Efficient, Transparent, and Comprehensive Runtime Code Manipulation

Derek Bruening
PhD Defense (August 26th, 2004)
PhD Dissertation (September 24th, 2004)

[dissertation (pdf)] [dissertation (ps.gz)] [defense (html)]

This thesis addresses the challenges of building a software system for general-purpose runtime code manipulation. Modern applications, with dynamically-loaded modules and dynamically-generated code, are assembled at runtime. While it was once feasible at compile time to observe and manipulate every instruction --- which is critical for program analysis, instrumentation, trace gathering, optimization, and similar tools --- it can now only be done at runtime. Existing runtime tools are successful at inserting instrumentation calls, but no general framework has been developed for fine-grained and comprehensive code observation and modification without high overheads.

This thesis demonstrates the feasibility of building such a system in software. We present DynamoRIO, a fully-implemented runtime code manipulation system that supports code transformations on any part of a program, while it executes. DynamoRIO uses code caching technology to provide efficient, transparent, and comprehensive manipulation of an unmodified application running on a stock operating system and commodity hardware. DynamoRIO executes large, complex, modern applications with dynamically-loaded, generated, or even modified code. Despite the formidable obstacles inherent in the IA-32 architecture, DynamoRIO provides these capabilities efficiently, with zero to thirty percent time and memory overhead on both Windows and Linux.

DynamoRIO exports an interface for building custom runtime code manipulation tools of all types. It has been used by many researchers, with several hundred downloads of our public release, and is being commercialized in a product for protection against remote security exploits, one of numerous applications of runtime code manipulation.

Degree: Doctor of Philosophy
Date: September 2004
Thesis Supervisor: Saman Amarasinghe
Title: Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science