How to Write an S2E plugin

In this tutorial, we show step-by-step how to write a complete plugin that uses most of the features of the S2E plugin infrastructure. We take the example of a plugin that counts how many times a specific instruction has been executed. Users of that plugin can specify the instruction to watch in the S2E configuration file. We will also show how to build the plugin so that it can communicate with other plugins and expose reusable functionality.

Starting with an empty plugin

In this tutorial, we will create a plugin that counts executed instructions. After setting up your S2E environment, run the following command:

$ s2e new_plugin InstructionTracker

This creates the required boilerplate for an S2E plugin:

  • The plugin source: $S2EENV/source/s2e/libs2eplugins/src/s2e/Plugins/InstructionTracker.cpp
  • The plugin header: $S2EENV/source/s2e/libs2eplugins/src/s2e/Plugins/InstructionTracker.h
  • An entry in the makefile to build the plugin: $S2EENV/source/s2e/libs2eplugins/src/CMakeLists.txt

Reading configuration parameters

To let users specify which instruction to monitor, the plugin needs a configuration variable that stores the address of that instruction. To create one, add the following to your s2e-config.lua file:

pluginsConfig.InstructionTracker = {
    -- The address we want to track
    addressToTrack = 0x12345,

For now, this will do nothing. We need to instruct the plugin to read this configuration, e.g., during initialization. Open the plugin’s source file and add the following code to the initialize method:

void InstructionTracker::initialize() {
    m_address = (uint64_t) s2e()->getConfig()->getInt(getConfigKey() + ".addressToTrack");

Do not forget to add uint64_t m_address; as a private members of class InstructionTracker in InstructionTracker.h.

Instrumenting instructions

To instrument an instruction, an S2E plugin registers to the onTranslateInstructionStart core event. There are many other core events to which a plugin can register. These events are defined in CorePlugin.h in the libs2ecore directory.

Extend your code as follows. Do not forget to add all new member functions to the (private) section of the class declaration.

// From libs2ecore. Provides the hexval function
#include <s2e/Utils.h>

void InstructionTracker::initialize() {
    m_address = (uint64_t) s2e()->getConfig()->getInt(getConfigKey() + ".addressToTrack");

    // This indicates that our plugin is interested in monitoring instruction translation.
    // For this, the plugin registers a callback with the onTranslateInstruction signal.
        sigc::mem_fun(*this, &InstructionTracker::onTranslateInstruction));

void InstructionTracker::onTranslateInstruction(ExecutionSignal *signal,
                                                S2EExecutionState *state,
                                                TranslationBlock *tb,
                                                uint64_t pc) {
    if (m_address == pc) {
        // When we find an interesting address, ask S2E to invoke our callback when the address is actually
        // executed
        signal->connect(sigc::mem_fun(*this, &InstructionTracker::onInstructionExecution));

// This callback is called only when the instruction at our address is executed.
// The callback incurs zero overhead for all other instructions
void InstructionTracker::onInstructionExecution(S2EExecutionState *state, uint64_t pc) {
    s2e()->getDebugStream() << "Executing instruction at " << hexval(pc) << '\n';
    // The plugins can arbitrarily modify/observe the current execution state via the execution state pointer.
    // Plugins can also call the s2e() method to use the S2E API


Do not confuse onTranslate events and onInstructionExecution handlers. The former is called during instruction translation, the latter when the instruction is executed, and only if the handler has been registered during translation. The translation vs. execution difference is due to how dynamic binary translators work. If you increment during translation, you will get incorrect results. For example, a loop body would typically be translated once and executed several times, so your counter will not be incremented as expected.

Counting instructions

We would like to count how many times that particular instruction is executed. There are two options:

  1. Count how many times it was executed across all paths
  2. Count how many times it was executed in each path

The first option is easy to implement. Simply add an additional member to the class and increment it every time the onInstructionExecution callback is invoked.

The second option requires keeping per-state plugin information. S2E plugins manage per-state information in a class that derives from PluginState. This class must implement a factory method that returns a new instance of the class when S2E starts symbolic execution. The clone method is used to fork the plugin state. Both factory and clone must be implemented.

Here is how InstructionTracker could implement the plugin state. Note that the plugin boilerplate already contains all the required declarations. All you need to do is to fill them in. You can also delete them if your plugin does not need to store per-state information.

class InstructionTrackerState : public PluginState {
    int m_count;

    InstructionTrackerState() {
        m_count = 0;

    virtual ~InstructionTrackerState() {}

    static PluginState *factory(Plugin*, S2EExecutionState*) {
        return new InstructionTrackerState();

    InstructionTrackerState *clone() const {
        return new InstructionTrackerState(*this);

    void increment() {

    int get() {
        return m_count;

Plugin code can refer to this state using the DECLARE_PLUGINSTATE macro:

void InstructionTracker::onInstructionExecution(S2EExecutionState *state, uint64_t pc) {
    // This macro declares the plgState variable of type InstructionTrackerState.
    // It automatically takes care of retrieving the right plugin state attached to the specified execution state
    DECLARE_PLUGINSTATE(InstructionTrackerState, state);

    s2e()->getDebugStream() << "Executing instruction at " << hexval(pc) << '\n';

    // Increment the count

Exporting events

All S2E plugins can define custom events. Other plugins can in turn connect to them and also export their own events. This scheme is at the center of the S2E plugin infrastructure. For example, the LinuxMonitor plugin exports a number of events (e.g. segmentation fault, module load, etc.) that can be intercepted by your own plugins.

In this tutorial, we show how InstructionTracker can expose an event and trigger it when the monitored instruction is executed ten times.

First, we declare the signal as a public field of the InstructionTracker class. It is important that the field be public, otherwise other plugins will not be able to register.

class InstructionTracker : public Plugin {
    // ...

                     S2EExecutionState *, // The first parameter of the callback is the state
                     uint64_t             // The second parameter is an integer representing the program counter
                    > onPeriodicEvent;


Second, we add some logic to trigger the event and invoke the registered callbacks.

void InstructionTracker::onInstructionExecution(S2EExecutionState *state, uint64_t pc) {
    DECLARE_PLUGINSTATE(InstructionTrackerState, state);

    s2e()->getDebugStream() << "Executing instruction at " << hexval(pc) << '\n';


    // Trigger the event
    if ((plgState->get() % 10) == 0) {
        onPeriodicEvent.emit(state, pc);

That is all we need to define and trigger an event. To register for this event, a plugin invokes s2e()->getPlugin<PluginName>(), where PluginName is the name of the plugin as defined in the S2E_DEFINE_PLUGIN macro. In our case, a plugin named MyClient would do something like this in its initialization routine:

// Include the plugin's header file
#include <s2e/Plugins/InstructionCounter.h>

// Specify dependencies
S2E_DEFINE_PLUGIN(MyClient, "We use InstructionTracker", "MyClient", "InstructionTracker");

void MyClient::initialize() {
    // Get the instance of the plugin
    Instructiontracker *tracker = s2e()->getPlugin<InstructionTracker>();

    // Register to custom events
    tracker->onPeriodicEvent.connect(/* Connect a handler method */);

Note that S2E enforces the plugin dependencies specified in the S2E_DEFINE_PLUGIN macro. If a dependency is not satisfied (e.g., the plugin is not enabled in the configuration file or is not compiled in S2E), S2E will not start and emit an error message instead.

It is not always necessary to specify the dependencies. For example, a plugin may want to work with reduced functionality if a dependent plugin is missing. Attempting to call s2e()->getPlugin() returns nullptr if the requested plugin is missing.

Guest-plugin communication

Guest code can send commands to plugins. S2E uses this extensively. For example, the Windows and Linux monitoring plugins notify other plugins about loaded modules, processes, and threads by receiving this information from a guest driver. The driver extract this information using the guest OS APIs, then sends it to the appropriate plugins.

In this part of the tutorial, we will modify the InstructionTracker plugin so that guest code can configure which address to monitor. This can be useful, e.g., in case the address to track is not known before S2E starts (ASLR, dynamically loaded modules, etc.).

Guest code uses the s2e_invoke_plugin function to call a plugin. This call takes a pointer to a plugin-specific data structure that contains the command to run and execute. The following example shows how to send a command to the InstructionTracker plugin:

#include <s2e/s2e.h>



    union {
        // Command parameters go here
        uint64_t address;

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
    cmd.Command = SET_ADDRESS;
    cmd.address = 0x12345;

    s2e_invoke_plugin("InstructionTracker", &cmd, sizeof(cmd));
    return 0;

This code invokes the handleOpcodeInvocation method in the InstructionTracker plugin. You will need to modify it so that it accepts the command:

void InstructionTracker::handleOpcodeInvocation(S2EExecutionState *state, uint64_t guestDataPtr, uint64_t guestDataSize)

    if (guestDataSize != sizeof(command)) {
        getWarningsStream(state) << "mismatched S2E_INSTRUCTIONTRACKER_COMMAND size\n";

    if (!state->mem()->read(guestDataPtr, &command, guestDataSize)) {
        getWarningsStream(state) << "could not read transmitted data\n";

    switch (command.Command) {
        case SET_ADDRESS:
            m_address = command.address;
            getWarningsStream(state) << "Unknown command " << command.Command << "\n";

You will also need to update the InstructionTracker.h header with the proper structure definitions.


S2E does not enforce the data format between the guest code and the associated plugins. The template shown above is merely a suggestion. You can simplify it if needed. For example, if you know that your plugin has only one command, you could just call s2e_invoke_plugin with null arguments.