stub_realloc]:  jmpq   *0x3ae48(%rip)        # 0x1000d9a10
0x10009ebc8 [dyld_stub_seekdir$INODE64]:	jmpq   *0x3ae4c(%rip)  # 0x1000d9a20
. . . .

Each Mach-O symbol stub is just a single jmpq instruction. That jmpq instruction either:

  • Invokes the dynamic linker to find the symbol and transfer execution there
  • OR

  • Transfers execution directly to the function.

via an entry in a table.

In the example above, GDB is telling us that the address of the table entry for malloc is 0x1000d9a08. This table entry is stored in a section called the __la_symbol_ptr within the __DATA segment.

Before malloc has been resolved, the address in that table entry points to a helper function which (eventually) invokes the dynamic linker to find malloc and fill in its address in the table entry.

Let’s take a look at what a few entries of the helper functions look like:

# MACH-O stub helpers
0x1000a08d4 [stub helpers+6986]:	pushq  $0x3b73
0x1000a08d9 [stub helpers+6991]:	jmpq   0x10009ed8a [stub helpers]
0x1000a08de [stub helpers+6996]:	pushq  $0x3b88
0x1000a08e3 [stub helpers+7001]:	jmpq   0x10009ed8a [stub helpers]
0x1000a08e8 [stub helpers+7006]:	pushq  $0x3b9e
0x1000a08ed [stub helpers+7011]:	jmpq   0x10009ed8a [stub helpers]
. . . . 

Each symbol that has a PLT entry has 2 instructions above; a pair of pushq and jmpq. This instruction sequence sets an ID for the desired function and then invokes the dynamic linker. The dynamic linker looks up this ID so it knows which function it should be looking for.

ELF PLT arrangement

ELF objects have the same mechanism, but organize each PLT entry into chunks instead of splicing them out across different sections. Let’s take a look at a PLT entry for malloc in an ELF object:

# ELF complete PLT entry for malloc
0x40f3d0 [malloc@plt]:	jmpq   *0x2c91fa(%rip)        # 0x6d85d0
0x40f3d6 [malloc@plt+6]:	pushq  $0x2f
0x40f3db [malloc@plt+11]:	jmpq   0x40f0d0
. . . .

Much like a Mach-O object, an ELF object uses a table entry to direct the flow of execution to either invoke the dynamic linker or transfer directly to the desired function if it has already been resolved.

Two differences to point out here:

  1. ELF puts the entire PLT entry together in nicely named section called plt instead of splicing it out across multiple sections.
  2. The table entries indirected through with the initial jmpq instruction are stored in a section named: .got.plt.

Both invoke an assembly trampoline…

Both Mach-O and ELF objects are set up to invoke the runtime dynamic linker. Both need an assembly trampoline to bridge the gap between the application and the linker. On 64bit Intel based systems, linkers in both systems must comply to the same Application Binary Interace (ABI).

Strangely enough, the two linkers have slightly different assembly trampolines even though they share the same calling convention1 2.

Both trampolines ensure that the program stack is 16-byte aligned to comply with the amd64 ABI’s calling convention. Both trampolines also take care to save the “general purpose” caller-saved registers prior to invoking the dynamic link, but it turns out that the trampoline in Linux does not save or restore the SSE registers. It turns out that this “shouldn’t” matter, so long as glibc takes care not to use any of those registers in the dynamic linker. OSX takes a more conservative approach and saves and restores the SSE registers before and after calling out the dynamic linker.

I’ve included a snippet from the two trampolines below and some comments so you can see the differences up close.

Different trampolines for the same ABI

The OSX trampoline:

  pushq   %rbp
  movq    %rsp,%rbp
  subq    $STACK_SIZE,%rsp  # at this point stack is 16-byte aligned because two meta-parameters where pushed
  movq    %rdi,RDI_SAVE(%rsp) # save registers that might be used as parameters
  movq    %rsi,RSI_SAVE(%rsp)
  movq    %rdx,RDX_SAVE(%rsp)
  movq    %rcx,RCX_SAVE(%rsp)
  movq    %r8,R8_SAVE(%rsp)
  movq    %r9,R9_SAVE(%rsp)
  movq    %rax,RAX_SAVE(%rsp)
  movdqa    %xmm0,XMMM0_SAVE(%rsp)
  movdqa    %xmm1,XMMM1_SAVE(%rsp)
  movdqa    %xmm2,XMMM2_SAVE(%rsp)
  movdqa    %xmm3,XMMM3_SAVE(%rsp)
  movdqa    %xmm4,XMMM4_SAVE(%rsp)
  movdqa    %xmm5,XMMM5_SAVE(%rsp)
  movdqa    %xmm6,XMMM6_SAVE(%rsp)
  movdqa    %xmm7,XMMM7_SAVE(%rsp)
  movq    MH_PARAM_BP(%rbp),%rdi  # call fastBindLazySymbol(loadercache, lazyinfo)
  movq    LP_PARAM_BP(%rbp),%rsi
  call    __Z21_dyld_fast_stub_entryPvl

The OSX trampoline saves all the caller saved registers as well as the the %xmm0 - %xmm7 registers prior to invoking the dynamic linker with that last call instruction. These registers are all restored after the call instruction, but I left that out for the sake of brevity.

The Linux trampoline:

  subq $56,%rsp 
  cfi_adjust_cfa_offset(72) # Incorporate PLT
  movq %rax,(%rsp)  # Preserve registers otherwise clobbered.
  movq %rcx, 8(%rsp)
  movq %rdx, 16(%rsp)
  movq %rsi, 24(%rsp)
  movq %rdi, 32(%rsp)
  movq %r8, 40(%rsp)
  movq %r9, 48(%rsp)
  movq 64(%rsp), %rsi # Copy args pushed by PLT in register.
  movq %rsi, %r11   # Multiply by 24
  addq %r11, %rsi
  addq %r11, %rsi
  shlq $3, %rsi
  movq 56(%rsp), %rdi # %rdi: link_map, %rsi: reloc_offset
  call _dl_fixup    # Call resolver.

The Linux trampoline doesn’t touch the SSE registers because it assumes that the dynamic linker will not modify them thus avoiding a save and restore.


  • Tracing program execution from call site to the dynamic linker is pretty interesting and there is a lot to learn along the way.
  • glibc not saving and restoring %xmm0-%xmm7 kind of scares me, but there is a unit test included that disassembles the built ld.so searching it to make sure that those registers are never touched. It is still a bit frightening.
  • Stay tuned for more posts explaining other interesting similarities and differences between Mach-O and ELF coming soon.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to subscribe (via RSS or e-mail) and follow me on twitter.


  1. http://developer.apple.com/mac/library/documentation/DeveloperTools/Conceptual/LowLevelABI/140-x86-64_Function_Calling_Conventions/x86_64.html#//apple_ref/doc/uid/TP40005035-SW1 []
  2. http://www.x86-64.org/documentation/abi.pdf []

Written by Joe Damato

May 12th, 2010 at 7:00 am