Obtain message content of Erlang messages in dtrace

Duncan Paul Attard duncan.attard.01@REDACTED
Sun Jan 5 12:20:36 CET 2020

Thanks a lot for your detailed answer!

> On 05 Jan 2020, at 01:39, Harris, Robert <robert.harris@REDACTED> wrote:
>> On 16 Dec 2019, at 12:02, Duncan Paul Attard <duncan.attard.01@REDACTED> wrote:
>> I was experimenting with Erlang and dtrace, and am interested to know whether the message content exchanged between two Erlang processes can be obtained. In particular, I am interested in the `message-send` and `message-receive` probes.
> TL;DR you can use DTrace but you'll have to modify the Erlang VM.
> DTrace was intended to provide observation at the very lowest level.  In
> the user land case, a process is viewed as a collection of load objects
> whose symbol tables describe functions and global variables.  DTrace is
> organised as a framework of "providers" that expose certain events ---
> locations in executable code or moments in time --- and its "pid"
> provider permits the instrumentation of functions at their entry and
> return and at any offset between.  One may inspect a process's
> environment in terms of its registers and its address space;  also
> exposed are integer arguments on function entry and a return value on
> exit, but these are simply special cases of register use.
> This abstraction is particularly well suited to simple C applications:
> tracing function arguments is trivial and often sufficient in its own
> right.  With some work to find their locations, local variables are
> visible.  If some quantity is a pointer then dereferencing it is
> reasonably straight-forward.  Composite data types are fully supported
> and may be navigated with varying degrees of ease, depending on the
> DTrace implementation.
> For more complex programs, the pid provider alone falls short and your
> question provides a perfect example.  It may happen that some
> significant event, e.g. the receipt of a message, does not correspond to
> a well known location such as the entry to or the return from a
> function.  Instead, it might lie somewhere within a function at an
> unstable offset determined only at compilation.  How may one describe
> the location of this event?  Worse, DTrace will reveal only the contents
> of a register or a memory location.  Suppose that we obtain the value of
> the variable used in the Erlang VM to identify a message;  perhaps it is
> a pointer.  To what does it point?  Likely something unwieldy to the
> developer and opaque to the user.
> DTrace provides a solution in the form of a static tracing point, in
> essence a C macro with a stable name that is visible to DTrace.  Thus
> the developer can associate a named probe with some logical event (e.g.
> message receipt) and expose useful diagnostic data (e.g. a textual
> representation of the message itself).
> Turning at last to your actual problem, the message-receive probe is
> used at line 242 here:
> https://github.com/erlang/otp/blob/4d0c23bd19f138e4fcfedd11283636e96d6bbc4f/erts/emulator/beam/msg_instrs.tab#L227
> (Note that variables exposed by the probe are initialised only if the
> probe itself is enabled, which is determined by the earlier macro at
> 227.)
> Interestingly, the message itself isn't exposed, which is why you have
> been unable to trace it.  However, I imagine it would be feasible to
> patch the VM to do what you want.  You would need to render the message
> as a string into a buffer and expose that buffer's address;  an existing
> example of this idiom is
> https://github.com/erlang/otp/blob/4d0c23bd19f138e4fcfedd11283636e96d6bbc4f/erts/emulator/beam/global.h#L1603
> The name for such static DTrace probes is USDT;  you can read more about
> it at
> https://docs.oracle.com/cd/E37838_01/html/E61035/gkycs.html#scrolltoc
> but there may be differences on your OS (e.g. see DTrace(1) on macos).
> Robert
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