Debugging walkthrough: Diagnosing a __purecall failure

Prerequisite: Understanding what __purecall means.

I was asked to help diagnose an issue in which a program managed to stumble into the __purecall function.

00a14509 a100000000      mov     eax,dword ptr ds:[00000000h] ds:0023:00000000=????????

The stack at the point of failure looked like this:


The line at XYZ!CViewFrame::SetFrame that called the mystic __purecall was a simple AddRef:

  pSomething->AddRef(); // crashes in __purecall

From what we know of __purecall, this means that somebody called into a virtual method on a derived class after the derived class’s destructor has run. Okay, well, let’s see if we can find the object in question. Since the method being called is a COM method, the __stdcall calling convention applies, which means that the this pointer is on the stack.

0:023> dd esp+4 l1
0529f76c  06a88d58

Using our knowledge of the layout of a COM object, we can navigate through memory to find the vtable.

0:023> dps 06a88d58
06a88d58  009b2eac XYZ!CRegistrationSink::`vftable'
06a88d5c  06b20058
06a88d60  00000002 
06a88d64  00998930 XYZ!CObjectWithBrush::`vftable'
06a88d68  00000000 
06a88d6c  009c9c80 XYZ!CBrowseSite::`vftable'
06a88d70  009c9c70 XYZ!CBrowseSite::`vftable'
06a88d74  00000000
0:023> dps 009b2eac
009b2eac  00a14509 XYZ!_purecall // virtual QueryInterface() = 0
009b2eb0  00a14509 XYZ!_purecall // virtual AddRef() = 0
009b2eb4  00a14509 XYZ!_purecall // virtual Release() = 0
009b2eb8  009cb1e4 XYZ!CRegistrationSink::Register
009b2ebc  009b3d2d XYZ!CRegistrationSink::Unregister

We see that the object has been destructed down to the CRegistrationSink base class, and the attempt to increment its reference count has led us into the abyss of __purecall.

But what was this object before it descended into madness?

Well, we know that the object was something derived from CRegistrationSink. And the other values in memory tell us that the object most likely also derived from CObjectWithBrush and CBrowseSite. Just for fun, here’s the CObjectWithBrush vtable, to confirm that we destructed down to that point:

00998930  00a14509 XYZ!_purecall // virtual QueryInterface() = 0
00998934  00a14509 XYZ!_purecall // virtual AddRef() = 0
00998938  00a14509 XYZ!_purecall // virtual Release() = 0
0099893c  0099880d XYZ!CObjectWithBrush::SetBrush
00998940  00a319ee XYZ!CObjectWithBrush::GetBrush
00998944  00a13fd9 XYZ!CObjectWithBrush::`scalar deleting destructor'

Ooh, it looks like CObjectWithBrush has a virtual destructor. Probably to destroy the brush.

A check of the source code tells us that nobody derives from CBrowseSite, so that is almost certainly the original object type.

As a cross-check, we check whether what we have matches the memory layout of a CBrowseSite:

0:023> dt XYZ!CBrowseSite 06a88d58
   +0x000 __VFN_table : 0x009b2eac
   +0x004 m_prgreg         : 0x06a88d58 Registration
   +0x008 m_creg           : 2
   +0x00c __VFN_table : 0x00998930
   +0x010 m_hbr            : (null)
   +0x014 __VFN_table : 0x009c9c80
   +0x018 __VFN_table : 0x009c9c70
   +0x01c m_cRef           : 0

Looks not unreasonable. (Well, aside from the fact that we have a bug…) The object has most likely begun its destruction because its reference count (_cRef) went to zero.

At this point, there was enough information to ask the developers responsible for CViewFrame and CBrowseSite to work out how the CViewFrame ended up running around with a pointer to an object that has already been destructed.

Comments (4)
  1. S says:

    Another case in which you'll see pure call is if you call a virtual member function before the objects constructors have finished running, not just when the destructors are running.

  2. Barbie says:

    @S: Well, yeah. That's exactly what the purecall link points out.

    [And more relevant to the article, if that was the problem, they wouldn't have needed my help debugging it. -Raymond]
  3. Joe says:

    after many years of looking at these issues, I just short-cutted to "oh, there is a reference count bug.  go fix it!" :)

  4. benjamin says:

    But "What Is __purecall?"

    That's the question I ask every time I Google Old New Thing.

Comments are closed.