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Runtime Code Modification Explained, Part 4: Keeping Execution Flow Intact

Concurrent Execution A typical user mode process on a Windows system can be expected to have more than one thread. In addition to user threads, the Windows kernel employs a number of system threads. Given the presence of multiple threads, it is likely that whenever a code modification is performed, more than one thread is affected, i.e. more than one thread is sooner or later going to execute the modified code sequence. Read more »

Runtime Code Modification Explained, Part 3: Cross-Modifying Code and Atomicity

Performing modifications on existing code is a technique commonly encountered among instrumentation solutions such as DTrace. Assuming a multiprocessor machine, altering code brings up the challenge of properly synchronizing such activity among processors. As stated before, IA-32/Intel64 allows code to be modified in the same manner as data. Whether modifying data is an atomic operation or not, depends on the size of the operand. If the total number of bytes to be modified is less than 8 and the target address adheres to certain alignment requirements, current IA-32 processors guarantee atomicity of the write operation. Read more »

Runtime Code Modification Explained, Part 2: Cache Coherency Issues

Instrumentation of a routine may comprise multiple steps. As an example, a trampoline may need to be generated or updated, followed by a modification on the original routine, which may include updatating or replacing a branch instruction to point to the trampoline. In such cases, it is essential for maintaining consistency that the code changes take effect in a specific order. Otherwise, if the branch was written before the trampoline code has been stored, the branch would temporarily point to uninitialized memory. Read more »

Runtime Code Modification Explained, Part 1: Dealing With Memory

Runtime code modification, of self modifying code as it is often referred to, has been used for decades – to implement JITters, writing highly optimized algorithms, or to do all kinds of interesting stuff. Using runtime code modification code has never been really easy – it requires a solid understanding of machine code and it is straightforward to screw up. What’s not so well known, however, is that writing such code has actually become harder over the last years, at least on the IA-32 platform: Comparing the 486 and current Core architectures, it becomes obvious that Intel, in order to allow more advanced CPU-interal optimizations, has actually lessened certain gauarantees made by the CPU, which in turn requires the programmer to pay more attection to certain details. Read more »

Visual Assert 1.1 beta and cfix 1.7 released

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Slightly delayed, Visual Assert 1.1 beta is now available for download. As announced in a previous post, the most important change in the new version is added suport for the latest version of Visual Studio, Visual Studio 2010. However, the new version also brings a couple of new features that apply to all versions of Visual Studio. Most importantly, cfix and Visual Assert now expose an API that allows developers to plug in custom event sinks. Read more »

What a weirdo: How the /analyze switch changes its behavior depending on its environment

In Visual Studio 2005 Team System (VSTS), the “ultimate” SKU of Visual Studio 2005, Microsoft introduced the /analyze compiler switch. When the /analyze switch is used, the cl compiler not only does its regular checks, but performs a much more thorough static code analysis. While /analyze is very useful indeed, it was only available in the top SKU – the Standard and Professional versions of Visual Studio lacked support for this compiler switch (this has changed by now, Professional now also supports this feature). Read more »

Visual Assert hits RTM, now available for free

Visual Assert, the unit testing Add-In for Visual Studio/Visual C++ has finally left its beta status and – better yet – is now available for free, both for commercial and non-commercial use. Visual Assert, based on the cfix 1.6 unit testing framework, allows you to easily write, manage, run, and debug your C/C++ unit tests -– without ever leaving the Visual Studio® IDE. No fiddling with command line tools, no complex configuration, and no boilerplate code required. Read more »

cfix 1.6 released, simplifies authoring of multi-threaded tests

A new release of cfix, the unit testing framework for C and C++, is now available for download. Besides some minor enhancements like extending the maximum permitted fixture name, cfix 1.6 introduces a major new feature, Anonymous Thread Auto-Registration. Since its very first release, cfix has supported multi-threaded test cases, i.e. test cases that spawn child threads, each of which potentially making use of the various assertion statements like CFIX_ASSERT. To make this work and ensure that failing assertions are handled properly, however, usage of CfixCreateThread (rather than the native Win32 CreateThread) was mandatory when spawning such threads. Read more »

Visual Assert Beta 3 released

A third beta release of Visual Assert is now available for download on www.visualassert.com. Visual Assert, in case you have not tried it yet, is an Add-In for Visual Studio that adds unit testing capabilities to the Visual C++ IDE: Based on the cfix unit testing framework, Visual Assert allows unit tests to be written, run, and debugged from within the IDE. Pretty much like Junit/Eclipse, TestDriven.Net or MSTest, but for real, native code – code written in C or C++. Read more »