RSoC: Implementing ptrace for Redox OS - part 1

By jD91mZM2 on

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Overview of my week

Another week, another blog post, I would suppose. It’s hard to sum up this week in one sentence, so instead I’ll divide it into regions for this simple overview.

  1. I was so tired of never being able to even compile Redox OS, so I talked to the BDFL, Jeremy, and asked, no, begged for help. I quite literally threw all my logs at him and tried to make reason with the seemingly insane output. Before he could answer, I noticed a strange thing in the logs which ultimately led to being able to compile the project. In the end, most of the issues were shamefully enough just caused by my local setup.
  2. Likely due to my (and several others') problems, Jeremy merged the more successful redox-unix branch to master. After this I gathered a list of build issues and after getting permission fixed them.
  3. Having Redox OS now successfully building, I started writing kernel code while the final few things were still recompiling. Last week I had a lot of time to learn about kernels and explore Redox’s kernel, so this week I felt surprisingly comfortable moving around the code.
  4. Time to test the patches, right? I tried to install redoxer, but like always, I needed some patches for NixOS. Tired of always treating NixOS like garbage I constantly need to send PRs to fix, I decided to slowly embrace the amazing distro by moving all the patches to a central redox-nix repository which I can maintain in the high-speed phase it deserves, hopefully leading to an alternative, reproducible, build system. Redoxer sadly got some other issues I’m not sure where they’re coming from, yet, so I ended up using the old ways to transfer programs to testing on Redox.
  5. I managed to quickly update the kernel to the 2018 edition, but after that I kept getting pulled away by life until my last day, today, where I finally managed to meet my goal of implementing a way to read process registers (which I will describe now!)

Reading process registers

So, after having a pretty clear goal to meet specified by the RFC, time to get things moving. I started with what I thought would be low hanging fruit: Reading the registers of another process. It ended up being more difficult than I thought, but it ended up being really interesting and I want to share it with you :)

Quick note: You can follow along in the final commit here, but don’t worry if this is confusing.

I quickly implemented the scaffholding for this feature: A proc: scheme as specified by the RFC. I will not go into details as to how schemes work, as I published an article on that last year on Then it was time to brainstorm how the actual reading was going to take place:

Perhaps the most obvious idea would be to somehow attach to the process, read its registers, then detach. There are a lot of holes in this idea however. For starters, attaching to a process will start running whatever code the process was stopped at and not my own code. Also, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to store all registers without modifying any of them considering all compiled code ends up converting variables to registers.

My second idea was based on somewhat of a misunderstanding how processes switches work. Basically, the way a kernel runs multiple programs seemingly in paralell using one single CPU thread is through “context switches”. It stores the state of each process/“context” by storing all its registers. To run one of these “contexts”, it loads the registers, on x86_64 this is most notably the RBP and RSP registers as seen here. The RSP controls where in memory the push/pop assembly instructions should read/write, and the RBP points to the current function, and can be used to get function arguments as well as the address of the parent function which will be returned to with the ret instruction. Before running a process the kernel tells the CPU to enter “user mode” and therefore discard a bunch of privileges. It also tells the CPU to send an “interrupt” (sort of like a kernel event) after a specified duration and switch to another context.

Anyway, as I was saying, my second idea was based on this. I thought I could just get all registers from the context switching mechanism, right? Well at the point of each switch, a LOT of kernel code has probably ran, and many general-purpose registers might have changed values since of course the kernel is also turned into assembly. But I wasn’t completely off the track: Since system calls aren’t supposed to change any registers other than RAX (the return value), the original register values must be available somewhere, which is when a friend helped me discover the interrupt mechanism. This code pushes all the registers to the stack before running an interrupt, and pops them later. This is to preserve their values. Now, theoretically, if I were to save this pointer, I could not only read their saved user-assigned values, but also change the values they will later restore to! This is what I did.

1. After timeout and a context switch happens, simply save the pointer to the structure in stack that contains all our desired values.

-interrupt!(pit, {
+interrupt_stack!(pit, stack, {
     // Saves CPU time by not sending IRQ event irq_trigger(0);
     const PIT_RATE: u64 = 2_250_286;
@@ -61,7 +62,23 @@ interrupt!(pit, {
     if PIT_TICKS.fetch_add(1, Ordering::SeqCst) >= 10 {
+        {
+            let contexts = crate::context::contexts();
+            if let Some(context) = contexts.current() {
+                let mut context = context.write();
+                // Make all registers available to e.g. the proc:
+                // scheme
+                context.interrupt_stack = Some(Unique::new_unchecked(stack));
+            }
+        }
         let _ = context::switch();
+        {
+            let contexts = crate::context::contexts();
+            if let Some(context) = contexts.current() {
+                let mut context = context.write();
+                context.interrupt_stack = None;
+            }
+        }

2. When a syscall happens, do the same. This ended up breaking EVERYTHING, mostly erroring about “No such process” and stuff.

Long diff linked instead

3. I found this suspicious code:

pub unsafe extern fn clone_ret() {
    asm!("pop rbp
         xor rax, rax"
         : : : : "intel", "volatile");

Turns out, that through some hackery this is called by the child process after clone, and is responsible for returning 0. My syscall setup had broken this, so I had to fix it. I’m still not entirely sure how it works, and I pretty much swear this is the very first thing I tried, but somehow using the new stack restoration system ended up being the thing that worked after a day of work.

End result

Final result

The regs command is a simple test command I wrote:

fn main() -> Result<()> {
    let mut regs_file = File::open("proc:4/regs/int")?;
    let mut regs = IntRegisters::default(); regs)?;
    println!("Regs: {:?}", regs);


What I noticed is that both ion and login were running the system call waitpid, which makes sense. All well-written processes should run some blocking command. I did want to double check another process, so I checked nulld. This is shown in the screenshot. The rax register is holding the value of read, which is exactly what I expected after reading the nulld code :)