If you followed my last post, you will see that in order to unwind the stack you have to find the FDE associated with a given program counter value. There are two steps to this problem. The first one is finding the CIEs and FDEs at all. The second one is, given the set of FDEs, finding the one you need.

The old way this worked was that gcc would create a global constructor which called the function __register_frame_info, passing a pointer to the .eh_frame data and a pointer to the object. The latter pointer would indicate the shared library, and was used to deregister the information after a dlclose. When looking for an FDE, the unwinder would walk through the registered frames, and sort them. Then it would use the sorted list to find the desired FDE.

The old way still works, but these days, at least on GNU/Linux, the sorting is done at link time, which is better than doing it at runtime. Both gold and the GNU linker support an option --eh-frame-hdr which tell them to construct a header for all the .eh_frame sections. This header is placed in a section named .eh_frame_hdr and also in a PT_GNU_EH_FRAME segment. At runtime the unwinder can find all the PT_GNU_EH_FRAME segments by calling dl_iterate_phdr.

The format of the .eh_frame_hdr section is as follows:

  1. A 1 byte version number, currently 1.
  2. A 1 byte encoding of the pointer to the exception frames. This is a DW_EH_PE_xxx value. It is normally DW_EH_PE_pcrel | DW_EH_PE_sdata4, meaning a 4 byte relative offset.
  3. A 1 byte encoding of the count of the number of FDEs in the lookup table. This is a DW_EH_PE_xxx value. It is normally DW_EH_PE_udata4, meaning a 4 byte unsigned count.
  4. A 1 byte encoding of the entries in the lookup table. This is a DW_EH_PE_xxx value. It is normally DW_EH_PE_datarel | DW_EH_PE_sdata4, meaning a 4 byte offset from the start of the .eh_frame_hdr section. That is the only encoding that gcc’s current unwind library supports.
  5. A pointer to the contents of the .eh_frame section, encoded as indicated by the second byte in the header. This pointer is only used if the format of the lookup table is not supported or is for some reason omitted..
  6. The number of FDE pointers in the table, encoded as indicated by the third byte in the header. If there are no FDEs, the encoding can be DW_EH_PE_omit and this number will not be present.
  7. The lookup table itself, starting at a 4-byte aligned address in memory. Assuming the fourth byte in the header is DW_EH_PE_datarel | DW_EH_PE_sdata4, each entry in the table is 8 bytes long. The first four bytes are an offset to the initial PC value for the FDE. The last four byte are an offset to the FDE data itself. The table is sorted by starting PC.

Since FDEs do not overlap, this table is sufficient for the stack unwinder to quickly find the relevant FDE if there is one.

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