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Solaris X86 64-bit Assembly Programming

Solaris X86 64-bit Assembly Programming

This is a simple example on writing, compiling, and debugging Solaris 64-bit x86 assembly language with a C program.
This is also referred to as "AMD64" assembly. The term "AMD64" is used in an inclusive sense to refer to all X86 64-bit processors, whether AMD Opteron family or Intel 64 processor family. Both run Solaris x86.
I'm keeping this example simple mainly to illustrate how everything comes together—compiler, assembler, linker, and debugger when using assembly language.
The example I'm using here is a C program that calls an assembly language program passing a C string. The assembly language program takes the C string and calls printf() with it to print the string.

AMD64 Register Usage
But first let's review the use of AMD64 registers.
AMD64 has several 64-bit registers, some special purpose (such as the stack pointer) and others general purpose. By convention, Solaris follows the AMD64 ABI in register usage, which is the same used by Linux, but different from Microsoft Windows in usage (such as which registers are used to pass parameters). This blog will only discuss conventions for Linux and Solaris.
The following chart shows how AMD64 registers are used.
The first six parameters to a function are passed through registers.
If there's more than six parameters, parameter 7 and above are pushed on the stack before calling the function. The stack is also used to save temporary "stack" variables for use by a function.

64-bit Register



Instruction Pointer points to the current instruction


Stack Pointer


Frame Pointer (saved stack pointer pointing to parameters on stack)


Function Parameter 1


Function Parameter 2


Function Parameter 3


Function Parameter 4


Function Parameter 5


Function Parameter 6


Function return value

%r10, %r11

Temporary registers (need not be saved before used)

%rbx, %r12, %r13, %r14, %r15

Temporary registers, but must be saved before use and

restored before returning from the current function

(usually with the push and pop instructions).

32-, 16-, and 8-bit registers
To access the lower 32-, 16-, or 8-bits of a 64-bit register use the following:

64-bit register

Least significant 32-bits

Least significant 16-bits

Least significant 8-bits


There's other registers present, such as the 64-bit %mm registers, 128-bit %xmm registers, 256-bit %ymm registers, and 512-bit %zmm registers. Except for %mm registers, these registers may not present on older AMD64 processors.

Assembly Source

The following is the source for a C program, helloas1.c, that calls an assembly function, hello_asm().

$ cat helloas1.c
extern void hello_asm(char *s);

hello_asm("Hello, World!");

The assembly function called above, hello_asm(), is defined below.

$ cat helloas2.s
* helloas2.s
* To build:

cc -m64 -o helloas2-cpp.s -D_ASM -E helloas2.s

cc -m64 -c -o helloas2.o helloas2-cpp.s
#if defined(lint) || defined(__lint)
hello_asm(char *s)

/* lint */
#include <sys/asm_linkage.h>


// Setup printf parameters on stack


%rdi, %rsi

// P2 (%rsi) is string variable


.printf_string, %rdi

// P1 (%rdi) is printf format string




// Read-only data


.printf_string, @object


"The string is: %s.\n\0"

/* lint || __lint */

In the assembly source above, the C skeleton code under "#if defined(lint)" is optionally used for lint to check the interfaces with your C program--very useful to catch nasty interface bugs. The "asm_linkage.h" file includes some handy macros useful for assembly, such as ENTRY_NP(), used to define a program entry point, and SET_SIZE(), used to set the function size in the symbol table.

The function hello_asm calls C function printf() by passing two parameters, Parameter 1 (P1) is a printf format string, and P2 is a string variable. The function begins by moving %rdi, which contains Parameter 1 (P1) passed hello_asm, to printf()'s P2, %rsi. Then it sets printf's P1, the format string, by loading the address of the format string in %rdi, P1. Finally it calls printf.
After returning from printf, the hello_asm function returns itself.

Instructions starting with dot "." are pseudo instructions. Pseudo instructions don't generate code but control things such as alignment (.align), externals (.extern). string data (.ascii), and byte data (.byte). Labels are external symbols unless they begin with a dot "." (such as ".printf_string" in this example).

Larger, more complex assembly functions usually do more setup than the example above. If a function is returning a value, it would set %rax to the return value. Also, it's typical for a function to save the %rbp and %rsp registers of the calling function and to restore these registers before returning. %rsp contains the stack pointer and %rbp contains the frame pointer. Here is the typical function setup and return sequence for a function:




// save frame pointer on stack


%rsp, %rbp

// save stack pointer in frame pointer


%rax, %rax

// set function return value to 0.


%rbp, %rsp

// restore stack pointer



// restore frame pointer


// return to calling function


Compiling and Running Assembly

Use the Solaris cc command to compile both C and assembly source, and to pre-process assembly source. You can also use GNU gcc instead of cc to compile, if you prefer. The "-m64" option tells the compiler to compile in 64-bit address mode (instead of 32-bit).

$ cc -m64 -o helloas2-cpp.s -D_ASM -E helloas2.s
$ cc -m64 -c -o helloas2.o helloas2-cpp.s
$ cc -m64 -c helloas1.c
$ cc -m64 -o hello-asm helloas1.o helloas2.o
$ file hello-asm helloas1.o helloas2.o

ELF 64-bit LSB executable AMD64 Version 1 [SSE FXSR FPU], dynamically linked, not stripped

ELF 64-bit LSB relocatable AMD64 Version 1

ELF 64-bit LSB relocatable AMD64 Version 1
$ hello-asm
The string is: Hello, World!.

Debugging Assembly with MDB

MDB is the Solaris system debugger. It can also be used to debug user programs, including assembly and C. The following example runs the above program, hello-asm, under control of the debugger.
In the example below I load the program, set a breakpoint at the assembly function hello_asm, display the registers and the first parameter, step through the assembly function, and continue execution.

$ mdb hello-asm

# Start the debugger
> hello_asm:b

# Set a breakpoint
> ::run

# Run the program under the debugger
mdb: stop at hello_asm
mdb: target stopped at:
hello_asm: movq %rdi,%rsi
> $C

# display function stack
ffff80ffbffff6e0 hello_asm()
ffff80ffbffff6f0 0x400adc()
> $r

# display registers
%rax = 0x0000000000000000 %r8 = 0x0000000000000000
%rbx = 0xffff80ffbf7f8e70 %r9 = 0x0000000000000000
%rcx = 0x0000000000000000 %r10 = 0x0000000000000000
%rdx = 0xffff80ffbffff718 %r11 = 0xffff80ffbf537db8
%rsi = 0xffff80ffbffff708 %r12 = 0x0000000000000000
%rdi = 0x0000000000400cf8 %r13 = 0x0000000000000000
%r14 = 0x0000000000000000
%r15 = 0x0000000000000000
%cs = 0x0053 %fs = 0x0000 %gs = 0x0000
%ds = 0x0000 %es = 0x0000 %ss = 0x004b
%rip = 0x0000000000400c70 hello_asm
%rbp = 0xffff80ffbffff6e0
%rsp = 0xffff80ffbffff6c8
%rflags = 0x00000282
id=0 vip=0 vif=0 ac=0 vm=0 rf=0 nt=0 iopl=0x0
%gsbase = 0x0000000000000000
%fsbase = 0xffff80ffbf782a40
%trapno = 0x3
%err = 0x0
> ::dis

# disassemble the current instructions
hello_asm: movq %rdi,%rsi
hello_asm+3: leaq 0x400c90,%rdi
hello_asm+0xb: call -0x220 <PLT:printf>
hello_asm+0x10: ret
0x400c81: nop
0x400c85: nop
0x400c88: nop
0x400c8c: nop
0x400c90: pushq %rsp
0x400c91: pushq $0x74732065
0x400c96: jb +0x69 <0x400d01>
> 0x0000000000400cf8/S

# %rdi contains Parameter 1
0x400cf8: Hello, World!
> [

# Step and execute 1 instruction
mdb: target stopped at:
hello_asm+3: leaq 0x400c90,%rdi
> [
mdb: target stopped at:
hello_asm+0xb: call -0x220 <PLT:printf>
> [
The string is: Hello, World!.
mdb: target stopped at:
hello_asm+0x10: ret
> [
mdb: target stopped at:
main+0x19: movl $0x0,-0x4(%rbp)
> :c

# continue program execution
mdb: target has terminated
> $q

# quit the MDB debugger

In the example above, at the start of function hello_asm(), I display the stack contents with "$C", display the registers contents with "$r", then disassemble the current function with "::dis".

The first function parameter, which is a C string, is passed by reference with the string address in %rdi (see the register usage chart above).
The address is 0x400cf8, so I print the value of the string with the "/S" MDB command: "0x0000000000400cf8/S".

I can also print the contents at an address in several other formats.
Here's a few popular formats. For more, see the mdb(1) man page for details.

  • address/S C string
  • address/C ASCII character (1 byte)
  • address/E unsigned decimal (8 bytes)
  • address/U unsigned decimal (4 bytes)
  • address/D signed decimal (4 bytes)
  • address/J hexadecimal (8 bytes)
  • address/X hexadecimal (4 bytes)
  • address/B hexadecimal (1 bytes)
  • address/K pointer in hexadecimal (4 or 8 bytes)
  • address/I disassembled instruction

Finally, I step through each machine instruction with the "[" command, which steps over functions. If I wanted to enter a function, I would use the "]" command. Then I continue program execution with ":c", which continues until the program terminates.

MDB Basic Cheat Sheet

Here's a brief cheat sheet of some of the more common MDB commands useful for assembly debugging.
There's an entire set of macros and more powerful commands, especially some for debugging the Solaris kernel, but that's beyond the scope of this example.

  • $C

    Display function stack with pointers

  • $c

    Display function stack

  • $e

    Display external function names

  • $v

    Display non-zero variables and registers

  • $r

    Display registers

  • ::fpregs

    Display floating point (or "media" registers). Includes %st, %xmm, and %ymm registers.

  • ::status

    Display program status

  • ::run

    Run the program (followed by optional command line parameters)

  • $q

    Quit the debugger

  • address:b

    Set a breakpoint

  • address:d

    Delete a breakpoint

  • $b

    Display breakpoints

  • :c

    Continue program execution after a breakpoint

  • [

    Step 1 instruction, but step over function calls

  • ]

    Step 1 instruction

  • address::dis

    Disassemble instructions at an address

  • ::events

    Display events

Assembly Language Formats

X86 assembly language comes in two formats—one used by Intel and Microsoft DOS and Windows, and the other used by ATT UNIX and UNIX-like systems (including Solaris and Linux). Here's a chart illustrating the differences:

Intel/Microsoft syntaxATT/UNIX/Solaris/Linux syntax














As you can see the main difference is the operands are reverse. Intel uses "destination, source" and ATT uses "source, destination". Other differences is ATT prefixes literals with "$" and registers with "%". Intel uses a "h" suffix to designate hexadecimal and ATT uses "0x" prefix. Intel uses "[register+offset]", addressing and ATT uses "offset(register)". A simple way to help translate from Intel to ATT syntax is to assemble the source into an object file and use Solaris dis(1) to disassemble the object.

Further Information

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