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a brainfuck interpreter supporting linux syscalls with an example HTTP server
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README.md

systemf

a brainfuck interpreter supporting Linux syscalls

brainfuck is awesome, but per spec it's only able to interact with the real world via STDIN and STDOUT.

By extending the language with a special character % which executes a syscall, we can do a whole lot more with it while having all the "fun" of working in the language. This lets us do lots of cool things like write an HTTP server in brainfuck:

served webpage screenshot

Building:

The interpreter is written in NASM x86-64 assembly. You'll need NASM to build, and if your architecture is not x86-64 you will need to use an emulator or similar solution. Otherwise, it's as easy as:

make [build || debug || clean]

To run, call the binary on a brainfuck file:

./bin/systemf examples/hello_world.bf
Hello, World!

Interpreter rules

This interpreter features a full implementation of the brainfuck programming language. The default settings for language-unspecified rules are:

  • Each cell in the program arena is a single byte with possible values 0-255
  • Cell values wrap automatically between their min (0) and max (255) values
  • The program arena consists of 30000 cells
  • Attempting to move the cell pointer below 0 or above 29999 results in a bounds error, and will crash the program with exit code 2
  • Mismatched brackets will cause a crash with exit code 1

Syscalls

To make a syscall in brainfuck programs, this implementation introduces an additional language character: %. When this character is encountered in a program, the interpreter does the following:

  1. The value at the current cell is considered the syscall code
  2. The following cell is considered the number of arguments
  3. The following cells outline arguments in the following form:
    1. One cell is a flag for what type of argument this is, where 0 indicates a regular argument, 1 indicates a pointer to the argument contents in memory, and 2 indicates a pointer to a given cell number.
    2. One cell indicates the cell length of the argument
    3. The following cells indicate the argument contents. Multi-cell arguments are interpreted as bytes in big-endian form.
  4. The syscall is made, and its return value is dumped to the current cell.

For example, to call sys-exit, we can give the following code:

++++++[>++++++++++<-]>  Write code 60 (sys exit) in cell1

>                       move to cell2
+                       Write argument count of 1 to cell2

>                       move to cell3
(leave 0)               Write first arg type as normal

>                       move to cell4
+                       Write first arg cell length of 1 to cell3

>                       move to cell5
+++                     Write exit code 3 in cell4

<<<<                    move back to cell1
%                       Call kernel

This will trigger a program exit with exit code 3:

$ ./bin/systemf examples/syscall_simple.bf
$ echo $?
3

We can use cell pointers to tell the kernel to write side effect data directly into our program tape. For example, system read() takes in its second argument a pointer to a buffer. To implement this in systemf we can pass a cell pointer instead and flag it as such:

Read 5 bytes from stdin into cells 28 to 32 and print them out

  (0) >  Syscall code 0 for read()
  +++ >  Arg count 3

Arg 0~file descriptor  ================================

  (0) >  Arg type:    Normal
  +   >  Cell length: 1
  (0) >  Content:     File descriptor 0 for STDIN

Arg 1~write buffer  ===================================

  ++ >   Arg type:    Cell pointer
  + >    Cell length: 1
  +++++++
  +++++++
  +++++++
  +++++++ >  Content: Target cell 28

Arg 2~read byte count ==================================

  (0) > Arg type:    Normal
  + >   Cell length: 1
  +++++ Content:     read byte count 5

Return to cell 0 and execute
  <<<<<<<<<<
  %

5 input characters are taken and stored in cells 28 to 32
Let's prove it:

Go to cell 28
  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Print those contents out!
  .>.>.>.>.>

And in execution...

systemf$ ./bin/systemf examples/syscall_read.bf
12345
12345systemf$

Other goodies

While the interpreter does not come with built-in debugging abilities, running the interpreter from GDB makes debugging quite manageable.

The interpreter offers a special pseudo-instruction $ which does nothing except run a no-op on a label that makes it easy to attach a GDB breakpoint at specific locations in your program.

Say you have the following brainfuck program and you want to know exactly where you are landing after the [<] loop:

+ > + > + >
++++++++++
++++++++++
++++++++++
++++++++++
++++++++++
++++++++++
++++++++++ >

(0) > + > + > + > +

[<]

<

.

By placing a $ symbol after the [<] line and attaching a GDB breakpoint to BF_DEBUGGING_BREAK, we can thoroughly examine the program state at that moment:

systemf$ gdb ./bin/systemf
...
Reading symbols from ./bin/systemf...done.
(gdb) break BF_DEBUGGING_BREAK
Breakpoint 1 at 0x4002ef: file src/systemf.asm, line 197.
(gdb) run examples/breakpoint_helper.bf
Starting program: ~/systemf/bin/systemf examples/breakpoint_helper.bf

Breakpoint 1, BF_DEBUGGING_BREAK () at src/systemf.asm:197
197       nop
(gdb) info reg r15              #  <-- The interpreter position in the source file (by char)
r15            0xb3     179
(gdb) info reg r13              #  <-- A pointer to the current cell in the program
r13            0x619700 6395648
(gdb) x/32ub &tape              #  <-- View program tape state (be sure to view in "ub" mode)
0x6196fc <tape>:        1       1       1       70      0       1       1       1
0x619704:       1       0       0       0       0       0       0       0
0x61970c:       0       0       0       0       0       0       0       0
0x619714:       0       0       0       0       0       0       0       0

In debugging syscalls it is often useful to view the register states immediately before calling. To do this simply drop a breakpoint toward the end of the sysCallExecute label and examine the register state in GDB with info registers

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