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Compile-time stack metadata validation
The kernel CONFIG_STACK_VALIDATION option enables a host tool named
objtool which runs at compile time. It has a "check" subcommand which
analyzes every .o file and ensures the validity of its stack metadata.
It enforces a set of rules on asm code and C inline assembly code so
that stack traces can be reliable.
Currently it only checks frame pointer usage, but there are plans to add
CFI validation for C files and CFI generation for asm files.
For each function, it recursively follows all possible code paths and
validates the correct frame pointer state at each instruction.
It also follows code paths involving special sections, like
.altinstructions, __jump_table, and __ex_table, which can add
alternative execution paths to a given instruction (or set of
instructions). Similarly, it knows how to follow switch statements, for
which gcc sometimes uses jump tables.
Why do we need stack metadata validation?
Here are some of the benefits of validating stack metadata:
a) More reliable stack traces for frame pointer enabled kernels
Frame pointers are used for debugging purposes. They allow runtime
code and debug tools to be able to walk the stack to determine the
chain of function call sites that led to the currently executing
For some architectures, frame pointers are enabled by
CONFIG_FRAME_POINTER. For some other architectures they may be
required by the ABI (sometimes referred to as "backchain pointers").
For C code, gcc automatically generates instructions for setting up
frame pointers when the -fno-omit-frame-pointer option is used.
But for asm code, the frame setup instructions have to be written by
hand, which most people don't do. So the end result is that
CONFIG_FRAME_POINTER is honored for C code but not for most asm code.
For stack traces based on frame pointers to be reliable, all
functions which call other functions must first create a stack frame
and update the frame pointer. If a first function doesn't properly
create a stack frame before calling a second function, the *caller*
of the first function will be skipped on the stack trace.
For example, consider the following example backtrace with frame
pointers enabled:
[<ffffffff81812584>] dump_stack+0x4b/0x63
[<ffffffff812d6dc2>] cmdline_proc_show+0x12/0x30
[<ffffffff8127f568>] seq_read+0x108/0x3e0
[<ffffffff812cce62>] proc_reg_read+0x42/0x70
[<ffffffff81256197>] __vfs_read+0x37/0x100
[<ffffffff81256b16>] vfs_read+0x86/0x130
[<ffffffff81257898>] SyS_read+0x58/0xd0
[<ffffffff8181c1f2>] entry_SYSCALL_64_fastpath+0x12/0x76
It correctly shows that the caller of cmdline_proc_show() is
If we remove the frame pointer logic from cmdline_proc_show() by
replacing the frame pointer related instructions with nops, here's
what it looks like instead:
[<ffffffff81812584>] dump_stack+0x4b/0x63
[<ffffffff812d6dc2>] cmdline_proc_show+0x12/0x30
[<ffffffff812cce62>] proc_reg_read+0x42/0x70
[<ffffffff81256197>] __vfs_read+0x37/0x100
[<ffffffff81256b16>] vfs_read+0x86/0x130
[<ffffffff81257898>] SyS_read+0x58/0xd0
[<ffffffff8181c1f2>] entry_SYSCALL_64_fastpath+0x12/0x76
Notice that cmdline_proc_show()'s caller, seq_read(), has been
skipped. Instead the stack trace seems to show that
cmdline_proc_show() was called by proc_reg_read().
The benefit of objtool here is that because it ensures that *all*
functions honor CONFIG_FRAME_POINTER, no functions will ever[*] be
skipped on a stack trace.
[*] unless an interrupt or exception has occurred at the very
beginning of a function before the stack frame has been created,
or at the very end of the function after the stack frame has been
destroyed. This is an inherent limitation of frame pointers.
b) 100% reliable stack traces for DWARF enabled kernels
(NOTE: This is not yet implemented)
As an alternative to frame pointers, DWARF Call Frame Information
(CFI) metadata can be used to walk the stack. Unlike frame pointers,
CFI metadata is out of band. So it doesn't affect runtime
performance and it can be reliable even when interrupts or exceptions
are involved.
For C code, gcc automatically generates DWARF CFI metadata. But for
asm code, generating CFI is a tedious manual approach which requires
manually placed .cfi assembler macros to be scattered throughout the
code. It's clumsy and very easy to get wrong, and it makes the real
code harder to read.
Stacktool will improve this situation in several ways. For code
which already has CFI annotations, it will validate them. For code
which doesn't have CFI annotations, it will generate them. So an
architecture can opt to strip out all the manual .cfi annotations
from their asm code and have objtool generate them instead.
We might also add a runtime stack validation debug option where we
periodically walk the stack from schedule() and/or an NMI to ensure
that the stack metadata is sane and that we reach the bottom of the
So the benefit of objtool here will be that external tooling should
always show perfect stack traces. And the same will be true for
kernel warning/oops traces if the architecture has a runtime DWARF
c) Higher live patching compatibility rate
(NOTE: This is not yet implemented)
Currently with CONFIG_LIVEPATCH there's a basic live patching
framework which is safe for roughly 85-90% of "security" fixes. But
patches can't have complex features like function dependency or
prototype changes, or data structure changes.
There's a strong need to support patches which have the more complex
features so that the patch compatibility rate for security fixes can
eventually approach something resembling 100%. To achieve that, a
"consistency model" is needed, which allows tasks to be safely
transitioned from an unpatched state to a patched state.
One of the key requirements of the currently proposed livepatch
consistency model [*] is that it needs to walk the stack of each
sleeping task to determine if it can be transitioned to the patched
state. If objtool can ensure that stack traces are reliable, this
consistency model can be used and the live patching compatibility
rate can be improved significantly.
To achieve the validation, objtool enforces the following rules:
1. Each callable function must be annotated as such with the ELF
function type. In asm code, this is typically done using the
ENTRY/ENDPROC macros. If objtool finds a return instruction
outside of a function, it flags an error since that usually indicates
callable code which should be annotated accordingly.
This rule is needed so that objtool can properly identify each
callable function in order to analyze its stack metadata.
2. Conversely, each section of code which is *not* callable should *not*
be annotated as an ELF function. The ENDPROC macro shouldn't be used
in this case.
This rule is needed so that objtool can ignore non-callable code.
Such code doesn't have to follow any of the other rules.
3. Each callable function which calls another function must have the
correct frame pointer logic, if required by CONFIG_FRAME_POINTER or
the architecture's back chain rules. This can by done in asm code
with the FRAME_BEGIN/FRAME_END macros.
This rule ensures that frame pointer based stack traces will work as
designed. If function A doesn't create a stack frame before calling
function B, the _caller_ of function A will be skipped on the stack
4. Dynamic jumps and jumps to undefined symbols are only allowed if:
a) the jump is part of a switch statement; or
b) the jump matches sibling call semantics and the frame pointer has
the same value it had on function entry.
This rule is needed so that objtool can reliably analyze all of a
function's code paths. If a function jumps to code in another file,
and it's not a sibling call, objtool has no way to follow the jump
because it only analyzes a single file at a time.
5. A callable function may not execute kernel entry/exit instructions.
The only code which needs such instructions is kernel entry code,
which shouldn't be be in callable functions anyway.
This rule is just a sanity check to ensure that callable functions
return normally.
Errors in .S files
If you're getting an error in a compiled .S file which you don't
understand, first make sure that the affected code follows the above
Here are some examples of common warnings reported by objtool, what
they mean, and suggestions for how to fix them.
1. asm_file.o: warning: objtool: func()+0x128: call without frame pointer save/setup
The func() function made a function call without first saving and/or
updating the frame pointer.
If func() is indeed a callable function, add proper frame pointer
logic using the FRAME_BEGIN and FRAME_END macros. Otherwise, remove
its ELF function annotation by changing ENDPROC to END.
If you're getting this error in a .c file, see the "Errors in .c
files" section.
2. asm_file.o: warning: objtool: .text+0x53: return instruction outside of a callable function
A return instruction was detected, but objtool couldn't find a way
for a callable function to reach the instruction.
If the return instruction is inside (or reachable from) a callable
function, the function needs to be annotated with the ENTRY/ENDPROC
If you _really_ need a return instruction outside of a function, and
are 100% sure that it won't affect stack traces, you can tell
objtool to ignore it. See the "Adding exceptions" section below.
3. asm_file.o: warning: objtool: func()+0x9: function has unreachable instruction
The instruction lives inside of a callable function, but there's no
possible control flow path from the beginning of the function to the
If the instruction is actually needed, and it's actually in a
callable function, ensure that its function is properly annotated
If it's not actually in a callable function (e.g. kernel entry code),
change ENDPROC to END.
4. asm_file.o: warning: objtool: func(): can't find starting instruction
asm_file.o: warning: objtool: func()+0x11dd: can't decode instruction
Did you put data in a text section? If so, that can confuse
objtool's instruction decoder. Move the data to a more appropriate
section like .data or .rodata.
5. asm_file.o: warning: objtool: func()+0x6: kernel entry/exit from callable instruction
This is a kernel entry/exit instruction like sysenter or sysret.
Such instructions aren't allowed in a callable function, and are most
likely part of the kernel entry code.
If the instruction isn't actually in a callable function, change
6. asm_file.o: warning: objtool: func()+0x26: sibling call from callable instruction with changed frame pointer
This is a dynamic jump or a jump to an undefined symbol. Stacktool
assumed it's a sibling call and detected that the frame pointer
wasn't first restored to its original state.
If it's not really a sibling call, you may need to move the
destination code to the local file.
If the instruction is not actually in a callable function (e.g.
kernel entry code), change ENDPROC to END.
7. asm_file: warning: objtool: func()+0x5c: frame pointer state mismatch
The instruction's frame pointer state is inconsistent, depending on
which execution path was taken to reach the instruction.
Make sure the function pushes and sets up the frame pointer (for
x86_64, this means rbp) at the beginning of the function and pops it
at the end of the function. Also make sure that no other code in the
function touches the frame pointer.
Errors in .c files
1. c_file.o: warning: objtool: funcA() falls through to next function funcB()
This means that funcA() doesn't end with a return instruction or an
unconditional jump, and that objtool has determined that the function
can fall through into the next function. There could be different
reasons for this:
1) funcA()'s last instruction is a call to a "noreturn" function like
panic(). In this case the noreturn function needs to be added to
objtool's hard-coded global_noreturns array. Feel free to bug the
objtool maintainer, or you can submit a patch.
2) funcA() uses the unreachable() annotation in a section of code
that is actually reachable.
3) If funcA() calls an inline function, the object code for funcA()
might be corrupt due to a gcc bug. For more details, see:
2. If you're getting any other objtool error in a compiled .c file, it
may be because the file uses an asm() statement which has a "call"
instruction. An asm() statement with a call instruction must declare
the use of the stack pointer in its output operand. For example, on
register void *__sp asm("rsp");
asm volatile("call func" : "+r" (__sp));
Otherwise the stack frame may not get created before the call.
3. Another possible cause for errors in C code is if the Makefile removes
-fno-omit-frame-pointer or adds -fomit-frame-pointer to the gcc options.
Also see the above section for .S file errors for more information what
the individual error messages mean.
If the error doesn't seem to make sense, it could be a bug in objtool.
Feel free to ask the objtool maintainer for help.
Adding exceptions
If you _really_ need objtool to ignore something, and are 100% sure
that it won't affect kernel stack traces, you can tell objtool to
ignore it:
- To skip validation of a function, use the STACK_FRAME_NON_STANDARD
- To skip validation of a file, add
to the Makefile.
- To skip validation of a directory, add
to the Makefile.