[UNMAINTAINED] Compile Time Function Call Instrumentation
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LLTap - Compile Time Function Call Instrumentation

LLTap is a tool to easily add instrumentation code around function calls. As a user one can specify pre and post hooks, which are called before and after the target function, or replace the function call completely.

Possible uses would be:

  • as a debugging utility: print debug information and possibly modify arguments or return values.
  • as a call tracer: trace all calls to a certain API, similar to ltrace but for an arbitrary set of functions.
  • as a testing tool: perform fault injection - let some API calls fail or modify the result values.

Instrumentation works on LLVM Bitcode, so instrumenting binaries is not possible unless a native code to bitcode decompiler is used.


First you need to have LLVM and clang and their development headers installed. LLTap uses cmake to generate the build files. To build LLTap using ninja:

mkdir build
cd build
cmake -G Ninja ..

Which will compile the LLVM pass and runtime support library.


Consider the following snippet of C code:

#include <stdio.h>

void say_hello(char* name)
  printf("Hello %s!\n", name);

int main()

Let's say we want to modify the call to say_hello. We can create the following hook, which prints the argument to say_hello and modifies it.

#include <liblltap.h>
#include <stdio.h>

void hello_hook(char** name) {
  fprintf(stderr, "say_hello(\"%s\") - Changing arg to \"dlrow\"\n", *name);
  *name = "dlroW";

LLTAP_REGISTER_HOOK("say_hello", hello_hook, LLTAP_PRE_HOOK)

Note that a pre hook can modify the parameters of the original call, which are passed as pointers to the pre hook.

Now to build with instrumentation, we need to compile to LLVM bitcode. Apply the LLTap Instrumentation pass to the bitcode file.

clang -emit-llvm -c hello.c
opt -load ../build/llvmpass/libLLTap.so -LLTapInst hello.bc -o hello_inst.bc
clang -I ../include -L ../build/lib/ hello_hook.c hello_inst.bc -o hello -llltaprt

Note that it is also possible to streamline this build process by loading the LLTap pass directly from clang using the -Xclang argument. Care has to be taken, that hooks are not also instrumented when building, so that infinite call loops are avoided.

If we run the resulting binary:

$ env LD_LIBRARY_PATH=../build/lib/ ./hello
say_hello("World") - Changing arg to "dlroW"
Hello dlroW!

We can see that the pre hook has printed some logging code and also changed the first argument.

Hook Types

LLTap supports three different hook types: pre, post and replace.

  • LLTAP_PRE_HOOK - is executed before the call and receives pointers to the parameters of the original call, so that it can modify the parameters, e.g.
int example(int a, char* b);
void example_prehook(int* a, char** b);
  • LLTAP_REPLACE_HOOK - is executed instead of the original function and must have the same prototype as the function it replaces.
  • LLTAP_POST_HOOK - is exectued after the call and receives a pointer to the return value as first parameter. Additionally the parameters of the original call are passed by value, e.g.
void example_posthook(int* ret, int a, char* b);

Automatic Generation of API Tracers

tracergen/lltaptracergen is a python script can be used to generate tracing hooks given one ore more C header files. This can be used to create a tool similar to ltrace. To generate tracing hooks for stdio.h, execute:

./lltaptracergen -o stdio.c -m stdio /usr/include/stdio.h

This produces a C file, that contains LLTap hooks, which print the function name, arguments and the return value.

You will need the python libclang bindings for this tool to work. At the time of writing they are only included in the clang source distribution, so you might need to set some environment variables so that python can import it:

# to find llvm-config
export PATH=/path/to/src/llvm/build/bin/:$PATH
# added to python path
export PY_LIBCLANG=/path/to/src/llvm/tools/clang/bindings/python

Related Work

Google has proposed a very similar tool called x-ray at the LLVM-dev mailing list.