Lab 5, Inspecting object/load modules

Goals for this lab

By the time you have completed this lab you should be able to:

  • Identify and interpret file types with the file command.
  • Inspect object and load module contents and structure with command line tools strings, nm, objdump and readelf.
  • Explain key memory concepts for C and C++ programs.

Pairing Reminder

You must work as a pair on the labs. If you were paired up last week, you need to work with the same pair. If you did not get paired up last week, or your pair is no longer in the class, please see the TA.

Lab Preparation

Change into the cs32 directory, and create a lab directory:

cd cs32
mkdir lab5

Change into the lab4 directory and copy the file you will need for this lab:

cd lab5
cp ~cs32/public_html/code/lab5/* .

First compile with both -g and -c flags to provide debugging information and write the object module, lab5.o to disk:

clang++ -g -c lab5.cpp

Now create the executable file from this object file:

clang++ -o lab5 lab5.o

Next, read and interpret the output of the file command for the three files. Executing file lab5* will produce the following output:

lab5:     ELF 32-bit LSB executable, Intel 80386, version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked (uses shared libs), for GNU/Linux 2.6.32, not stripped
lab5.cpp: ASCII text
lab5.o:   ELF 32-bit LSB relocatable, Intel 80386, version 1 (GNU/Linux), not stripped

ELF stands for “Executable and Linking Format” as you learned from the Reader and lecture, LSB means “Linux Standard Base” (a collection of APIs meant to be supported by all Linux systems), and SYSV abbreviates “UNIX System V.” What else can you learn from these results? And what do you suppose “not stripped” means?

The strings command can be used to list the strings in a binary file. For example, the relocatable object file (lab5.o) has two strings:

$ strings lab5.o

Did you read the source code? If so, then these strings should look familiar. Meanwhile, the executable file contains many more strings. Try strings lab5 to see them.

Inspect object module names/sections with nm

The command nm lists the “names” (symbols) in an object or load module, and objdump displays various information about such files. Both commands have useful options that are worth learning.

Show the names in lab5.o via nm lab5.o:

00000130 t _GLOBAL__I_a
         U _ZNSolsEPFRSoS_E
         U _ZNSolsEi
         U _ZNSt8ios_base4InitC1Ev
         U _ZNSt8ios_base4InitD1Ev
         U _ZSt4cout
         U _ZSt4endlIcSt11char_traitsIcEERSt13basic_ostreamIT_T0_ES6_
00000028 b _ZStL8__ioinit
         U _ZStlsISt11char_traitsIcEERSt13basic_ostreamIcT_ES5_PKc
00000028 d _ZZ4mainE1k
         U __cxa_atexit
00000000 t __cxx_global_var_init
         U __dso_handle
00000000 D a
00000000 B b
00000050 T main

The values on the left side are addresses in hexadecimal, and you can show these values in decimal with the -td option. The next column shows the class of each symbol, where T and t are functions, D and d are data (global variables), B and b are uninitialized data, and U is undefined.

Notice the names are shown in their mangled form by default. For example, _ZZ4mainE1k is really just the static variable k in main, _ZNSolsEi” is std::ostream::operator<<(int) in more familiar notation. The -C option will decode (demangle) such symbols for you. Try it now.

By the way, the default format for nm, “BSD format” is in some cases more difficult to read than “System V format” which can be achieved with the -f sysv option. Try that now too.

Inspect object module names/sections with objdump

Using objdump can reveal more details about object files. At least one option must be specified.

Try it first with the -S option. I recommend piping the results through less to view one screenful at a time. Hit q when you want to exit less:

objdump -S lab5.o | less

According to man, the -S option will “display source code intermixed with disassembly, if possible. Implies -d.” The -d option means disassemble the code.

Use man objdump or read the man page to learn about more options. You might like the -l option in particular. Use it along with the -d option as follows:

objdump -d -l lab5.o | less

Try some other option switches. Notice for example that -C serves the same purpose it did for the nm command. Do you remember that purpose? The -j option lets you specify just particular sections. Interesting sections include .text, .data, .rodata, and .ctors, among others.

Inspect executable module with readelf

Although you could use objdump to inspect this load module, the readelf tool gives more information about load modules (so called because they are ready to be loaded into memory for execution). As with objdump, at least one option must be specified.

First learn about readelf from its man page.

Did you notice that the -S option has a different meaning for readelf than it does for objdump? For readelf it means “Displays the information contained in the file’s section headers, if it has any.” Use it now to find out the names of the sections in lab5:

readelf -S lab5

Answer some questions

Create a file answers.txt and store your answers the following questions in it. Place each answer on its own line and separate answers by at least a single blank line:

  1. What is the name of the section with the program’s instructions?

  2. In what section is the array named a stored?

  3. What happened to the constant M? In what section is its value storred?

  4. In what section is the static variable k stored?

  5. How is the array b handled differently than other variables?

  6. The variable i is handled differently too. How?

Submission Instructions

Please make only one submission per pair; this isn’t essential, it just makes life easier for the TA.

~cs32/submit lab5@cs32 answers.txt

Please check the feedback email to ensure you submitted correctly. For this lab, you will only receive a verification score (0 out of 1 or 1 out of 1) to indicate that your submission was suitable for manual grading. Your actual scores will be sent out via Piazza either Friday or Saturday following the lab.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Michael Costanzo for allowing me use of his CS32 material. This lab was copied almost verbatim from his Spring 2012 CS32 class.


Template design by Andreas Viklund