Okay, so I gave it away in the title, but follow along anyway.
Your program chugs along and then suddenly it crashes like this:
eax=06bad8e8 ebx=00000000 ecx=1e1cfdf0 edx=00000000 esi=06b9a680 edi=01812950 eip=1180ab57 esp=001178b4 ebp=001178c0 iopl=0 nv up ei pl nz na pe nc cs=001b ss=0023 ds=0023 es=0023 fs=003b gs=0000 efl=00010206 ABC!FunctionX+0x1f: 1180ab57 ff5108 call dword ptr [ecx+8] ds:0023:1e1cfdf8=???????? 0:000>>
Instantly you recognize the following:
- This is a virtual method call. (Call indirect through register plus offset.) — Very high confidence.
- The vtable is in
ecx. (That is the base register of the indirect call.) — Very high confidence.
- The underlying DLL for this object has been unloaded. (The memory that contains the vtable is not valid and its address is consistent with once having been in valid code.) — High confidence.
- This is a
Releaseis the third function of
IUnknownand therefore resides at offset 8 on x86.) — High confidence.
Of course, all of the above "instant conclusions" are merely "highly-educated guesses", but life is full of highly-educated guesses. (Every morning, I guess that my plates are still in the cupboard.)
Let's run with our theory that the object was in an unloaded DLL and look for confirmation.
0:000> lm start end module name ... Unloaded modules: 10340000 10348000 DEF.DLL 1e1c0000 1e781000 GHI.DLL 25a90000 25a96000 JKL.DLL 0:000>
Aha, our presumed vtable address lies right inside the address space
GHI.DLL used to be loaded.
Let's see what used to be loaded at that address.
For this, I borrow a trick from
loading a module as a dump file.
This "virtually loads" the library so you can poke around inside it.
C:\Program Files\ABC> ntsd -z GHI.DLL Microsoft (R) Windows Debugger Copyright (c) Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Loading Dump File [C:\Program Files\ABC\GHI.DLL] ... ModLoad: 15800000 15dc1000 C:\Program Files\ABC\GHI.DLL eax=00000000 ebx=00000000 ecx=00000000 edx=00000000 esi=00000000 edi=00000000 eip=15807366 esp=00000000 ebp=00000000 iopl=0 nv up di pl nz na pe nc cs=0000 ss=0000 ds=0000 es=0000 fs=0000 gs=0000 efl=00000000 GHI!_DllMainCRTStartup: 15807366 8bff mov edi,edi 0:000>
That module-load notification tells you where the DLL got virtually-loaded; in our case, it got loaded to 0x15800000. This isn't the same address as it was in our crashed process, so we'll have to do some mental arithmetic to account for the discrepancy.
Going back to the original register dump, we see that our
putative vtable is at
to the load address
Since our DLL-loaded-as-a-dump-file was loaded at
we need to adjust the address to be relative to the new location.
// working with the second copy of ntsd 0:000> ln 0x1580fdf0 (1580fdf0) GHI!CAlphaStream::`vftable'
That magic number
0x1580fdf0 is just the result of
some mental arithmetic.
This is the address of the vtable in the crashed process relative to the load address of the DLL in the crashed process. Next:
This is the address of the vtable in the DLL-loaded-as-a-dump-file relative to the load address of the DLL in the DLL-loaded-as-a-dump-file. The math really isn't that hard, as you can see, since a lot of things cancel out. This happens a lot.
When we asked the debugger to tell us what symbol is nearest to that
address, we hit the jackpot: It is exactly a vtable for the
This confirms our original theory.
We can even confirm the
by dumping the vtable.
0:000> dds 1580fdf0 1580fdf0 159234b3 GHI!CAlphaStream::QueryInterface 1580fdf4 15810539 GHI!CBetaState::AddRef 1580fdf8 15923cfc GHI!CAlphaStream::Release 1580fdfc 15923d30 GHI!CAlphaStream::Read ...
Yup, that's a
CAlphaStream vtable all right.
Since I'm not familiar with the
let's ask the debugger where the source code is so we can take a closer
0:000> .lines Line number information will be loaded 0:000> dds 1580fdf0 1580fdf0 159234b3 GHI!CAlphaStream::QueryInterface [c:\dev\fabricam\synergy\proactive\winwin.cpp @ 2624] 1580fdf4 15810539 GHI!CBetaState::AddRef [c:\dev\fabricam\leverage\paradigm\initiative.cpp @ 427] 1580fdf8 15923cfc GHI!CAlphaStream::Release [c:\dev\fabricam\synergy\proactive\winwin.cpp @ 2638] 1580fdfc 15923d30 GHI!CAlphaStream::Read [c:\dev\fabricam\synergy\proactive\winwin.cpp @ 2649]
Now that we know where the source code to
CAlphaStream is, we can hop on over to take a quick peek
and confirm that, oh look, the object doesn't increment the DLL object
count when it is constructed (or decrement it when it is destructed).
As a result, when COM calls
GHI.DLL says, "Sure, go ahead!"
The DLL is unloaded even though
ABC still has a reference
to it, and then when
ABC goes to release that reference,
we crash because
GHI is already gone.
After I wrote this up, I discovered that Tony Schreiner went through pretty much the same exercise with a third-party Internet Explorer toolbar, except he had the extra bonus challenge of not having source code for the plug-in!