Coolest hack/trick ever!

February 17, 2011

Some time ago, I wrote about lguest, a minimal x86 hypervisor for the Linux Kernel, which is mainly used for experimentation, and learning stuff about hypervisors, operating systems, even computer architecture/ISA(x86 in particular).

Today I cloned the git repo for the lguest64 port, and I started browsing through the documentation and the code. In the launcher code(the program that initializes/sets up and launches a new guest kernel), I saw the coolest programming hack/trick I’ve seen in a long time. :P

/*L:170 Prepare to be SHOCKED and AMAZED.  And possibly a trifle nauseated.
 *
 * We know that CONFIG_PAGE_OFFSET sets what virtual address the kernel expects
 * to be.  We don't know what that option was, but we can figure it out
 * approximately by looking at the addresses in the code.  I chose the common
 * case of reading a memory location into the %eax register:
 *
 *  movl <some-address>, %eax
 *
 * This gets encoded as five bytes: "0xA1 <4-byte-address>".  For example,
 * "0xA1 0x18 0x60 0x47 0xC0" reads the address 0xC0476018 into %eax.
 *
 * In this example can guess that the kernel was compiled with
 * CONFIG_PAGE_OFFSET set to 0xC0000000 (it's always a round number).  If the
 * kernel were larger than 16MB, we might see 0xC1 addresses show up, but our
 * kernel isn't that bloated yet.
 *
 * Unfortunately, x86 has variable-length instructions, so finding this
 * particular instruction properly involves writing a disassembler.  Instead,
 * we rely on statistics.  We look for "0xA1" and tally the different bytes
 * which occur 4 bytes later (the "0xC0" in our example above).  When one of
 * those bytes appears three times, we can be reasonably confident that it
 * forms the start of CONFIG_PAGE_OFFSET.
 *
 * This is amazingly reliable. */
static unsigned long intuit_page_offset(unsigned char *img, unsigned long len)
{
	unsigned int i, possibilities[256] = { 0 };

	for (i = 0; i + 4 < len; i++) {
		/* mov 0xXXXXXXXX,%eax */
		if (img[i] == 0xA1 && ++possibilities[img[i+4]] > 3)
			return (unsigned long)img[i+4] << 24;
	}
	errx(1, "could not determine page offset");
}

It’s very well commented, and so I don’t think there’s something I could explain any better.
Very very nice trick!
‘Prepare to be shocked and amazed!’ ;)

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