Kernel Debugging - OSX (part IV)

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Posted on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 07:06PM by Registered CommenterProkash Sinha | CommentsPost a Comment

Kernel Debugging - OSX (part III)

Once you setup your remote debugging environment, it is your hard work ( always) to figure out how you debug, when you debug. Assuming that you that you are somewhat familiar with kernel debugging, which includes debugging core operating systems, boot code, code related to device or other system resource frameworks, you would be looking at some basic commands that would work reliably, for example -

*) Breaking into debugger, mapping symbols, looking at sources etc.

*) Run the kernel under your debugger, and probe, steps thru the code etc.

*) Manage your debugger interface like: display feature(s), history, several windows for registers, stacks, memory etc.

OSX started out with GDB debugger, and moved to LLDB. LLDB maps some of the GDB commands (if not all, but I don't know yet), but it is quite verbose to type most of the commands. I read it as Long Long Debugger.

GDB as such is quite old and popular, but when it comes to kernel debugging there are many local shop to shop customized gdb. But one general one is kgdb. It is not a true sense kernel debugger, though.


So what is a true kernel debugger?

A true kernel debugger is one which freez the time when you broke into debugger. So if you leave your debug envrionment overnight, you must see old time, date. Lot of kernel debugger in the open source are really not there. Hence, it is quite difficult to debug some of the hard problems like once in a blue-moon race etc.

 Windows kernel debugger outshine in this case. Before it windows softIce was another one. But in GNU open source environment, I'm yet to see a "True kernel debugger".



Posted on Thursday, April 30, 2015 at 07:05PM by Registered CommenterProkash Sinha | CommentsPost a Comment

Kernel Debugging - OSX (part II)

Last time we talked about how to get a kernel debug session between a natively running debugger machine (a.k.a. Host), and a OSX VM running under VMware Fusion. It was fun, right?

In fact, the fun part(s) is(are) yet to come!. First, my immidiate task is to get a XNU kernel built in a VM, and replace the off the shelf kernel ( named mach_kernel or kernel or kernel.debug ...). Then get a kernel debugging going between that VM and the Host. Building the kernel is fine. I can built the XNU package for 10.10 and 10.9 but running with or without kernel debug configuration is where I'm really challenged. With the same steps, as discussed in part I, I landed on Kernel waiting for Debugger connection, but the ip address as well as the mac address are all 0s with respective format. Clearly there is some problem!

On the otherhand, if I try to run the newly built kernel without debugger configuration, it hangs. And it does not matter if it is RELEASE or DEBUG built. Here comes the KDP, kernel debugging protocol. FreeBSD has basically the same idea. This protocol is based on TTCP over UDP. As far as I know this is not self contained when it comes to configuration side of the interfaces. This is Bridged interface of VMware virtualization feature. This I will tackle later. But what is really the problem ? AFAIK, KDP part initialized few ip related stuff to 0s, and there are outer layers that does not come with XNU source ( but some are in ) that keeps configurations in tact when it comes to full OSX buit.

One thing I did not mention in part I is that we need to map the syms and src when we need to debug kext. This is like external driver programming. For that, first thing to find out is what version of OSX you are running. It can be found from Apple icon. Also from tty, uname -a will give you bit more information. Once you know what version you are running, go to Apple site, and download respective "Kernel Debugging Kit" onto your Host. In most versions of Kernel Debugging Kits, installing the dmg file is nothing but mounting the package. Once mounted, you will see Readme xml file. That has information about how to invoke LLDB, and thats it. You have symbolic debugging. Just start the VM with kernel debugging configured as explained in part I, and invoke LLDB, and play with the instructions given in the Readme xml file.

Note that using Kernel Debugging Kit implies, you are still using off the shelf XNU kernel that comes with the OS image. This is a complete build of Mac OSX,not just the XNU kernel code. 

Next, we will get to bit more deeper side of Kernel hacking. For now Happy hacking !

Posted on Friday, April 3, 2015 at 09:25PM by Registered CommenterProkash Sinha | CommentsPost a Comment

Kernel Debugging - OSX

Debugging not exactly an interesting thing for most programmer! And this is one of the reason for not many people are ready to debug kernel code written by others. But it is an excellent trade to have!

There a few different ways one can debug kernel code -

     -- Passive debugging using message printing.

     -- Active debugging under a debugger.


In this part, we will talk about active debugging under kernel debugger. For quite sometime, GDB used to be the debugger of choice with some modifications. GDB by design is not a kernel debugger in true sense. So there has to be some kind of patching that takes GDB to become a kernel debugger. In Linux and FreeBsd world, this is often called kgdb. In OSX, it is just GDB. Recent moves by Apple computer made GDB being not the default debugger. Unless you get a back level source and compile it under OSX, with perhaps some tweeks, it is difficult to get a recent GDB to work as a kernel debugger under current ( i.e 2014 - 2015 ) versions of OSX.

So here comes the LLDB. It is under the LLVM umbrella. It can be used for live kernel debugging, as well as two machine kernel debugging. Live debugging means single machine kernel debugging in this context. And two machines debugging is true sense kernel debugging. Though these machines could be VMs !

 Here the setup for kernel debugging is - A laptop or Mini OSX running natively on Intel hardware, and a VM running on Fusion Virtual machine workstation infrastructure from VMware. In a two machine setup, the debugger machine is called the Host or Debugger, and the machine being debugged is the Target. Here the native OSX is the Host, and VM OSX is the Target.

Configuration for VM based debugging, the current discussion here, is different from two machine debugging with both machines running OSX natively. You can always look at Apple developers' site as well as looking at the ReadMe file of respective Kernel Debug Kit for the OSX version you are running. For setting up a VM under Fusion, please follow the instructions from Fusion package, as well as online blogs.

Assuming you have a VM running, one of the thing you need to do is to set the Networking as Bridged Network from one of the menu of Fusion. This will make the setting up and communication quite easy. Once it is set, please take a look at the ifconfig to make sure, the interface that has similar ip is indeed "en0", otherwise you need add another parameter. The detail you can find from any of the ReadMe file of Kernel Debug kits from Apple. Usually it is always "en0" unless you have multiple interfaces.

Now ping the VM from the host to make sure that they can talk over the Bridged network.

Finally before you go and change anything further, make sure you take a snapshot of the VM, so that you can always come back to this point of configuration :-)

On the host, you will need to make a static ip entry using the following format ( with respective ip and mac address from your interface )

sudo arp -s 00:0c:09:f3:f9:e2


There is a configuration file  - /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/ Take a look at that, and now change that file to the following, under sudo mode -



<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
<plist version="1.0">
<key>Kernel Flags</key>
<string>-v debug=0x41 pmuflags=1</string>


 Configuration is done! Reboot the VM, it will wait for debugger connection.

On the Host machine, have terminal ( i.e tty ) command line ready, execute lldb without any arguments.

On command prompt of lldb, just issue the following command -



lldb will break into the VMs kernel, now continue on lldb to let the VMs boot. Rest of it is to get to know how to use LLDB, and it is for another topic !



Posted on Monday, March 30, 2015 at 08:01PM by Registered CommenterProkash Sinha | Comments Off

Short Circuit - No Disassemble (Final part)

Examples of extended inline assembly -


void mycfunc ( )


    int a =10, b = 0;

    asm ("movl %1, %%eax; \

             movl %%eax, %0;"

           :"=r" (b)      /*output constraint, first mention of a variable b so b is %0, = sign mean target var  */

           : "r" (a)       /*Input constraint, a var is now %1, no = sign means it is not output or target */

            : "%eax"   /* we clobbering eax register, so gcc will preserve eax's previous content  */



-- Watch that we need to refer to registers using %%, instead of %.

-- If we use registers, we should make GCC aware about them, so it preserves the values before using them.


Compiler toolchains are smart these days, so depending on the analysis, GCC could delete the whole code section or a part or it can move code around for optimization. There may be situation where we want the compiler to stop doing those optimization, and place the code as is ( i.e. in place ). For that in systems code we almost always uses __volatile__ keyword, like the following example.

From <asm-i386/atomic.h> of Linux source -

statoc __inline__ void atomic_inc(atomic_t *v)


   __asm__ __volatile__ (

        LOCK "incl %0"

        :"=m" (v->counter)

        : "m" (v->counter)



For the detail syntax, and semantics, please use the GNU compiler connection manual. It is available on line. 


Posted on Sunday, March 1, 2015 at 06:47AM by Registered CommenterProkash Sinha | CommentsPost a Comment
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