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There and Back Again - A Reprise

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15 Apr 2012CPOL9 min read 13K   81   9  
A totally new version of the article I wrote many years ago called "There and Back Again or Stepping Through the JIT Thunk Layer" but this time examines 64-bit processes and V4.0 of Microsoft's .NET runtime.


Several years ago I wrote a small article entitled, "There and Back Again or Stepping Through the JIT Thunk Layer" ( which provided a brief glimpse into the Microsoft .NET V1.1 Just-In-Time, i.e., JIT, compiling and thunk layers for 32-bit processes. It is time to update this saga but this time targeting 64-bit technologies and a later version of the .NET runtime. For the purposes of this return visit, I am using Visual Studio 11 Beta running in a virtual machine with Windows Ultimate 7 installed and my own 64-bit debugger, PEBrowseDbg64 Interactive Professional ( Note: if you have not obtained a copy of the VS11 beta and installed it, earlier versions of Visual Studio with 64-bit technology should be just fine, allowing for minor differences in the following narrative.

Creating the Test Program

Open Visual Studio and create a C# Windows Forms Application with the name Wilderland (this recalls references to the book, "The Hobbit" (, embedded throughout my earlier article and honors J. R. R. Tolkein and the upcoming movie). Change the form's Text property to "Wilderland" and add a button named LonelyMountain_button with the Text property, "Lonely Mountain". To the button's Click event, add the following snippet of code:

int TheOneRing = 0x9731;

Add the private method, LonelyMountain:

private void LonelyMountain(int MagicRing)
    LonelyMountain_button.Text = "Bilbo Lives!";

Finally, to the form's FormClosing event, add:

MessageBox.Show("The adventure is ending!", "Farewell");

Make sure you target the build for 64-bit, i.e., the Active solution platform is "x64" but not "Any CPU", and compile the program for both Debug and Release versions (we will be using the Release version during the trip). When you run the program, you should see something resembling the following image:

Image 1

After downloading and installing PEBrowseDbg64, we are now ready to start our adventure.

Setting the Environment

An absolute priority for following the explanation is access to the correct debug symbols. As part of PEBrowseDbg64's installation, you will find a small file called _NT_SYMBOL_PATH.txt. If you have not already done so, create an environment variable with the name of this file (minus the file extension) and set the variable's value equal to the contents of the file. With this small bit of preparation, we can continue. Launching PEBrowseDbg64, you will see this image:

Image 2

For those of you who have used my older, 32-bit debugger, PEBrowse Interactive Professional, this window should look familiar.

Starting the Journey

If you are using the VS11 Beta, you will need to check the menu item under Tools/VS11 Beta. Now, select from the menu File/Start Program (or Ctl-S) and fill in the ensuing dialog box, thusly:

Image 3

(The Wilderland program may be located in a different directory for your system.) Press the Start button and you should now see:

Image 4

The debugger has halted your program here because of the checkbox, Debug loader startup code? If you have ever wondered how Windows programs get off the ground, i.e., before your program's main routine is called, you can start single-stepping (F11) here and into the call to LdrpInitialize. For now, press F5, or Debug/Go and the next, "normal" breakpoint will fire inside the NTDLL routine, LdrpDoDebuggerBreak. This is the same initial breakpoint you will encounter using other debuggers, e.g., WinDbg. Pressing F5 again will yield (you may see an intervening exception which you can safely ignore):

Image 5

As the name of the routine suggests, the .NET runtime is building the environment, i.e., AppDomain, in which your managed code will run. We are offered a chance to investigate this because we selected the checkbox, Break on 1st JIT event? in the Debug Session Start dialog box. The Intermediate Language, or IL, for this routine can be accessed by locating the method inside of MSCORLIB.NI.DLL using the treeview index on the left and displaying the .NET methods - more on this in a bit.

Image 6

Pressing F5 once more will display:

Image 7

Some of the nodes in the treeview are now displayed in red and indicate new or changed memory allocations. Now, expanding the WILDERLAND.EXE node gains browse access to the internals of the file along with .NET methods and metadata, exports (if any), and debug symbols (if available). Navigate to the .NET Methods node and select the menu item View/Display.NET Methods and expand the Wilderland::Form1 node. The new window should look something like this:

Image 8

Select the LonelyMountain_button_click item and the menu item Edit/Add Breakpoint at 06000003, which just happens to be the MethodDef behind the click event for the button, LonelyMountain. This activity corresponds to the normal opportunity for setting breakpoints inside of your managed code using development environments like Visual Studio. However, if you select the menu item View/Debug Windows/.NET JIT Events:

Image 9

you will discover a lot of activity has already taken place with your program. This is, of course, the AppDomain setup process, mentioned earlier in this article. Setting breakpoints on any of these and restarting the debug session gives you the opportunity of exploring more of the startup activity.

Entering Mirkwood or the JIT-Thunk Layers

After setting the breakpoint for the click event, allow the program to continue until you see the window, Wilderland, and press the Lonely Mountain button. The debugger will now stop your program and display:

Image 10

(I am taking snapshots of the release version of the Wilderland program - you may see something a bit different if you are using the debug version.) If you are prepared to enter the mysterious forest, Mirkwood, and are willing to follow the magic path, press F10 until you reach the jump statement:


Note that your local variable, TheOneRing, is present in the register RDX. Also, select the Register Contents window and Edit/Watch Contents of RAX:

Image 11

Press F10 once and you should be seeing:

PID: 0x0E10 Disassembly for THUNK at 0x000007FE8CC8C040
 000007FE8CC8C040: CALL    PrecodeFixupThunk ; (0x000007FEEC442110)
 000007FE8CC8C045: POP     RSI
 000007FE8CC8C046: ADD     AL,BYTE PTR [RCX+RBP*8]
 000007FE8CC8C049: XOR     ESP,DWORD PTR [RDX+0x045F0018]
 000007FE8CC8C04F: ADD     EBP,EAX
 000007FE8CC8C051: MOV     EBX,0x5E5F7B60

Note the call to PrecodeFixupThunk. Press F11, i.e., step into the call, rather than F10, stepping over. If by accident you press F10, the program will continue without an opportunity for further interaction and like the danger in the river in the middle of Mirkwood, your debugging session will never wakeup (since the following POP RSI instruction will not be executed).

If you have carefully used the F11 boat like the 13 dwarves and the hobbit, the following will be your reward:

PID: 0x0E10 Disassembly for clr.dll!PrecodeFixupThunk (0x000007FEEC442110)
  ; PrecodeFixupThunk (0x000007FEEC442110)
  ;    Debug Symbol:  PrecodeFixupThunk
 000007FEEC442110: POP     RAX
 000007FEEC442111: MOVZX   R10,BYTE PTR [RAX+0x02]
 000007FEEC442116: MOVZX   R11,BYTE PTR [RAX+0x01]
 000007FEEC44211B: MOV     RAX,QWORD PTR [RAX+R10*8+0x03]
 000007FEEC442120: LEA     R10,QWORD PTR [RAX+R11*8]
 000007FEEC442124: JMP     0x000007FEEC442450
 ; ThePreStub
 000007FEEC442450: LEA     RAX,QWORD PTR [RSP+0x08]
 000007FEEC442455: PUSH    R10
 000007FEEC442457: PUSH    R15
 000007FEEC442459: PUSH    R14
 000007FEEC44245B: PUSH    R13
 000007FEEC44245D: PUSH    R12
 000007FEEC44245F: PUSH    RBP
 000007FEEC442460: PUSH    RBX
 000007FEEC442461: PUSH    RSI
 000007FEEC442462: PUSH    RDI
 000007FEEC442463: PUSH    RAX
 000007FEEC442464: SUB     RSP,0x78
 000007FEEC442468: MOV     QWORD PTR [RSP+0x000000D0],RCX
 000007FEEC442470: MOV     QWORD PTR [RSP+0x000000D8],RDX
 000007FEEC442478: MOV     QWORD PTR [RSP+0x000000E0],R8
 000007FEEC442480: MOV     QWORD PTR [RSP+0x000000E8],R9
 000007FEEC442488: MOVQ    XMMWORD PTR [RSP+0x20],XMM0
 000007FEEC44248E: MOVQ    XMMWORD PTR [RSP+0x30],XMM1
 000007FEEC442494: MOVQ    XMMWORD PTR [RSP+0x40],XMM2
 000007FEEC44249A: MOVQ    XMMWORD PTR [RSP+0x50],XMM3
 000007FEEC4424A0: LEA     RCX,QWORD PTR [RSP+0x68]
 000007FEEC4424A5: CALL    clr.dll!PreStubWorker ; (0x000007FEEC4BE1B0)
 000007FEEC4424B0: MOVDQA  XMM1,XMMWORD PTR [RSP+0x30]
 000007FEEC4424B6: MOVDQA  XMM2,XMMWORD PTR [RSP+0x40]
 000007FEEC4424C2: MOV     RCX,QWORD PTR [RSP+0x000000D0]
 000007FEEC4424CA: MOV     RDX,QWORD PTR [RSP+0x000000D8]
 000007FEEC4424D2: MOV     R8,QWORD PTR [RSP+0x000000E0]
 000007FEEC4424DA: MOV     R9,QWORD PTR [RSP+0x000000E8]
 000007FEEC4424E2: NOP     
 000007FEEC4424E3: ADD     RSP,0x0000000000000080
 000007FEEC4424EA: POP     RDI
 000007FEEC4424EB: POP     RSI
 000007FEEC4424EC: POP     RBX
 000007FEEC4424ED: POP     RBP
 000007FEEC4424EE: POP     R12
 000007FEEC4424F0: POP     R13
 000007FEEC4424F2: POP     R14
 000007FEEC4424F4: POP     R15
 000007FEEC4424F6: POP     R10
 000007FEEC4424F8: JMP     RAX

Don't be intimidated by all of this assembly code - most of it exists to preserve the state of your managed code, both before the upcoming call to the JIT compiler and restoring its state after the call. Incidentally, all of the JIT events that appear in the JIT Events window have already passed through this code. The two most important registers in the Registers window to pay attention to as you single-step through the code are RAX and R10. Also, note the first instruction, i.e., POP RAX. If you think about it and remember the previous instruction, a call statement, you will realize that the call's return address will pop off the stack into the RAX register and that is the address of the instruction after the call! This little trick provides the code with an address inside the thunk memory and helps the following mysterious bit of code load R10 with another thunk address which will become quite important in the upcoming call to the JIT compiler.

Now, press F10 until you reach the call to CLR!PreStubWorker. If you wish to spelunk the internals of the .NET JIT process, you would now step into this call by pressing F11, but be prepared to face spiders and worse inside this code - it is hairy stuff! Instead, step over the call using F10 and observe how the memory window you opened earlier for the RAX register has changed:

Image 12

The contents for the memory location, e.g., 000007FE8CC8C040, have changed (indicated by the red color)! If you disassemble this address using View/Disassemble At, you may also observe that the call to PrecodeFixupThunk has now been replaced by a jump statement! The C# code for the private method, LonelyMountain, has just been compiled and your program granted access to it by this small piece of self-modifying code magic. Continue pressing F10 until you reach the JMP RAX instruction and then press F10 again:

PID: 0x0E10 Disassembly for THUNK at 0x000007FE8CE16360
 000007FE8CE16360: SUB     RSP,0x28
 000007FE8CE16364: TEST    RCX,RCX
 000007FE8CE16367: JE      0x000007FE8CE163B2
 000007FE8CE16369: MOV     RAX,QWORD PTR [RCX]
 000007FE8CE1636C: MOV     R10D,0x7FFFFF10018
 000007FE8CE16376: CMP     RAX,R10
 000007FE8CE16379: JNE     0x000007FE8CE163B2
 000007FE8CE1637B: MOV     QWORD PTR [RSP+0x30],RCX
 000007FE8CE16380: MOV     QWORD PTR [RSP+0x38],RDX
 000007FE8CE16385: MOV     QWORD PTR [RSP+0x40],R8
 000007FE8CE1638A: MOV     QWORD PTR [RSP+0x48],R9
 000007FE8CE1638F: MOV     RAX,QWORD PTR [RCX+0x28]
 000007FE8CE16393: MOV     RCX,QWORD PTR [RCX+0x10]
 000007FE8CE16397: CALL    RAX
 000007FE8CE16399: MOV     RCX,QWORD PTR [RSP+0x30]
 000007FE8CE1639E: MOV     RDX,QWORD PTR [RSP+0x38]
 000007FE8CE163A3: MOV     R8,QWORD PTR [RSP+0x40]
 000007FE8CE163A8: MOV     R9,QWORD PTR [RSP+0x48]
 000007FE8CE163AD: TEST    RAX,RAX
 000007FE8CE163B0: JNE     0x000007FE8CE163C3
 000007FE8CE163B2: MOV     RAX,0x7FE8CDA0390 ; (06000002) ; (0x000007FE8CDA0390)
 000007FE8CE163BC: ADD     RSP,0x28
 000007FE8CE163C0: JMP     RAX
  000007FE8CA45BE3: MOV     R10D,0x7FE8C8B6560
  000007FE8CA45BED: MOV     RAX,0x7FEEC0DBCB0 ; (0x000007FEEC0DBCB0)
  000007FE8CA45BF7: ADD     RSP,0x28
  000007FE8CA45BFB: JMP     RAX

I suspect most of this code exists to support .NET instrumentation and other profiling activities since pressing F10 until the first JMP RAX statement (funny how this instruction continues to show up) bypasses much of this. (The address, 0x7FEEC0DBCB0, references a routine called TransparentProxyStubRCX inside of CLR.DLL.) Pressing F10 once more brings us safely to the LonelyMountain private method:

Image 13

Allowing the program to continue (by pressing F5) will now result in the button's text announcing to the world that we have safely reached our destination:

Image 14

The Journey Home

We are just about at the end of our adventure, but if you press the newly changed button, Bilbo Lives!, the program will be halted a second time inside the click event and you can repeat the above steps to see for yourself how the code behaves on subsequent passes. You should note that the program executes the second thunk layer again and will continue to do so as long as the program is active (or not modified by a re-JIT request or some other injected code). Like Bilbo and the magic ring, our code is subtly altered by repeated activity.

The more adventurous (Tookish) among you may wish to set a breakpoint on the FormClosing event and travel through a slightly different JIT path when a native routine, e.g., MessageBox, is invoked.

PID: 0x0E10 Disassembly for Wilderland.exe!
Wilderland::Form1::Form1_FormClosing (06000004) at 0x000007FE8CDA03D0
 000007FE8CDA03D0: MOV     RCX,0x12A03238
 000007FE8CDA03DD: MOV     RDX,0x12A03240
 000007FE8CDA03E7: MOV     RDX,QWORD PTR [RDX]
 000007FE8CDA03EA: LEA     RAX,QWORD PTR [0x000007FEE8920F30]
 000007FE8CDA03F1: JMP     RAX
  000007FE8CDA03F4: RET

The first thunk is the same; but the second is missing since you are executing NGEN'd code inside of

For the rest of us, we can view the last bit of Wilderland:

Image 15

and declare the adventure over after dismissing the last dialog box.


If you compare the earlier article with this one, you should realize that though the details have changed during the migration from 32-bit, earlier versions of the Common Language Runtime to its 64-bit successor, the essence is still the same. When your .NET executable is loaded, small stubs pointing to a common thunk that wraps the JIT compilation process are created for every MethodDef in your code. After successfully compiling the IL for the method, the JIT compiler allocates memory to hold the new, native instructions and creates a second customized stub linking the original call to the new code. If you tried traveling the MessageBox path, you will also realize a similar process occurs in linking your code to native Windows APIs. Also I hope that by introducing you to my new, 64-bit debugger, you will have gained a new tool in your arsenal for exploring and understanding the .NET Wilderland.


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

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