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Runtime Assembly Instrumentation Library Project
Dependable Systems Group
Department of Computer Science
University of Coimbra - Portugal


Runtime Assembly Instrumentation Library

   One key aspect of many modern programming languages is that they are compiled into a portable intermediate form and executed by a language runtime. Typically, the language runtime allows types to be loaded at runtime from a binary source (e.g. from a file or from the network) and executed. Two well known examples are the Java language, which supports dynamic class loading, and the .NET framework which allows assemblies to be dynamically loaded and executed.
   One interesting side effect of having dynamic code loading is that before actually loading the code into a virtual machine, it is possible to instrument the code, introducing or removing specific instructions, changing the use of classes, variables and constants. The key idea is that it is possible to alter the code, performing some modifications, before the code is actually executed. These transformations are either performed after compile time, or at load time. This approach can be quite powerful. For instance, it is possible to instrument the code so that proper resource control takes place [1], change the code so that it is possible to serialize and relocate executing threads in a cluster [2], perform program consistency checks according to security policies [3], redirect method calls to proxies, among others.
    Two of the most important libraries in this area are BCEL [4], which is now part of the Apache server, and provides a high-level API for manipulating Java byte code, and JOIE [5] that also allows java objects to be instrumented. Together, these libraries have been used on more than 32 projects which instrument Java code to perform the most various tasks. In [4] it is presented a clear overview of many different types of projects that benefit from this kind of technology. This kind of approach is even useful when no dynamic class loading exists. For instance, EEL [6] is a C++ library for instrument static executables.
    It is our goal to study how this kind of functionalities can be implemented in the .NET framework, and to actually build a library that provides that. Related to this, the Rotor code base will allow us to understand the inner works of class resolution and loading, examine the binary format of the assemblies and understand how the CLR manipulates them. Rotor will also provide us with a platform where to experiment with code rewriting, its interactions with the JIT, and learn how to deal with pre compiled assemblies. We believe that by building such a library, many important lessons will be learned that can be important to the research community. At the same time, after RAIL is built, a powerful tool will be available that can help researchers to investigate into many different subjects like: security, program verification, resource control, software fault injection, and others.

References

[1] W. Binder, J. Hulaas, A. Villazón, and R. Vidal: “Portable Resource Control in Java: The J SEAL2 Approach”, in Proc. ACM Conference on Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications (OOPSLA-2001), Florida, USA, 2001
[2] E. Truyen, B. Robben, B. Vanhaute, T. Coninx, W. Joosen, and P. Verbaeten: “Portable support for transparent thread migration in Java”, in Proc. Joint Symposium on Agent Systems and Applications/Mobile Agents (ASA/MA’2000), Zürich, Switzerland, 2000
[3] A. Chander, J. Mitchell, and I. Shin: “Mobile code security through java byte code modification”, available at: http://theory.stanford.edu/~vganesh/project.html
[4] “BCEL – The Byte Code Engineering Library”, available at: http://jakarta.apache.org/bcel
[5] “JOIE – The Java Object Instrumentation Environment”, available at: http://www.cs.duke.edu/ari/joie
[6] “EEL – An Executable Editing Library”, available at: http://www.cs.wind.edu/~larus/eel.html


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