If you followed along my last post, you may have found some difficulties like I did. Namely, making sure the work is done without confusion. In this post I want to share a few tips that helped me stay organized and effective, I hope its helpful to some of you as well.

When I started investigating bugs I used to have a single git tree and then every time I wanted to switch bugs or build a stable kernel it was .config hell, a complete mess. I tried, then, maintaining different local repositories for different trees. But this is a disk waste. Then I learned about the “make O=” trick to build the objects somewhere else. It helped but I still had to checkout different commits and keep a tab of what I was doing in my head. The solution was of course to use git-worktree. This is the process (all the variables in this post are illustrative):

# create your local work directory
mkdir $LINUX_DIR

# clone a bare repository
git clone --bare -o linus git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/torvalds/linux.git
cd linux.git

# add other relevant remotes to you
git remote add shuah git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/shuah/linux-kselftest.git
git remote add staging git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/gregkh/staging.git
git remote add stable git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/stable/linux.git
# (...)

# update all the remotes
git remote update

Now that you have a bare repository, you can add worktrees to split the different things you might be doing into different directories. Here’s an example:

cd $LINUX_DIR/linux.git

# add a worktree to track the stable/linux-6.5.y branch
git worktree add --track --branch linux-6.5.y ../stable stable/linux-6.5.y

# add a worktree for a syzkaller bug
git worktree add --checkout ../845cd8e5c47f2a125683 69b41ac87e4a

This way, you can have different directories with different kernel .config files and different git histories and patches you might be working on. In the example above, 845cd8e5c47f2a125683 is a random bug I selected and 69b41ac87e4a is the commit ref. from the 2023/01/04 06:51 row of its crashes. You would proceed by downloading its .config and other relevant files such as the reproducers. For that it’s best to have a directory only for these:

mkdir -p $BUGS_DIR/845cd8e5c47f2a125683
cd $BUGS_DIR/845cd8e5c47f2a125683

# download relevant files for the bug
# (you might wanna split those into timestamped directories,
#   e.g. $BUGS_DIR/845cd8e5c47f2a125683/202301040651 )
wget "https://syzkaller.appspot.com/text?tag=KernelConfig&x=9babfdc3dd4772d0" -O .config
wget "https://syzkaller.appspot.com/text?tag=ReproC&x=142a1eaa480000" -O rep.c
wget "https://storage.googleapis.com/syzbot-assets/d4a7091814ba/bzImage-69b41ac8.xz"
unxz bzImage-69b41ac8.xz

# make your life easier with a link to the worktree
ln -s $LINUX_DIR/845cd8e5c47f2a125683 linux

cp .config linux/

After the usual building process of the bzImage, its time to jump into a virtual machine to test your changes. This can also be chaotic and inspired by this great mentorship session done by Joel Fernandes, I wrote some scripts to make my life easier. The main tool is rq:

$ rq -h

usage: rq [-h] [-I IMG_DIR] [-k KERNEL] [--no-kernel] [-d DISK] [--no-disk]
          [-i INITRD] [-b BIOS] [-p PORT] [-f [F ...]] [-F [F ...]] [-c]
          [-a APPEND] [-g] [--wait-gdb] [--no-snapshot] [--debug]

Run qemu with sane defaults

  -h, --help            show this help message and exit
  -I IMG_DIR, --img-dir IMG_DIR
                        directory containing images (e.g. initramfs, disk,
                        bios), can be set through RQ_IMGDIR environment variable
                        (default: /home/rbmarliere/images)
  -k KERNEL, --kernel KERNEL
                        kernel bootable image to use with -kernel (default:
  --no-kernel           do not use -kernel (default: False)
  -d DISK, --disk DISK  disk image to use with -drive (default:
  --no-disk             do not use -drive (default: False)
  -i INITRD, --initrd INITRD
                        initrd image to use with -initrd (default: None)
  -b BIOS, --bios BIOS  bios image to use with -bios (default:
  -p PORT, --port PORT  host's port to forward into guest's ssh port using -net
                        (default: 10022)
  -f [F ...]            file(s) to copy into the disk (default: None)
  -F [F ...]            file(s) to copy into the cpio initrd (default: None)
  -c, --crash           append crashkernel= to cmdline (default: False)
  -a APPEND, --append APPEND
                        append kernel parameters (default: None)
  -g, --gdb             use -s (default: False)
  --wait-gdb            use -S if -s is used (default: False)
  --no-snapshot         do not use -snapshot (default: False)
  --debug               print qemu command instead of running it (default:

This makes me able to do many things without having to worry about searching back my shell history for the right qemu command. It’s not perfect, but it helps. If you noticed, the –bios parameter defaults to /home/rbmarliere/images/seabios.bin, this is because I’m using a custom built image with a patch to SeaBIOS that gets rid of the code that truncates long lines in the terminal, so that I don’t lose precious info from logs. This is what it calls on a default run without parameters, inside a directory such as $BUGS_DIR/845cd8e5c47f2a125683:

$ rq --debug

qemu-system-x86_64 \
    -m 8G \
    -smp 2,sockets=2,cores=1 \
    -net nic,model=e1000 \
    -net user,host=,hostfwd=tcp::10022-:22 \
    -enable-kvm \
    -nographic \
    -bios /home/rbmarliere/images/seabios.bin \
    -snapshot \
    -kernel linux/arch/x86/boot/bzImage \
    -drive format=raw,file=/home/rbmarliere/images/disk.img

If you’re feeling courageous and want to give it a try, install them with something like this:


git clone git@github.com:rbmarliere/rq.git $GIT_DIR/rq

cd $HOME/.local/bin
for file in $GIT_DIR/rq/*; do ln -s $file; done

# add ~/.local/bin to your $PATH, if you don't have it
echo export PATH="$PATH:$HOME/.local/bin" >> ~/.bashrc

Some examples:

export RQ_IMGDIR=~/images

# run a specific kernel after copying a reproducer into the disk
rq -k bzImage-69b41ac8 -f rep.c

# use an initramfs instead of a disk as the root filesystem
rq -i initramfs.cpio.gz -F rep.c --no-disk -a "root=/dev/ram"

# make permanent changes to the disk root filesystem
rq --no-snapshot

# debug the VM with gdb
rq -g --wait-gdb


Recently I was looking into a bug that is a concurrency problem. That means that, although the reproducer provided can in fact reproduce the problem, it happens at random times. That means you are probably gonna have to wait for a long time. So as much as the gdb workflow presented in the last post is very useful, for bugs like this it can be quite painful. Using Kdump and the crash utility enabled me to inspect the system state at any time without having to depend on a running virtual machine.

I went through this excellent presentation by Steven Rostedt and I must say, it took me a while to grasp the process and setup everything. But its a very good tool to have, sometimes. Hopefully I can help you save some time. The first thing you need is to build a “crash” kernel. This is the kernel that it’s going to replace the system kernel after a panic. Here is what I did:

cd $LINUX_DIR/linux.git

git worktree add --checkout ../crash v6.5.6
cd ../crash

make allnoconfig
# from `make help`:
# allnoconfig     - New config where all options are answered with no

make menuconfig
# TIP: when you search for a string using '/' character, the list provided
# have numbers attached to them, which you can use to quickly jump to its
# entry in the menu; you can also use '?' character for help.

Search and enable the following:

64-bit kernel
support for PCI bus
support for ATA hard disk used in -disk parameter
ATA controller emulated by the default qemu x86_64 machine
support for serial ports
this enables the virtual machine console to be readable
the filesystem used before, when creating the root fs
this makes /dev/sda visible
we want networking inside the VM
add support for networking devices
driver for the -net nic,model=e1000 parameter
TCP/IP support
Unix sockets support, e.g. for /var/log/* and system utils
Packet protocol
enables kernel to execute ELF files
enables kernel to execute ‘#!’ scripts
create a /dev early on, to support early API filesystems
auto mount /dev
support early API filesystems
Kdump requirement
Kdump requirement
* (systemd requirement)
* (systemd requirement)
* (for proc-sys-fs-binfmt_misc.automount service)

Then, build the compressed kernel image:

make bzImage

This was the first time I configured a minimal kernel from zero and I learned a lot from it. These are the symbols that need to be enabled to successfully boot the kernel after a crash. Note that the ones marked with * are dependencies for the root filesystem. Systemd needs CGROUPS and INOTIFY_USER and the others come from the /etc/fstab written by the syzkaller’s create-image.sh script that I used to create my root filesystem (therefore, optional).

After this, you should install kdump-tools inside your VM:

# you can use any kernel to boot the VM, e.g.
cd $BUGS_DIR/845cd8e5c47f2a125683
rq --no-snapshot -k bzImage-69b41ac8

# after booting, inside the VM
apt install kdump-tools
vi /etc/default/kdump-tools

Edit the /etc/default/kdump-tools file, inside the VM, accordingly (remember to use --no-snapshot to make it permanent). Please refer to Debian’s documentation on kdump-tools in /usr/share/doc/kdump-tools/README.Debian. Here is mine:


This way, whenever a crash happens, the kdump-tools will transfer the dump file into my host’s /var/crash/ directory. Before, I did the usual ssh authorization process of creating a ssh key with ssh-keygen in the host, transferring the private id_rsa into the VM and pasting the public key into the host’s ~/.ssh/authorized_keys. Also, make sure /var/crash is owned and writable by your user in the host, or change KDUMP_COREDIR to something else.

Now we are only missing three things:

  • Boot the system kernel with crashkernel= cmdline;
  • Load the crash kernel into memory using kexec;
  • Trigger the crash;
# make your life easier with a link to the crashkernel
ln -s $LINUX_DIR/crash/arch/x86_64/boot/bzImage crashkernel

# copy the crashkernel into the root filesystem next time you boot a VM
# -f copies the file into /root/ by default
# -c will append crashkernel=256M to the boot cmdline
cd $BUGS_DIR/845cd8e5c47f2a125683
rq -c -f ../crashkernel

# after boot, inside the VM
kexec -p /root/crashkernel --append="console=ttyS0 root=/dev/sda"

# trigger the crash with CONFIG_MAGIC_SYSRQ=y
echo c > /proc/sysrq-trigger

# ...or run a syz reproducer
gcc rep.c && ./a.out

Note the need for root=/dev/sda for the automatic handling of the crash dump taking place. If all went well, you’re gonna see the dump and the dmesg files under your host /var/crash directory. But how to use it? Here enters the crash utility. For some reason that I didn’t fully understand – probably Debian related1 – I was only able to inspect the dump file using a locally built binary. Therefore, don’t install the crash package in your host.

$GIT_DIR/crash/crash $LINUX_DIR/845cd8e5c47f2a125683/vmlinux dump.202310081631
crash 8.0.3
Copyright (C) 2002-2022  Red Hat, Inc.
Copyright (C) 2004, 2005, 2006, 2010  IBM Corporation
Copyright (C) 1999-2006  Hewlett-Packard Co
Copyright (C) 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012  Fujitsu Limited
Copyright (C) 2006, 2007  VA Linux Systems Japan K.K.
Copyright (C) 2005, 2011, 2020-2022  NEC Corporation
Copyright (C) 1999, 2002, 2007  Silicon Graphics, Inc.
Copyright (C) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002  Mission Critical Linux, Inc.
Copyright (C) 2015, 2021  VMware, Inc.
This program is free software, covered by the GNU General Public License,
and you are welcome to change it and/or distribute copies of it under
certain conditions.  Enter "help copying" to see the conditions.
This program has absolutely no warranty.  Enter "help warranty" for details.

GNU gdb (GDB) 10.2
Copyright (C) 2021 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
License GPLv3+: GNU GPL version 3 or later <http://gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html>
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.
Type "show copying" and "show warranty" for details.
This GDB was configured as "x86_64-pc-linux-gnu".
Type "show configuration" for configuration details.
Find the GDB manual and other documentation resources online at:

For help, type "help".
Type "apropos word" to search for commands related to "word"...

please wait... (determining panic task)
WARNING: active task ffff888102323780 on cpu 1 not found in PID hash

      KERNEL: /mnt/md0/linux/845cd8e5c47f2a125683/vmlinux
    DUMPFILE: dump.202310081631  [PARTIAL DUMP]
        CPUS: 2
        DATE: Sun Oct  8 13:31:48 -03 2023
      UPTIME: 00:01:22
LOAD AVERAGE: 0.95, 0.47, 0.17
       TASKS: 3
    NODENAME: syzkaller
     RELEASE: v6.2-rc3~30
     VERSION: #7 SMP PREEMPT_DYNAMIC Sun Oct  8 10:34:01 -03 2023
     MACHINE: x86_64  (3892 Mhz)
      MEMORY: 8 GB
       PANIC: "Kernel panic - not syncing: sysrq triggered crash"
         PID: 4194
     COMMAND: "bash"
        TASK: ffff888102323780  [THREAD_INFO: ffff888102323780]
         CPU: 1

crash> bt
PID: 4194     TASK: ffff888102323780  CPU: 1    COMMAND: "bash"
 #0 [ffffc9000166f968] machine_kexec at ffffffffb0728db3
 #1 [ffffc9000166fa58] __crash_kexec at ffffffffb0a417a6
 #2 [ffffc9000166fbb8] panic at ffffffffb077eedd
 #3 [ffffc9000166fca0] sysrq_handle_crash at ffffffffb1e3228c
 #4 [ffffc9000166fcb0] __handle_sysrq at ffffffffb1e334e0
 #5 [ffffc9000166fcf8] write_sysrq_trigger at ffffffffb1e34ea4
 #6 [ffffc9000166fd18] proc_reg_write at ffffffffb122c99c
 #7 [ffffc9000166fd58] vfs_write at ffffffffb10324d4
 #8 [ffffc9000166fda8] vfs_fstatat at ffffffffb104cac2
 #9 [ffffc9000166fde0] __do_sys_newfstatat at ffffffffb104d252
#10 [ffffc9000166ff38] do_syscall_64 at ffffffffb5aab7c9
#11 [ffffc9000166ff50] entry_SYSCALL_64_after_hwframe at ffffffffb5c0008b
    RIP: 00007fb4c359cb00  RSP: 00007fff42199c08  RFLAGS: 00000202
    RAX: ffffffffffffffda  RBX: 0000000000000002  RCX: 00007fb4c359cb00
    RDX: 0000000000000002  RSI: 00005645a39eeaa0  RDI: 0000000000000001
    RBP: 00005645a39eeaa0   R8: 0000000000000400   R9: 0000000000000410
    R10: 0000000000000000  R11: 0000000000000202  R12: 0000000000000002
    R13: 00007fb4c3679780  R14: 0000000000000002  R15: 00007fb4c3674d00
    ORIG_RAX: 0000000000000001  CS: 0033  SS: 002b
crash> info threads
  Id   Target Id         Frame
* 1    CPU 0             <unavailable> in ?? ()
  2    CPU 1             <unavailable> in ?? ()
crash> panic
panic = $1 =
 {void (const char *, ...)} 0xffffffffb077e9b0 <panic>
crash> ps
      PID    PPID  CPU       TASK        ST  %MEM      VSZ      RSS  COMM
>       0       0   0  ffffffffb722b800  RU   0.0        0        0  [swapper/0]
        0       0   1  ffff888102e61bc0  RU   0.0        0        0  [swapper/1]
>    4194      -1   1  ffff888102323780  RU   0.0     4772     3924  bash

Note that you should have DEBUG_INFO enabled on the system kernel that crashed!

General tips

I use this as my /root/.bash_profile inside the VM:

# fix the row/col height of the terminal
stty rows 71 cols 113

# auto build whatever rep.c copied into /root/ using `rq -f`
[ -f ~/rep.c ] && gcc ~/rep.c

# make your life easier with some aliases
alias a="./a.out"
alias s="./syz-execprog syz"
alias kex="kexec -p crashkernel --append='console=ttyS0 root=/dev/sda'"

Also this ~/.ssh/config in my host system to quickly ssh or scp into the VM:

Host syz
	Hostname localhost
	User root
	NoHostAuthenticationForLocalhost yes
	IdentityFile ~/images/syzkaller.id_rsa
	Port 10022

In my host ~/.bashrc, I use these:


# function to get maintainer for a patch from anywhere
get_maintainer() {
	if [ -z "$1" ]; then
		echo "usage: get_maintainer <patch> <opts>"
	patch=$(realpath $1)
	shift 1
	if [[ -f scripts/get_maintainer.pl ]]; then
		scripts/get_maintainer.pl "$patch" $*
		pushd $LINUX_DIR/linus > /dev/null  # assumes a 'linus' worktree there
		scripts/get_maintainer.pl "$patch" $*
		popd > /dev/null

# enables the use of `cd bugs` from anywhere
shopt -s cdable_vars

# a few useful aliases
alias cdL="cd $LINUX_DIR/linux/linux.git"
alias cdl="cd $LINUX_DIR/linux"
alias checkpatch="$LINUX_DIR/linus/scripts/checkpatch.pl"
alias db="gdb -tui -ex 'target remote :1234' -d linux"
alias make='make -j$(nproc)'

I hope I provided some inspiration to improve your workflow if you are a kernel hacker wannabe like myself. If you have any question, comment, critic, suggestion or if you spotted an error in here, please don’t hesitate in reaching out to me at ricardo@marliere.net.

  1. As far as I can tell, kdump-tools is packaged with the clear use case of dumping a running Debian kernel and depends on the distro /boot/* files ↩︎