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Linux Kernel: memory corruption - debug tricks

Helen Fornazier avatar

Helen Fornazier
June 10, 2016

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When the kernel crashes, it's good to know how to analyze the log and to discover exactly where the error occurred. This blog post shows a simple technique to retrieve the buggy line from the addresses shown in the log and also enabling specifics logs with Dynamic Debug

The symptoms:

If you see one of the following errors in your in your dmesg log:

* BUG: unable to handle kernel paging request at 7f45402d
* invalid opcode: 0000 [#1] SMP
* general protection fault: 0000 [#1] SMP
* BUG: unable to handle kernel NULL pointer dereference at 0000000000000258

Then you probably have a memory corruption somewhere.

In my case, I didn't get these errors at first. I was adding objects to a list by calling list_add_tail(my_list, my_obj) and verifying that list_empty(my_list) was returning false as expected (and it was). But latter in the code when I called list_empty(my_list) again, it was returning true, and in nowhere in my code I was removing objects from the list.

Weird behaviors that doesn't make sense probably are due to memory corruption. When I started simplifying the code to isolate the problem, I start getting the errors above in the dmesg log.

Where it is happening:

When you have an error, you get a log message in dmesg like:

[   37.183001] BUG: unable to handle kernel NULL pointer dereference at 0000000000000258
[   37.183009] IP: [<ffffffff817c69f0>] _raw_spin_lock_irqsave+0x20/0x80
[   37.183019] PGD 0 
[   37.183021] Oops: 0002 [#1] SMP 
[   37.183023] Modules linked in: vmc(O-) videobuf2_vmalloc videobuf2_memops videobuf2_core v4l2_common videodev media vmw_vsock_vmci_transport vsock vmwgfx ttm drm_kms_helper snd_ens1371 snd_ac97_codec ac97_bus gameport snd_pcm hid_generic drm snd_seq_midi snd_seq_midi_event snd_rawmidi btusb rfcomm usbhid bnep snd_seq btbcm hid btintel bluetooth snd_seq_device snd_timer snd vmw_balloon serio_raw vmw_vmci soundcore coretemp ppdev shpchp lp i2c_piix4 parport_pc parport mac_hid psmouse e1000 ahci libahci mptspi mptscsih mptbase scsi_transport_spi floppy vmw_pvscsi vmxnet3 pata_acpi
[   37.183055] CPU: 0 PID: 2142 Comm: modprobe Tainted: G           O    4.1.0-rc3+ #22
[   37.183057] Hardware name: VMware, Inc. VMware Virtual Platform/440BX Desktop Reference Platform, BIOS 6.00 05/20/2014
[   37.183058] task: ffff88002d3fef60 ti: ffff880075998000 task.ti: ffff880075998000
[   37.183060] RIP: 0010:[<ffffffff817c69f0>]  [<ffffffff817c69f0>] _raw_spin_lock_irqsave+0x20/0x80
[   37.183063] RSP: 0018:ffff88007599bd40  EFLAGS: 00010092
[   37.183064] RAX: 0000000000000292 RBX: 0000000000000292 RCX: ffff88002d551818
[   37.183064] RDX: 0000000000020000 RSI: ffffffff81500b20 RDI: 0000000000000258
[   37.183065] RBP: ffff88007599bd48 R08: 000000000001a620 R09: ffff88007b61a620
[   37.183066] R10: ffffea0001e355c0 R11: ffffffff813a7e55 R12: 0000000000000258
[   37.183067] R13: ffff880076097018 R14: ffffffff81500b20 R15: ffffffff81500b30
[   37.183069] FS:  00007f1da3d54740(0000) GS:ffff88007b600000(0000) knlGS:0000000000000000
[   37.183070] CS:  0010 DS: 0000 ES: 0000 CR0: 000000008005003b
[   37.183071] CR2: 0000000000000258 CR3: 00000000787f5000 CR4: 00000000000007f0
[   37.183123] Stack:
[   37.183125]  0000000000000000 ffff88007599bd98 ffffffff81500d52 ffff88007599bd78
[   37.183127]  ffff88002d551818 ffff880076097018 ffff88002d551818 0000000000000001
[   37.183128]  ffff880076097018 00005590e6618410 00007ffe79be03d8 ffff88007599bda8
[   37.183130] Call Trace:
[   37.183136]  [<ffffffff81500d52>] devres_remove+0x32/0xb0
[   37.183138]  [<ffffffff8150157e>] devres_destroy+0xe/0x30
[   37.183140]  [<ffffffff8150165f>] devm_kfree+0x1f/0x40
[   37.183143]  [<ffffffffc03ca6b0>] vmc_cap_destroy+0x40/0x50 [vmc]
[   37.183145]  [<ffffffffc03ca06f>] vmc_device_unregister+0x5f/0x90 [vmc]
[   37.183147]  [<ffffffffc03ca0b5>] vmc_remove+0x15/0x20 [vmc]
[   37.183148]  [<ffffffff814ff6cd>] platform_drv_remove+0x1d/0x40
[   37.183151]  [<ffffffff814fcea7>] __device_release_driver+0x87/0x120
[   37.183153]  [<ffffffff814fd948>] driver_detach+0xc8/0xd0
[   37.183155]  [<ffffffff814fcb29>] bus_remove_driver+0x59/0xe0
[   37.183157]  [<ffffffff814fe120>] driver_unregister+0x30/0x70
[   37.183158]  [<ffffffff814ff7a2>] platform_driver_unregister+0x12/0x20
[   37.183160]  [<ffffffffc03d0b9c>] vmc_exit+0x10/0x474 [vmc]
[   37.183165]  [<ffffffff810fde0c>] SyS_delete_module+0x1ac/0x230
[   37.183170]  [<ffffffff81094f8c>] ? task_work_run+0xbc/0xf0
[   37.183173]  [<ffffffff817c6ff2>] system_call_fastpath+0x16/0x75
[   37.183174] Code: 97 c8 8f ff 5d c3 0f 1f 44 00 00 66 66 66 66 90 55 48 89 e5 53 9c 58 66 66 90 66 90 48 89 c3 fa 66 66 90 66 66 90 ba 00 00 02 00 <f0> 0f c1 17 89 d1 c1 e9 10 66 39 d1 75 06 48 89 d8 5b 5d c3 41 
[   37.183190] RIP  [<ffffffff817c69f0>] _raw_spin_lock_irqsave+0x20/0x80
[   37.183192]  RSP <ffff88007599bd40>
[   37.183193] CR2: 0000000000000258


We will be looking at 2 infos there:

1) The IP (instruction pointer) address in the 2nd line
2) The call trace at line 23rd

The IP

In the 2nd line of this log, we have the instruction pointer address, it is the address the computer was executing that generated the error.

In this example, the IP is ffffffff817c69f0, then we can find where in the code this address corresponds to using the addr2line tool:

$ addr2line -e path_to_your_kernel_tree/vmlinux 0xffffffff817c69f0

Where the path_to_your_kernel_tree is the path to the kernel code where you downloaded it (where you do make && make install)
The vmlinux file is the uncompressed version of the Linux image (it is created when you do make)

Note: if it doesn't work, check if your make menuconfig if your kernel is compiled with DEBUG flag

But this technique won't work if the corresponding address is not part of the kernel core code (if it was an error caused by some module, as we will see in the call trace section).

The call trace

In the log above, line 23rd, it means that the function devres_remove was called by devres_destroy, which was called by devm_kfree, which was called by vmc_cap_destroy and so on.

Now suppose that the vmc_cap_destroy function call devm_kfree in many places and you want to know exactly which one has triggered the bug. Lets do this in 2 steps:

1) Get the offset in the code section of the function using nm:
nm is a tool to get the offset of a symbol in a section:

$ nm drivers/media/vmc/vmc.ko | grep vmc_cap_destroy
0000000000000680 T vmc_cap_destroy

In this example, the offset of the vmc_cap_destroy function is 0x680

2) Get the file and the line using addr2line:
In line 27th we have: vmc_cap_destroy+0x40, where the 0x40 is the offset inside the vmc_cap_destroy function where the code execution would return if the call to devm_kfree hadn't triggered the bug.

So lets add the function offset we found in the previous step with the offset inside the function: 0x680 + 0x40 = 0x6c0

And now we use the addr2line with the compile module.ko to find out where is it:

$ addr2line -e path_to_your_kernel_tree/drivers/media/vmc/vmc.ko 0x6c0

Then the buggy devm_kfree call is the first one just before the line 396 in file vmc-capture.c

Enable debug prints:

Besides the techniques above, you can enable the debug level prints in the dmesg log:

sudo sh -c "echo 8 > /proc/sys/kernel/printk"

If this doesn't work, check if the DYNAMIC_DEBUG flag is enabled in your menuconfig, if so, then check the next section about Dynamic debug.

In the case of a module that I was testing (the vivid module), I needed to change the vivid_debug parameter:

We can do this when we start the module:

sudo modprobe vivid vivid_debug=8

Or changing the parameter while its already running:

sudo sh -c "echo -n 0 > sys/module/vivid/parameters/vivid_debug"

Dynamic debug:

If your kernel is compiled with DYNAMIC_DEBUG flag, then changing the printk level probably won't enable the debug prints in the dmesg log.

Lets say the module we are working is called media, lets add it into the kernel:

sudo modprobe media

And now we will enable all the debug prints in the media module by sending 'module media +p' to the dynamic_debug/control file:

$ sudo sh -c "echo -n 'module media +p' > /sys/kernel/debug/dynamic_debug/control"

$ sudo cat /sys/kernel/debug/dynamic_debug/control | grep "\[media\]"
	drivers/media/media-entity.c:301 [media]media_entity_pipeline_start =p "\042%s\042:%u must be connected by an enabled link\012"
	drivers/media/media-entity.c:287 [media]media_entity_pipeline_start =p "link validation failed for \042%s\042:%u -> \042%s\042:%u, error %d\012"

If you look at the dynamic_debug/control file content (as we did above) you can see the "=p" which means that the prints in those lines are enabled.

To disable the prints, we send 'module media -p' to the dynamic_debug/control file:

$ sudo sh -c "echo -n 'module media -p' > /sys/kernel/debug/dynamic_debug/control"

$ sudo cat /sys/kernel/debug/dynamic_debug/control | grep "\[media\]"
	drivers/media/media-entity.c:301 [media]media_entity_pipeline_start =_ "\042%s\042:%u must be connected by an enabled link\012"
	drivers/media/media-entity.c:287 [media]media_entity_pipeline_start =_ "link validation failed for \042%s\042:%u -> \042%s\042:%u, error %d\012"

If you look at the dynamic_debug/control file content again you can see the "=_" which means that the prints in those lines are disabled.

Enabling a specific print

Instead of enabling all the debug prints of the entire module, we can enable all the prints on a specific file, or we can specify a file and a line:

$ sudo sh -c "echo -n 'file media-entity.c +p' > /sys/kernel/debug/dynamic_debug/control"

$ sudo sh -c "echo -n 'file media-entity.c line 301 +p' > /sys/kernel/debug/dynamic_debug/control"

Read dmesg log continuously

Instead of calling dmesg every time to check the log, you can do:

$ tail -f /var/log/kern.log

and the log will be printed continuously.

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