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How it all works


Build starts with going through all modules in the bpf/ directory, and:

  1. Compile all .c files with clang into BPF bytecode.
  2. Run bindgen for all structs, the names of which start with _data_ (e.g. _data_tcp_connect).

bpf_helpers.h is in the include directory, so bindgen can be run freely on all .h files under bpf/. This is quirky, but works.

The produced BPF bytecode ELF packages are embedded in the final binary using include_bytes! statements. The produced bindings are embedded using include! statements.


Grains are self-contained monitors and reporters. Each grain can gather their own type of statistics about a particular aspect of the system’s operation. Grains need to manage any BPF modules they might be using. Every grain is coupled with a dedicated cloud-based analytics backend.

BPF probes are using the kernel’s eBPF virtual machine to execute a safe bytecode directly in kernel-space. These modules can only interact with the outside world using well-defined interfaces, and cannot execute arbitrary system calls.

The BPF modules will send data to userland using perf_event ring-buffers. These ring-buffers are fixed size buffers with a size multiples of the platform native VMM page size (4k on x86/x64).

Important to note 2 things:

  • The license of BPF modules needs to be GPL is we want to extract data from the kernel into userland through the perf_event interface.
  • If the module’s version does not match the running kernel’s version number, the kernel will refuse to load the module. The workaround here is using 0xFFFFFFFE in the binary to stay compatible with gobpf. This version will be replaced runtime by redbpf.

After the BPF probes are parsed from the ELF files, the following syscalls are made, in order:

  1. bpf_create_map: All global data is stored in maps. These structures are allocated during parsing.
  2. bpf_prog_load: Load a program into the BPF VM, and initialise it
  3. bpf_attach_kprobe: Attach BPF probes to a syscall. Entry probes and return probes are possible, they will be called when entering or exiting a syscall, respectively.
  4. bpf_update_elem: the perf_event ringbuffers are initialised. This includes allocating a perf_reader object, which are used for userspace consumption of the bpf_perf_event_output calls in the probes.

Perf Events

Ingraind uses the perf_event_open (2) interface to communicate with the kernel’s BPF VM.

The BPF modules will access the perf_event ring buffers through a BPF_MAP structure of type BPF_MAP_PERF_EVENT_ARRAY. The maps contain an fd that is keyed by the CPU id. Technically, multiple strategies are allowed for keying this map, but the most popular looks like setting up a separate ring buffer for every online single CPU.

Events are consumed using an epoll_wait loop, and read until exhaustion. The benefit of a single epoll_wait loop is that all the complex logic behind initialisation of different grains ultimately ends up allowing notifications through a single fd, including all network, and even perf_event buffers.

ELF parsing

A thing to note here before I get into this, is how state is managed in the BPF VM. There’s no global state allowed, so anything that needs to be persisted between calls into the probe needs to go through BPF_MAP_.* structures through VM opcodes (#define’d as function calls, eg. update, delete, etc.).

A corollary to this is that global state used in the C source code is stored in the ELF binary in named PROGBITS sections , then loaded and initialised to be BPF_MAPs by the loader as data. We load this into memory, treating it as configuration, then instruct the kernel to set up global state storage to get an fd in return. This fd can also be used to send data back and forth between kernel- and userspace in certain cases.

It gets interesting when these are referenced in code (functions). The compiler generates a REL section that links to the symbol table, and has an info field that is a link to the amended section of code. The offset field specifies the offset in bytes from the start of the section that needs to be modified. A relocation, strictly in the BPF context, is a rewrite instruction for a specific instruction, in a specific section, referencing a specific symbol.

Because data access is always through VM opcodes, the instruction at the offset location is… something. We don’t actually care. Relocations tell us to… do something with it.

We need to rewrite the instruction’s source register (src_reg) with BPF_PSEUDO_MAP_FD, and the immediate constant parameter (imm) with the fd of the map that’s referenced by the symbol.

So to recap, this is the workflow to deal with loading ELF files:

  1. Load the strings table
  2. Load the symbol table
  3. Parse all the sections
  4. Create BPF_MAPs from the maps/ sections to acquire fds
  5. Go through all code sections, and apply relocations such that:
    1. Resolve all REL symbols into fds (through the symbol table and back again).
    2. Rewrite the instruction at specified offset
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