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Looking at the curl stack trace: part 1

captainsafia profile image Safia Abdalla ・4 min read

As mentioned in my last blog post, I’m hoping to do a thorough analysis of the strace for curl in the next couple of blog posts. I started looking through the stack trace in the last blog post, but I quickly realized that it would take more than one blog post to look through everything so here I am.

Alright, here’s the first chunk of the stack trace that I’ll be looking through.

[pid 8819] set_robust_list(0x7f21c40f09e0, 24) = 0
[pid 8819] connect(3, {sa_family=AF_UNIX, sun_path="/var/run/nscd/socket"}, 110) = -1 ENOENT (No such file or directory)
[pid 8819] close(3) = 0
[pid 8819] connect(3, {sa_family=AF_UNIX, sun_path="/var/run/nscd/socket"}, 110) = -1 ENOENT (No such file or directory)
[pid 8819] close(3)    

The first system call made in this stack trace is set_robust_list. This is not one that I’ve encountered before, so I headed over to the docs.

The set_robust_list() system call requests the kernel to record the head of the list of robust futexes owned by the calling thread.

Aha! Futexes. I learned about these a while ago in a systems class. Futexes are a low-level multi-threading construct. They allow you to implement locking (a way for a thread to claim control over a resource so that other threads cannot access it at the same time). You can read more about futexes here. I’m guessing that the curl process spins out some threads to do background work and this set_robust_list function call is related to those soon-to-be created threads.

Following that, the program attempts to open two socket connections. I wasn’t sure what the point of these socket connections would be. It seemed too early to be opening any sockets in the program. I decided to do some Googling on the “/var/run/nscd/socket” bit to see if that might illuminate what the socket connections are for. I came across this blog post which explained that nscd is used to run a local DNS resolver. A local DNS resolver is a program that performs a lookup for an IP address for a particular domain on a local machine. As it turns out, the attempt to open a socket to the local DNS server on the machine failed because there isn’t one running on the machine that I executed the curl command in. As it turns out, this relates to some system calls that are made later down the line.

Speaking of which, the next chunk of the stack trace looks like this.

[pid 8819] open("/etc/nsswitch.conf", O_RDONLY|O_CLOEXEC) = 3
[pid 8819] fstat(3, {st_mode=S_IFREG|0644, st_size=497, ...}) = 0
[pid 8819] read(3, "# /etc/nsswitch.conf\n#\n# Example"..., 4096) = 497
[pid 8819] read(3, "", 4096) = 0
[pid 8819] close(3) = 0

I’m not familiar with the nsswitch.conf file. That’s no surprise, a lot of things in this stack trace are new to me. The docs revealed that this configuration file is used to store name resolution details for different. The important line in this file when it comes to curl is below.

hosts: files dns

This line states that host names should first be resolved by looking in any configuration files then through a DNS service.

The next chunk of the stack trace relates closely to what the nsswitch.conf file revealed.

[pid 8819] open("/etc/host.conf", O_RDONLY|O_CLOEXEC) = 3
[pid 8819] fstat(3, {st_mode=S_IFREG|0644, st_size=9, ...}) = 0
[pid 8819] read(3, "multi on\n", 4096) = 9
[pid 8819] read(3, "", 4096) = 0
[pid 8819] close(3)   

In this case, curl looks through the host.conf, which is a file that dictates how hostnames are resolved to IP addresses. This file can have some verastile configurations but in this case it contains only one, multi on, which dictates that a host stored in the hosts file (/etc/hosts) can reference multiple IP addresses.

The next couple of lines in the stack trace relate to the other part of the configuration in nsswitch.conf. The curl command opens up the resolv.conf file which contains a list of name servers that our computer can query to resolve domain names.

[pid 8819] futex(0x7f21c8974a64, FUTEX_WAKE_PRIVATE, 2147483647) = 0
[pid 8819] getpid() = 8818
[pid 8819] open("/etc/resolv.conf", O_RDONLY|O_CLOEXEC) = 3
[pid 8819] fstat(3, {st_mode=S_IFREG|0644, st_size=111, ...}) = 0
[pid 8819] read(3, "domain"..., 4096) = 111
[pid 8819] read(3, "", 4096) = 0
[pid 8819] close(3)  

So in summary, the first couple of system calls executed by the curl command show that the first task it handles is associated with resolving the IP address for the domain name that is entered in the command. In this case, it was I think this point is a good place to end this blog post. I’ll pick up looking through the rest of the stack trace in the next blog post. See (write?) you then!

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