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Introduction

Appcall is a mechanism to call functions under a debugger session in the context of the debugged program using IDA's CLI (Command Line Interpreter) or from a script.
Such a mechanism can be used for seamless blackbox function calling and use, fuzzing, process instrumentation, DLL injection, testing or extending applications.

Appcall mechanism highly depends on the type information of the called function. For that reason, it is necessary to have a correct function prototype before doing an Appcall, otherwise different or incorrect results may be returned.

In a nutshell, Appcall works by first hijacking the current thread's stack (please do switch threads explicitly if you want to Appcall in a different context), then pushing the arguments, and then temporarily adjusting the instruction pointer to the beginning of the called function. After the function returns (or an exception occurs), the original stack, instruction pointer, and other registers are restored, and the result is returned to the caller.

Please note that while most of the examples in this document are illustrated using a Windows user mode application, Appcall is not limited to Windows and can be used with any platform supported by IDA debuggers.

Quick start

Let's start explaining the basic concepts of Appcall using the IDC CLI. Let's imagine we have the following printf() in the disassembly somewhere:

.text:00000001400015C0 ; __int64 printf(const char *, ...)
.text:00000001400015C0 _printf         proc near               
.text:00000001400015C0                                         
.text:00000001400015C0
.text:00000001400015C0 arg_0           = qword ptr  8
.text:00000001400015C0 arg_8           = qword ptr  10h
.text:00000001400015C0 arg_10          = qword ptr  18h
.text:00000001400015C0 arg_18          = qword ptr  20h
.text:00000001400015C0
.text:00000001400015C0                 mov     [rsp+arg_0], rcx
.text:00000001400015C5                 mov     [rsp+arg_8], rdx
.text:00000001400015CA                 mov     [rsp+arg_10], r8
.text:00000001400015CF                 mov     [rsp+arg_18], r9
...

It can be called by simply typing the following in the IDC CLI (press "." to jump to the CLI):

_printf("hello world\n");

As you noticed, we invoked an Appcall by simply treating _printf as if it was a built-in IDC function. If the application had a console window, then you should see the message printed in it.

If you have a function with a mangled name or with characters that cannot be used as an identifier name in the IDC language, such as "_my_func@8", then you can use the LocByName function to get its address given its name, then using the address variable (which is callable) we issue the Appcall:

auto myfunc = LocByName("_my_func@8");
myfunc("hello", "world");

Or simply directly as:

LocByName("_my_func@8")("hello", "world");

Using AppCall with IDC

Apart from calling Appcall naturally as shown in the previous section, it is possible to call it explicitly using the dbg_appcall function:

// Call application function
//      ea - address to call
//      type - type of the function to call. can be specified as:
//              - declaration string. example: "int func(void);"
//              - typeinfo object. example: get_tinfo(ea)
//              - zero: the type will be retrieved from the idb
//      ... - arguments of the function to call
// Returns: the result of the function call
// If the call fails because of an access violation or other exception,
// a runtime error will be generated (it can be caught with try/catch)
// In fact there is rarely any need to call this function explicitly.
// IDC tries to resolve any unknown function name using the application labels
// and in the case of success, will call the function. For example:
//      _printf("hello\n")
// will call the application function _printf provided that there is
// no IDC function with the same name.

anyvalue dbg_appcall(ea, type, ...);    

The Appcall IDC function requires you to pass a function address, function type information (various forms are accepted) and the parameters (if any):

auto msgbox;
msgbox = LocByName("__imp_MessageBoxA");
// Pass "0" for the type to deduce it from the database
dbg_appcall(msgbox, 0, 0, "Hello world", "Info", 0);

We've seen so far how to call a function if it already has type information, now suppose we have a function that does not:

user32.dll:00007FFF3AD730F0 user32_FindWindowA proc near
user32.dll:00007FFF3AD730F0      mov     r9, rdx
user32.dll:00007FFF3AD730F3      mov     r8, rcx
user32.dll:00007FFF3AD730F6      xor     edx, edx
user32.dll:00007FFF3AD730F8      xor     ecx, ecx
user32.dll:00007FFF3AD730FA      jmp     sub_7FFF3ADC326C
user32.dll:00007FFF3AD730FA user32_FindWindowA endp  

Before calling this function with dbg_appcall we have two options:

  1. Pass the prototype as a string
  2. Or, parse the prototype separately and pass the returned type info object.

This is how we can do it using the first option:

auto window_handle;
window_handle = dbg_appcall(
    LocByName("user32_FindWindowA"),
    "long __stdcall FindWindow(const char *cls, const char *wndname)",
    0,
    "Calculator");
    
msg("handle=%d\n", window_handle);

As for the second option, we can use parse_decl() first, then proceed as usual:

auto window_handle, tif;

tif = parse_decl("long __stdcall FindWindow(const char *cls, const char *wndname)", 0);

window_handle = dbg_appcall(
    LocByName("user32_FindWindowA"),
    tif,
    0,
    "Calculator");
    
msg("handle=%d\n", window_handle);
  
Note that we used parse_decl() function to construct a typeinfo object that we can pass to dbg_appcall.

It is possible to permanently set the prototype of a function programmatically using apply_type():

auto tif;
tif = parse_decl("long __stdcall FindWindow(const char *cls, const char *wndname)", 0);
apply_type(
    LocByName("user32_FindWindowA"),
    tif);

In the following sections, we are going to cover different scenarios such as calling by reference, working with buffers and complex structures, etc.

Passing arguments by reference

To pass function arguments by reference, it suffices to use the & symbol as in the C language.
void ref1(int *a)
{
  if (a == NULL)
    return;
  int o = *a;
  int n = o + 1;
  *a = n;
  printf("called with %d and returning %d\n", o, n);
}

We can use this code from IDC:

auto a = 5;
msg("a=%d", a);
ref1(&a);
msg(", after the call=%d\n", a);
/* C code */
int ref2(char *buf)
{
  if (buf == NULL)
    return -1;

  printf("called with: %s\n", buf);
  char *p = buf + strlen(buf);
  *p++ = '.';
  *p = '\0';
  printf("returned with: %s\n", buf);
  int n=0;
  for (;p!=buf;p--)
    n += *p;
  return n;
}

We need to create a buffer and pass it by reference to the function:

auto s = strfill('\x00', 20); // create a buffer of 20 characters
s[0:5] = "hello"; // initialize the buffer
ref2(&s); // call the function and pass the string by reference

// check if the string has a dot appended to it
if (s[5] != ".")
{
  msg("not dot\n");
}  
else
{
  msg("dot\n");
}

__usercall calling convention

It is possible to Appcall functions with non standard calling conventions, such as routines written in assembler that expect parameters in various registers and so on. One way is to use the __usercall calling convention.

Consider this function:
/* C code */
// eax = esi - edi
int __declspec(naked) asm1()
{
  __asm
  {
    mov eax, esi
    sub eax, edi
    ret
  }
}
And from IDC:
auto x = dbg_appcall(
  LocByName("asm1"),
  "int __usercall asm1@<eax>(int a@<edi>, int b@<esi>);",
  1,
  5);
msg("result = %d\n", x);

Variadic functions

In C:
int va_altsum(int n1, ...)
{
  va_list va;
  va_start(va, n1);

  int r = n1;
  int alt = 1;
  while ( (n1 = va_arg(va, int)) != 0 )
  {
    r += n1*alt;
    alt *= -1;
  }

  va_end(va);
  return r;
}

And in IDC:

auto result = va_altsum(5, 4, 2, 1, 6, 9, 0);

Calling functions that might cause exceptions

Exceptions may occur during an Appcall. To capture them, use the try/catch mechanism:

auto e;
try
{
  dbg_appcall(some_func_addr, func_type, args...);
  // Or equally:
  // some_func_name(arg1, arg2, ...);
}
catch (e)
{
  // Exception occured .....
}

The exception object "e" will be populated with the following fields:

For example, one could get something like this:

description: "Appcall: The instruction at 0x401012 referenced memory at 0x0. The memory could not be written"
file: ""
func: "___idcexec0"
line:           4.        4h           4o 
qerrno:          92.       5Ch         134o 
In some cases, the exception object will contain more information.

Functions that accept or return structures

Appcall mechanism also works with functions that accept or return structure types. Consider this C code:
#pragma pack(push, 1)
struct UserRecord 
{
  int id;
  char name[50];
  struct UserRecord* next;
};
#pragma pack(pop)

// Function to create a new record
UserRecord *makeRecord(char name[], int id) 
{
  UserRecord* newRecord = (UserRecord*)malloc(sizeof(UserRecord));
  strcpy(newRecord->name, name);
  newRecord->id = id;
  newRecord->next = NULL;
  return newRecord;
}

void printRecord(UserRecord* record) 
{
  printf("Id: %d ; Name: %s\n", record->id, record->name);
}

// Function to list all student records in the linked list
void listRecords(UserRecord* head) 
{
  if (head == NULL) 
  {
      printf("No records found.\n");
      return;
  }

  printf("Records:\n"
         "--------\n");
  while (head != NULL) 
  {
      printRecord(head);
      head = head->next;
  }
}
We can create a couple of records and link them up together:
auto rec1, rec2, rec3;
// Create records
rec1 = makeRecord("user1", 1);
rec2 = makeRecord("user2", 2);
rec3 = makeRecord("user3", 3);
// Link them up
rec1.next = rec2;
rec2.next = rec3;
// Display them
listRecords(rec1);

Because we issued an Appcall, when listRecords is called, we expect to see the following output in the console:

Records:
--------
Id: 1 ; Name: user1
Id: 2 ; Name: user2
Id: 3 ; Name: user3

We can then access the fields naturally (even the linked objects). We can verify that if we just dump the first record through the IDC CLI (or just by calling IDC's print function):
IDC>rec1
object
  id:           1.        1h           1o
  name: "user1\x00"
  next: object
    id:           2.        2h           2o
    name: "user2\x00"
    next: object
      id:           3.        3h           3o 
      name: "user3\x00"
      next: 0x0i64

Notice how when rec1 is dumped, its next field is automatically followed and properly displayed. The same happens for rec2 and rec3.

We can also directly access the fields of the structure from IDC and have those changes reflected in the debugee's memory:

rec1.id = 11;
rec1.name = "hey user1";
rec1.next.name = "hey user2";
rec1.next.id = 21;
rec1.next.next.name = "hey user3";
rec1.next.next.id = 31;
// Display them
listRecords(rec1);

Notable observations:

Calling an API that receives a structure and its size

Let us take another example where we call the GetVersionExA API function:
kernel32.dll:00007FFF3A0F9240 kernel32_GetVersionExA proc near
kernel32.dll:00007FFF3A0F9240                 jmp     cs:off_7FFF3A1645E0
kernel32.dll:00007FFF3A0F9240 kernel32_GetVersionExA endp

This API requires one of its input fields to be initialized to the size of the structure. Therefore, we need to initialize the structure correctly before passing it to the API to be further populated therein:

// Create an empty object
auto ver = object();
// We need to initialize the size of the structure
ver.dwOSVersionInfoSize = sizeof("OSVERSIONINFO");
// This is the only field we need to have initialized, the other fields will be created by IDA and filled with zeroes
// Now issue the Appcall:
GetVersionExA(ver);

msg("%d.%d (%d)\n", ver.dwMajorVersion, ver.dwMinorVersion, ver.dwBuildNumber);

Now if we dump the ver object contents we observe something like this:

  IDC>print(ver);
  object
    dwBuildNumber:        9200.     23F0h       21760o
    dwMajorVersion:           6.        6h           6o 
    dwMinorVersion:           2.        2h           2o
    dwOSVersionInfoSize:         148.       94h         224o
    dwPlatformId:           2.        2h           2o
    szCSDVersion: "\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00...."  

Working with opaque types

Opaque types like FILE, HWND, HANDLE, HINSTANCE, HKEY, etc. are not meant to be used as structures by themselves but like pointers.

Let us take for example the FILE structure that is used with fopen(); its underlying structure looks like this (implementation details might change):

00000000 FILE struc ; (sizeof=0x18, standard type)
00000000 curp dd ?
00000004 buffer dd ?
00000008 level dd ?
0000000C bsize dd ?
00000010 istemp dw ?
00000012 flags dw ?
00000014 hold dw ?
00000016 fd db ?
00000017 token db ?
00000018 FILE ends

And the fopen() function prototype is:

msvcrt.dll:00007FFF39F1B7B0 ; FILE *__cdecl fopen(const char *FileName, const char *Mode)
msvcrt.dll:00007FFF39F1B7B0 fopen           proc near
msvcrt.dll:00007FFF39F1B7B0                 mov     r8d, 40h ; '@'
msvcrt.dll:00007FFF39F1B7B6                 jmp     msvcrt__fsopen
msvcrt.dll:00007FFF39F1B7B6 fopen           endp

Let us see how we can get a "FILE *"" and use it as an opaque type and issue an fclose() call properly:

auto fp;
fp = fopen("c:\\temp\\x.cpp", "r");
print(fp);
fclose(fp.__at__);

Nothing special about the fopen/fclose Appcalls except that we see the __at__ attribute showing up although it does not belong to the FILE structure definition.
This is a special attribute that IDA inserts into all objects, and it contains the memory address from which IDA retrieved the object attribute values. We can use the __at__ to retrieve the C pointer of a given IDC object.

Previously, we omitted the __at__ field from displaying when we dumped objects output, but in reality this is what one expects to see as part of the objects attributes used in Appcalls. Let's create a user record again:

auto rec;
rec1 = makeRecord("user1", 13);
rec2 = makeRecord("user2", 14);
rec1.next = rec2;
print(rec1);
..and observe the output:
object
  __at__:     5252736.   502680h    24023200o
  id:          13.        Dh          15o
  name: "user1\x00..."
  next: object
    __at__:     5252848.   5026F0h    24023360o 
    id:          14.        Eh          16o
    name: "user2\x00..."
    next: 0x0i64

Please note that it is possible to pass as integer (which is a pointer) to a function that expects a pointer to a structure.

FindFirst/FindNext APIs example

In this example, we call the APIs directly without permanently setting their prototype first.

static main()
{
  auto fd, h, n, ok;

  fd = object(); // create an object
  h = dbg_appcall(
    LocByName("kernel32_FindFirstFileA"),
    "HANDLE __stdcall FindFirstFileA(LPCSTR lpFileName, LPWIN32_FIND_DATAA lpFindFileData);",
    "c:\\windows\\*.exe", 
    fd);
  if (h == -1) // INVALID_HANDLE_VALUE
  {
    msg("No files found!\n");
    return -1;
  }
  for (n=1;;n++)
  {
    msg("Found: %s\n", fd.cFileName);
    ok = dbg_appcall(
          LocByName("kernel32_FindNextFileA"),
          "BOOL __stdcall FindNextFileA(HANDLE hFindFile, LPWIN32_FIND_DATAA lpFindFileData);",
          h,
          fd);

    if ( (n > 5) || (ok == 0) )
      break;
  }
  dbg_appcall(
    LocByName("kernel32_FindClose"),
    "BOOL __stdcall FindClose(HANDLE hFindFile);",
    h);

  return n;
}  

Using LoadLibrary/GetProcAddress

In this example, we are going to initialize the APIs by setting up their prototypes correctly so we can use them later conveniently.

extern getmodulehandle, getprocaddr, findwindow, loadlib;

static init_api()
{
  loadlib = LocByName("kernel32_LoadLibraryA");
  getmodulehandle = LocByName("kernel32_GetModuleHandleA");
  getprocaddr = LocByName("kernel32_GetProcAddress");

  if (loadlib == BADADDR || getmodulehandle == BADADDR || getprocaddr == BADADDR)
    return "Failed to locate required APIs";

  // Let us permanently set the prototypes of these functions
  apply_type(loadlib, "HMODULE __stdcall loadlib(LPCSTR lpModuleName);");
  apply_type(getmodulehandle, "HMODULE __stdcall gmh(LPCSTR lpModuleName);");
  apply_type(getprocaddr, "FARPROC __stdcall gpa(HMODULE hModule, LPCSTR lpProcName);");

  // Resolve address of FindWindow api
  auto t = getmodulehandle("user32.dll");
  if (t == 0)
  {
    t = loadlib("user32.dll");
    if (t == 0)
        return "User32 is not loaded!";
  }
  findwindow = getprocaddr(t, "FindWindowA");
  if (findwindow == 0)
    return "FindWindowA API not found!";

  // Set type
  apply_type(findwindow, "HWND __stdcall FindWindowA(LPCSTR lpClassName, LPCSTR lpWindowName);");

  return "ok";
}

static main()
{
  auto ok = init_api();
  if (ok != "ok")
  {
    msg("Failed to initialize: %s", ok);
    return -1;
  }
  auto hwnd = dbg_appcall(findwindow, 0, 0, "Calculator");
  if (hwnd == 0)
  {
    msg("Failed to locate the Calculator window!\n");
    return -1;
  }
  msg("Calculator hwnd=%x\n", hwnd);
  return 0;
}

Retrieving application's command line

extern getcommandline;

static main()
{
  getcommandline = LocByName("kernel32_GetCommandLineA");
  if (getcommandline == BADADDR)
  {
    msg("Failed to resolve GetCommandLineA API address!\n");
    return -1;
  }
  apply_type(getcommandline, "const char *__stdcall GetCommandLineA();");

  msg("This application's command line:<\n%s\n>\n", getcommandline());
  return 0;
}

Specifying Appcall options

Appcall can be configured with set_appcall_options() and passing one or more options:

It is possible to retrieve the Appcall options, change them and then restore them back. To retrieve the options use the get_appcall_options().

Please note that the Appcall options are saved in the database so if you set it once it will retain its value as you save and load the database.

Manual Appcall

So far, we've seen how to issue an Appcall and capture the result from the script, but what if we only want to setup the environment and manually step through a function?

This can be achieved with manual Appcall. The manual Appcall mechanism can be used to save the current execution context, execute another function in another context and then pop back the previous context and continue debugging from that point.

Let us directly illustrate manual Appcall with a real life scenario:

  1. You are debugging your application
  2. You discover a buggy function (foo()) that misbehaves when called with certain arguments: foo(0xdeadbeef)
  3. Instead of waiting until the application calls foo() with the desired arguments that can cause foo() to misbehave, you can manually call foo() with the desired arguments and then trace the function from its beginning.
  4. Finally, one calls cleanup_appcall() to restore the execution context

To illustrate, let us take the ref1 function (from the previous example above) and call it with an invalid pointer:

  1. Set manual Appcall mode:
    set_appcall_options(APPCALL_MANUAL);
  2. Call the function with an invalid pointer:
    ref1(6);
Directly after doing that, IDA will switch to the function and from that point on we can debug:
.text:0000000140001050 ; void __stdcall ref1(int *a)
.text:0000000140001050 ref1            proc near
.text:0000000140001050                 test    rcx, rcx  ; << RIP starts here 
.text:0000000140001053                 jz      short locret_14000106A
.text:0000000140001055                 mov     edx, [rcx]
.text:0000000140001057                 lea     r8d, [rdx+1]
.text:000000014000105B                 mov     [rcx], r8d
.text:000000014000105E                 lea     rcx, aCalledWithDAnd ; "called with %d and returning %d\n"
.text:0000000140001065                 jmp     _printf
.text:000000014000106A locret_14000106A:      
.text:000000014000106A                 retn
.text:000000014000106A ref1            endp  
Now you are ready to single step that function with all its arguments properly set up for you. When you are done, you can return to the previous context by calling cleanup_appcall().

Initiating multiple manual Appcalls

It is possible to initiate multiple manual Appcalls. If manual Appcall is enabled, then issuing an Appcall from an another Appcall will push the current context and switch to the new Appcall context. cleanup_appcall() will pop the contexts one by one (LIFO style).

Such technique is useful if you happen to be tracing a function then you want to debug another function and then resume back from where you were!

Manual Appcalls are not designed to be called from a script (because they don't finish), nonetheless if you use them from a script:

auto i;
printf("Loop started\n"); // appcall 1
for (i=0;i<10;i++)
{
  msg("i=%d\n", i);
}
printf("Loop finished\n"); // appcall 2

We observe the following:

  1. First Appcall will be initiated
  2. The script will loop and display the values of i in IDA's output window
  3. Another Appcall will be initiated
  4. The script finishes. None of the two Appcalls actually took place
  5. The execution context will be setup for tracing the last issued Appcall
  6. After this Appcall is finished, we observe "Loop finished"
  7. We issue cleanup_appcall and notice that the execution context is back to printf but this time it will print "Loop started"
  8. Finally when we call again cleanup_appcall we resume our initial execution context

Capturing exception debug events

We previously illustrated that we can capture exceptions that occur during an Appcall, but that is not enough if we want to learn more about the nature of the exception from the operating system point of view.

It would be better if we could somehow get the last debug_event_t that occured inside the debugger module. This is possible if we use the APPCALL_DEBEV option. Let us repeat the previous example but with the APPCALL_DEBEV option enabled:

auto e;
try
{
  set_appcall_options(APPCALL_DEBEV); // Enable debug event capturing
  ref1(6);
}
catch (e)
{
  // Exception occured ..... this time "e" is populated with debug_event_t fields (check idd.hpp)
}
And in this case, if we dump the exception object's contents, we get these attributes:
Unhandled exception: object
  can_cont:           1.        1h           1o
  code:  3221225477. C0000005h 30000000005o
  ea:     4198442.   40102Ah    20010052o
  eid:          64.       40h         100o
  file: ""
  func: "___idcexec0"
  handled:           1.        1h           1o
  info: "The instruction at 0x40102A referenced memory at 0x6. The memory could not be read"
  line:           2.        2h           2o
  pc:          11.        Bh          13o
  pid:       40128.     9CC0h      116300o
  ref:           6.        6h           6o
  tid:       36044.     8CCCh      106314o

Appcall related functions

There are some functions that can be used while working with Appcalls.

parse_decl/get_tinfo/sizeof

The get_tinfo() function is used to retrieve the typeinfo string associated with a given address.

/// Get type information of function/variable as 'typeinfo' object
///      ea - the address of the object
///      type_name - name of a named type
/// returns: typeinfo object, 0 - failed
/// The typeinfo object has one mandatory attribute: typid

typeinfo get_tinfo(long ea);
typeinfo get_tinfo(string type_name);  

The parse_decl() function is used to construct a typeinfo string from a type string. We already used it to construct a typeinfo string and passed it to dbg_appcall().

/// Parse one type declaration
///      input -  a C declaration
///      flags -  combination of PT_... constants or 0
///               PT_FILE should not be specified in flags (it is ignored)
/// returns: typeinfo object or num 0

typeinfo parse_decl(string input, long flags);

And finally, given a typeinfo string, one can use the sizeof() function to calculate the size of a type:

/// Calculate the size of a type
///      type - type to calculate the size of
///             can be specified as a typeinfo object (e.g. the result of get_tinfo())
///             or a string with C declaration (e.g. "int")
/// returns: size of the type or -1 if error

long sizeof(typeinfo type);  

Accessing enum members as constants

In IDC, it is possible to access all the defined enumerations as if they were IDC constants:

00000001 ; enum MACRO_PAGE (standard) (bitfield)
00000001 PAGE_NOACCESS  = 1
00000002 PAGE_READONLY  = 2
00000004 PAGE_READWRITE  = 4
00000008 PAGE_WRITECOPY  = 8
00000010 PAGE_EXECUTE  = 10h
00000020 PAGE_EXECUTE_READ  = 20h
00000040 PAGE_EXECUTE_READWRITE  = 40h

Then one can type:

msg("PAGE_EXECUTE_READWRITE=%x\n", PAGE_EXECUTE_READWRITE);

This syntax makes it even more convenient to use enumerations when calling APIs via Appcall.

Storing/Retrieving typed elements

It is possible to store/retrieve (aka serialize/deserialize) objects to/from the database (or the debugee's memory). To illustrate, let us consider the following memory contents:

0001000C dd 1003219h
00010010 dw 0FFEEh
00010012 dw 0FFEEh
00010014 dd 1

And we know that this maps to a given type:

struct X
{
  unsigned long a;
  unsigned short b, c;
  unsigned long d;
};

To retrieve (deserialize) the memory contents into a nice IDC object, we can use the object.retrieve() function:

/// Retrieve a C structure from the idb or a buffer and convert it into an object
///  typeinfo - description of the C structure. Can be specified
///             as a declaration string or result of \ref get_tinfo() or
///             similar functions
///  src      - address (ea) to retrieve the C structure from
///             OR a string buffer previously packed with the store method
///  flags    - combination of \ref object_store[PIO_...] bits

void object.retrieve(typeinfo, src, flags);

Here is an example:

// Create the typeinfo string
auto t = parse_decl("struct X { unsigned long a; unsigned short b, c; unsigned long d;};", 0);
// Create a dummy object
auto o = object();
// Retrieve the contents into the object:
o.retrieve(t, 0x1000C, 0);

And now if we dump the contents of o:

IDC>print(o);
object
  __at__:       65548.    1000Ch      200014o 00000000000000010000000000001100b
  a:    16790041.  1003219h   100031031o 00000001000000000011001000011001b
  b:       65518.     FFEEh      177756o 00000000000000001111111111101110b
  c:       65518.     FFEEh      177756o 00000000000000001111111111101110b
  d:           1.        1h           1o 00000000000000000000000000000001b

and again we notice the __at__ which holds the address of the retrieved object.

To store (serialize) the object back into memory, we can use the object.store() function:

/// Convert the object into a C structure and store it into the idb or a buffer
  ///  typeinfo - description of the C structure. Can be specified
  ///             as a declaration string or result of \ref get_tinfo() or
  ///             similar functions
  ///  dest     - address (ea) to store the C structure
  ///             OR a reference to a destination string
  ///  flags    - combination of PIO_.. bits
  
  void object.store(typeinfo, dest, flags);

Here's an example continuing from the previous one:

o.a++; // modify the field
o.d = 6; // modify another field
o.store(t, o.__at__, 0);

And finally to verify, we go to the memory address:

0001000C dd 100321Ah
00010010 dw 0FFEEh
00010012 dw 0FFEEh
00010014 dd 6

Using Appcall with IDAPython

The Appcall concept remains the same between IDC and Python, nonetheless Appcall/Python has a different syntax (using references, unicode strings, etc.)

The Appcall mechanism is provided by ida_idd module (also via idaapi) through the Appcall variable. To issue an Appcall using Python:

from idaapi import Appcall
Appcall.printf("Hello world!\n");

One can take a reference to an Appcall:

printf = Appcall.printf
# ...later...
printf("Hello world!\n");
findclose     = Appcall["__imp__FindClose@4"]
getlasterror  = Appcall["__imp__GetLastError@0"]
setcurdir     = Appcall["__imp__SetCurrentDirectoryA@4"]
# pass an address or name and Appcall.proto() will resolve it
loadlib = Appcall.proto("__imp__LoadLibraryA@4", "int (__stdcall *LoadLibraryA)(const char *lpLibFileName);")
# Pass an EA instead of a name
freelib = Appcall.proto(LocByName("__imp__FreeLibrary@4"), "int (__stdcall *FreeLibrary)(int hLibModule);")
getmodulehandlew = Appcall.proto("__imp__GetModuleHandleW@4", "int (__stdcall *GetModuleHandleW)(LPCWSTR lpModuleName);")
hmod = getmodulehandlew(Appcall.unicode("kernel32.dll"))
/* C code */
int64 op_two64(int64 a, int64 b, int op)
{
  if (op == 1)
    return a + b;
  else if (op == 2)
    return a - b;
  else if (op == 3)
    return a * b;
  else if (op == 4)
    return a / b;
  else
    return -1;
}

Python Appcall code:

r = Appcall.op_two64(Appcall.int64(1), Appcall.int64(2), 1)
print("result=", r.value)

If the returned value is also an int64, then you can use the int64.value to unwrap and retrieve the value.

# Create a typed object (no address is associated yet)
virtualalloc = Appcall.typedobj("int __stdcall VirtualAlloc(int lpAddress, SIZE_T dwSize, DWORD flAllocationType, DWORD flProtect);")
# Later we have an address, so we pass it:
virtualalloc.ea = idc.get_name_ea(0, "kernel32_VirtualAlloc")
# Now we can Appcall:
ptr = virtualalloc(0, Appcall.Consts.MEM_COMMIT, 0x1000, Appcall.Consts.PAGE_EXECUTE_READWRITE)
print("ptr=%x" % ptr)
Things to note:

Passing arguments by reference

# Create a byref object holding the number 5
i = Appcall.byref(5)
# Call the function
Appcall.ref1(i)
# Retrieve the value
print("Called the function:", i.value)
buf = Appcall.buffer("test", 100)
Appcall.ref2(buf)
print(buf.cstr())
# Take a reference
getcurdir = Appcall.proto("kernel32_GetCurrentDirectoryA", "DWORD __stdcall GetCurrentDirectoryA(DWORD nBufferLength, LPSTR lpBuffer);")
# make a buffer
buf = Appcall.byref("\x00" * 260)
# get current directory
n = getcurdir(260, buf)
print("curdir=%s" % buf.cstr())
int64_t ref4(int64_t *a)
{
  if (a == NULL)
  {
    printf("No number passed!");
    return -1;
  }
  int64_t old = *a;
  printf("Entered with %" PRId64 "\n", *a);
  (*a)++;
  return old;
}

We use the following Python code:

# Create an int64 value
i = Appcall.int64(5)
# create a reference to it
v = Appcall.byref(i)
# appcall
old_val = Appcall.ref4(v)
print(f"Called with {old_val.value}, computed {i.value}")
/* C code */
int ref3(int *arr, int sz)
{
  if (arr == NULL)
    return 0;
  int sum = 0;
  for (int i=0;i<sz;i++)
    sum += arr[i];
  return sum;
}

First we need to use the Appcall.array() function to create an array type, then we use the array_object.pack() function to encode the Python values into a buffer:

# create an array type
arr = Appcall.array("int")
# Create a test list
L = [x for x in range(1, 10)]
# Pack the list
p_list = arr.pack(L)

# appcall to compute the total
c_total = Appcall.ref3(p_list, len(L))
# internally compute the total
total = sum(L)
if total != c_total:
    print("Appcall failed!")
else:
    print(f"Total computed using Appcall is {total}")

Functions that accept or return structures

Like in IDC, we can create objects and pass them with at least two methods.

The first method involves using the Appcall.obj() function that takes an arbitrary number of keyword args that will be used to create an object with the arguments as attributes. The second method is by using a dictionary.

# Via dictionary
rec1 = {"id": 1, "name": "user1"}

# Via Appcall.obj
rec2 = Appcall.obj(id=2, name="user2")

Appcall.printRecord(rec1)
Appcall.printRecord(rec2)  

And finally, if you happen to have your own object instance then just pass your object. The IDAPython object to IDC object conversion routine will skip attributes starting and ending with "__".

FindFirst/FindNext example

# For simplicity, let's alias the Appcall
a = idaapi.Appcall
getcurdir = a.proto(
    "kernel32_GetCurrentDirectoryA", 
    "DWORD __stdcall GetCurrentDirectoryA(DWORD nBufferLength, LPSTR lpBuffer);")
    
getwindir = a.proto(
    "kernel32_GetWindowsDirectoryA",
    "UINT __stdcall GetWindowsDirectoryA(LPSTR lpBuffer, UINT uSize);")
    
setcurdir = a.proto(
    "kernel32_SetCurrentDirectoryA",
    "BOOL __stdcall SetCurrentDirectoryA(LPCSTR lpPathName);")
    
findfirst = a.proto(
    "kernel32_FindFirstFileA",
    "HANDLE __stdcall FindFirstFileA(LPCSTR lpFileName, LPWIN32_FIND_DATAA lpFindFileData);")
    
findnext = a.proto(
    "kernel32_FindNextFileA",
    "BOOL __stdcall FindNextFileA(HANDLE hFindFile, LPWIN32_FIND_DATAA lpFindFileData);")
    
findclose = a.proto(
    "kernel32_FindClose",
    "BOOL __stdcall FindClose(HANDLE hFindFile);")

def test():
    # create a buffer
    savedpath = a.byref("\x00" * 260)
    # get current directory
    n = getcurdir(250, savedpath)
    out = []
    out.append("curdir=%s" % savedpath.value[0:n])

    # get windir
    windir = a.buffer(size=260) # create a buffer using helper function
    n = getwindir(windir, windir.size)
    if n == 0:
        print("could not get current directory")
        return False

    windir = windir.value[:n]
    out.append("windir=%s" % windir)

    # change to windows folder
    setcurdir(windir)

    # initiate find
    fd = a.obj()
    h = findfirst("*.exe", fd)
    if h == -1:
        print("no *.exe files found!")
        return False

    found = False
    while True:
        fn = a.cstr(fd.cFileName)
        if "regedit" in fn:
            found = True
        out.append("fn=%s<" % fn)
        fd = a.obj() # reset the FD object
        ok = findnext(h, fd)
        if not ok:
            break
    #
    findclose(h)

    # restore cur dir
    setcurdir(savedpath.value)

    # verify
    t = a.buffer(size=260)
    n = getcurdir(t.size, t)
    if t.cstr() != savedpath.cstr():
        print("could not restore cur dir")
        return False

    out.append("curdir=%s<" % t.cstr())
    print("all done!")
    for l in out:
        print(l)

    if found:
        print("regedit was found!")
    else:
        print("regedit was not found!")
        
    return found
    
    
test()    

Using GetProcAddress

a = idaapi.Appcall
loadlib  = a.proto("kernel32_LoadLibraryA", "HMODULE __stdcall LoadLibraryA(const char *lpLibFileName);")
getprocaddr = a.proto("kernel32_GetProcAddress", "FARPROC __stdcall GetProcAddress(HMODULE hModule, LPCSTR lpProcName);")
freelib = a.proto("kernel32_FreeLibrary", "BOOL __stdcall FreeLibrary(HMODULE hLibModule);")

def test_gpa():
    h = loadlib("user32.dll")
    if idaapi.inf_is_64bit():
        h = h.value
    if h == 0:
        print("failed to load library!")
        return False
        
    p = getprocaddr(h, "FindWindowA")
    if idaapi.inf_is_64bit():
        p = p.value
    if p == 0:
        print("failed to gpa!")
        return -2
    findwin = a.proto(p, "HWND FindWindow(LPCTSTR lpClassName, LPCTSTR lpWindowName);")
    hwnd = findwin(0, "Calculator")
    freelib(h)
    if idaapi.inf_is_64bit():
        hwnd = hwnd.value
        
    print("%x: ok!->hwnd=%x" % (p, hwnd))

    return 1
    
test_gpa()

Please note that we used the idaapi.inf_is_64bit() method to properly unwrap integer values that depends on the bitness of the binary.

Setting the Appcall options

In Python, the Appcall options can be set global or locally per Appcall.

old_options = Appcall.set_appcall_options(Appcall.APPCALL_MANUAL)
# take a reference to printf
printf = Appcall._printf
# change the setting for this Appcall
printf.options = Appcall.APPCALL_DEBEV
printf("Hello world!\n")

Similarly, retrieving the Appcall options is done by either calling Appcall.get_appcall_options() or by reading the options attribute (for example: printf.options)

To cleanup after a manual Appcall use Appcall.cleanup_appcall().

Calling functions that can cause exceptions

An Appcall that generates an exception while executing in the current thread will throw a Python Exception object. This is inline with the IDC behavior we described above.

try:
  idaapi.Appcall.cause_crash()
except Exception as e:
  print("Got an exception!")

This approach is useful if you want to know whether the Appcall passes or crashes.

Now if we want more details about the exception, then we use the APPCALL_DEBEV flag, which will cause an OSError exception to be raised and have its args[0] populated with the last debug_event_t:

cause_crash = idaapi.Appcall.cause_crash
cause_crash.options = idaapi.APPCALL_DEBEV
try:
  cause_crash()
except OSError as e:
  debug_event = e.args[0]
  print(f"Exception: tid={debug_event.tid} ea={debug_event.ea:x}")
except Exception as e:
  print("Unknown exception!")

If the Appcall caused a crash, then the debug_event variable will be populated with the last debug_event_t structure inside the OSError exception handler.

Appcall related functions in Python

Storing/Retrieving objects

Storing/Retrieving objects is also supported in Python:
  1. Using the IDA SDK (through the idaapi Python module)
  2. Using Appcall helper functions
In this example we show how to:
  1. Unpack the DOS header at address 0x140000000 and verify the fields
  2. Unpack a string and see if it is unpacked correctly
Let's start with the IDA SDK helper functions first:
# Struct unpacking
def test_unpack_struct():
  name, tp, flds = idc.parse_decl("IMAGE_DOS_HEADER;", 0)
  ok, obj = idaapi.unpack_object_from_idb(idaapi.get_idati(), tp, flds, 0x140000000, 0)
  return obj.e_magic == 23117 and obj.e_cblp == 144

# Raw unpacking
def test_unpack_raw():
  # Parse the type into a type name, typestring and fields
  name, tp, flds = idc.parse_decl("struct abc_t { int a, b;};", 0)
  # Unpack from a byte vector (bv) (aka string)
  ok, obj = idaapi.unpack_object_from_bv(
              idaapi.get_idati(), 
              tp, 
              flds, 
              b"\x01\x00\x00\x00\x02\x00\x00\x00", 
              0)
  return obj.a == 1 and obj.b == 2

print("test_unpack_struct() passed:", test_unpack_struct())
print("test_unpack_raw() passed:", test_unpack_raw())
Now to accomplish similar result using Appcall helper functions:
# Struct unpacking with Appcall
  def test_unpack_struct():
  tp = idaapi.Appcall.typedobj("IMAGE_DOS_HEADER;")
  ok, obj = tp.retrieve(0x140000000)
  return ok and obj.e_magic == 23117 and obj.e_cblp == 144

# Raw unpacking with Appcall
def test_unpack_raw():
  global tp
  # Parse the type into a type name, typestring and fields
  tp = idaapi.Appcall.typedobj("struct abc_t { int a, b;};")
  ok, obj = tp.retrieve(b"\x01\x00\x00\x00\x02\x00\x00\x00")
  return obj.a == 1 and obj.b == 2

print("test_unpack_struct() passed:", test_unpack_struct())
print("test_unpack_raw() passed:", test_unpack_raw())
When it comes to storing, instead of using the Appcall's typedobj.retrieve(), we can use the typedobj.store() function:
# Packs/Unpacks a structure to the database using appcall facilities
def test_pack_idb(ea):
  print("%x: ..." % ea)
  tp = a.typedobj("struct { int a, b; char x[4];};")
  o = a.obj(a=16, b=17,x="abcd")
  return tp.store(o, ea) == 0

ea = idc.here() # some writable area    
if test_pack_idb(ea):
  print("cool!")
  idaapi.refresh_debugger_memory()

Accessing enum members as constants

Like in IDC, to access the enums, one can use the Appcall.Consts object:

print("PAGE_EXECUTE_READWRITE=%x" % Appcall.Consts.PAGE_EXECUTE_READWRITE)

If the constant was not defined then an attribute error exception will be thrown. To prevent that, use the Appcall.valueof() method instead, which lets you provide a default value in case a constant was absent:

print("PAGE_EXECUTE_READWRITE=%x" % Appcall.valueof("PAGE_EXECUTE_READWRITE", 0x40))

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