2. Hello, world!
Now we will write our program, the old classic “Hello, world” (hello.asm). You can download its source and binaries here. But before you do, let me explain several basics.
2.1. System calls
Unless a program is just implementing some math algorithms in assembly, it will deal with such things as getting input, producing output, and exiting. For this, it will need to call on OS services. In fact, programming in assembly language is quite the same in different OSes, unless OS services are touched.
There are two common ways of performing a system call in UNIX OS: through the C library (libc) wrapper, or directly.
Using or not using libc in assembly programming is more a question of taste/belief than something practical. Libc wrappers are made to protect programs from possible system call convention changes, and to provide POSIX compatible interface if the kernel lacks it for some call. However, the UNIX kernel is usually more-or-less POSIX compliant — this means that the syntax of most libc “system calls” exactly matches the syntax of real kernel system calls (and vice versa). But the main drawback of throwing libc away is that one loses several functions that are not just syscall wrappers, like printf(), malloc() and similar.
This tutorial will show how to use direct kernel calls, since this is the fastest way to call kernel service; our code is not linked to any library, does not use ELF interpreter, it communicates with kernel directly.
Things that differ in different UNIX kernels are set of system calls and system call convention (however as they strive for POSIX compliance, there’s a lot of common between them).
Note: (Former) DOS programmers might be wondering, “What is a system call?” If you ever wrote a DOS assembly program (and most IA-32 assembly programmers did), you may remember DOS services int 0x21, int 0x25, int 0x26 etc.. These are analogous to the UNIX system call. However, the actual implementation is absolutely different, and system calls are not necessarily done via some interrupt. Also, quite often DOS programmers mix OS services with BIOS services like int 0x10 or int 0x16 and are very surprised when they fail to perform them in UNIX, since these are not OS services).
2.2. Program layout
As a rule, modern IA-32 UNIXes are 32bit (*grin*), run in protected mode, have a flat memory model, and use the ELF format for binaries.
A program can be divided into sections: .text for your code (read-only), .data for your data (read-write), .bss for uninitialized data (read-write); there can actually be a few other standard sections, as well as some user-defined sections, but there’s rare need to use them and they are out of our interest here. A program must have at least .text section.
Ok, now we’ll dive into OS specific details.
System calls in Linux are done through int 0x80. (actually there’s a kernel patch allowing system calls to be done via the syscall (sysenter) instruction on newer CPUs, but this thing is still experimental).
Linux differs from the usual UNIX calling convention, and features a “fastcall” convention for system calls (it resembles DOS). The system function number is passed in eax, and arguments are passed through registers, not the stack. There can be up to six arguments in ebx, ecx, edx, esi, edi, ebp consequently. If there are more arguments, they are simply passed though the structure as first argument. The result is returned in eax, and the stack is not touched at all.
System call function numbers are in sys/syscall.h, but actually in asm/unistd.h. Documentation on the actual system calls is in section 2 of the manual pages some documentation is in the 2nd section of manual (for example to find info on write system call, issue the command man 2 write).
There have been several attempts to write an up-to-date documentation of the Linux system calls, examine URLs in the References section below.
So, our Linux program will look like:
section .text global _start ;must be declared for linker (ld) msg db 'Hello, world!',0xa ;our dear string len equ $ - msg ;length of our dear string _start: ;tell linker entry point mov edx,len ;message length mov ecx,msg ;message to write mov ebx,1 ;file descriptor (stdout) mov eax,4 ;system call number (sys_write) int 0x80 ;call kernel mov eax,1 ;system call number (sys_exit) int 0x80 ;call kernel
Kernel source references:
Note: most of this section should apply to other BSD systems (OpenBSD, NetBSD) as well, however the source references may be different.
FreeBSD has the more “usual” calling convention, where the syscall number is in eax, and the parameters are on the stack (the first argument is pushed last). A system call should be done performed through a function call to a function containing int 0x80 and ret, not just int 0x80 itself (kernel expects to find extra 4 bytes on the stack before int 0x80 is issued). The caller must clean up the stack after the call is complete. The result is returned as usual in eax.
There’s an alternate way of using call 7:0 gate instead of int 0x80. The end-result is the same, but the call 7:0 method will increase the program size since you will also need to do an extra push eax before, and these two instructions occupy more bytes.
System call function numbers are listed in sys/syscall.h, and the documentation on the system calls is in section 2 of the man pages.
Ok, I think the source will explain this better:
section .text global _start ;must be declared for linker (ld) msg db "Hello, world!",0xa ;our dear string len equ $ - msg ;length of our dear string _syscall: int 0x80 ;system call ret _start: ;tell linker entry point push dword len ;message length push dword msg ;message to write push dword 1 ;file descriptor (stdout) mov eax,0x4 ;system call number (sys_write) call _syscall ;call kernel ;the alternate way to call kernel: ;push eax ;call 7:0 add esp,12 ;clean stack (3 arguments * 4) push dword 0 ;exit code mov eax,0x1 ;system call number (sys_exit) call _syscall ;call kernel ;we do not return from sys_exit, ;there's no need to clean stack
Kernel source references:
Note: if you are building nasm version 0.98 from the source on BeOS, you need to insert #include "nasm.h" into float.h, and #include <stdio.h> into nasm.h.
The BeOS kernel also uses the “usual” UNIX calling convention. The difference from the FreeBSD example is that you call int 0x25.
For information where to find system call function numbers and other interesting details, examine asmutils, especially the os_beos.inc file.
section .text global _start ;must be declared for linker (ld) msg db "Hello, world!",0xa ;our dear string len equ $ - msg ;length of our dear string _syscall: ;system call int 0x25 ret _start: ;tell linker entry point push dword len ;message length push dword msg ;message to write push dword 1 ;file descriptor (stdout) mov eax,0x3 ;system call number (sys_write) call _syscall ;call kernel add esp,12 ;clean stack (3 * 4) push dword 0 ;exit code mov eax,0x3f ;system call number (sys_exit) call _syscall ;call kernel ;no need to clean stack
2.6. Building an executable
Building an executable is the usual two-step process of compiling and then linking. To make an executable out of our hello.asm we must do the following:
$ nasm -f elf hello.asm # this will produce hello.o ELF object file $ ld -s -o hello hello.o # this will produce hello executable
Note: OpenBSD and NetBSD users should issue the following sequence instead (because of a.out executable format):
$ nasm -f aoutb hello.asm # this will produce hello.o a.out object file $ ld -e _start -o hello hello.o # this will produce hello executable
That’s it. Simple. Now you can launch the hello program by entering ./hello. Look at the binary size — surprised?