Creating analysis projects with s2e-env

S2E is a powerful platform that can analyze software at any level of the software stack. This flexibility requires quite a bit of configuration. Most of it is boilerplate that can be automatically generated based on the type of binary to analyze.

s2e-env is a Python-based tool that automates much of the build and configuration steps that are required to work with S2E. It entirely automates the complex tasks of building guest VM images ready for symbolic execution and generating configuration files to run various types of binaries. The following steps describe how to use s2e-env. You will find in the documentation various tutorials that go deeper into various topics.


S2E builds and runs on Ubuntu 22.04 LTS and Debian 11/12 (64-bit). Earlier versions may still work, but we do not support them anymore.

Installing s2e-env

s2e-env can be obtained and built from GitHub using the following commands:

sudo apt-get install git gcc python3 python3-dev python3-venv

git clone
cd s2e-env

python3 -m venv venv
. venv/bin/activate
pip install --upgrade pip wheel

# By default, s2e-env uses https to clone repositories.
# If you want ssh, please edit s2e_env/dat/config.yaml before running pip install.
# If your key is password-protected, use ssh-agent.
pip install .

# Note: if your pip version is earlier than v19, use the following command:
pip install --process-dependency-links .

Using s2e-env

General instructions for using s2e-env can be found in its README. Help for each command is available by running:

s2e <subcommand> --help

Creating a new environment

An S2E environment consists of the S2E engine and associated tools, one or more virtual machine images and one or more analysis targets, known as “projects”.

To create a new S2E environment in /home/user/s2e, run:

s2e init /home/user/s2e

This will fetch the required source code, install S2E’s dependencies (via apt) and create the directory structure described here. If you want to skip the dependency installation step (e.g. if you have already installed the dependencies) use the --skip-dependencies flag.


By default, all other s2e subcommands only work when executed in the root directory of your environment. However, you can change this behaviour by sourcing s2e_activate in the root directory of your environment. Sourcing s2e_activate will set the S2EDIR environment variable to the current environment, and so all s2e subcommands will execute relative to this directory. Sourcing s2e_activate also makes the s2e_deactivate command available, which unsets the S2E environment variables.


The remainder of this document assumes that you have activated your S2E environment, and so all s2e subcommands will operate in this environment.

Building S2E

Building S2E is simple. Simply run:

s2e build

Building S2E and QEMU takes some time (approx. 60 minutes), so go and grab a coffee while you wait. Note that you can build a debug version of S2E by specifying the --debug flag.

s2e build will build all of the S2E components, including KLEE, QEMU, libs2e, Z3, etc. To force the rebuild of a particular component (after the initial build), we must use the following flag:

s2e build --rebuild-components libs2e qemu

This will force the rebuild of the libs2e and QEMU components.

Updating the source code

To update the source code under source, run:

s2e update

This essentially acts as a wrapper around Google’s Repo tool, which is used to manage the core S2E code.

Building an image

You will need a virtual machine image to run your analysis target in. To see what images are available to build, run:

s2e image_build

This will list an image template name and a description of that image. For example, to build a Linux Debian 12.5 i386 image run:

s2e image_build debian-12.5-i386

This will:

  • Create a Debian-based image under the images directory of your environment

  • Configure the image for S2E

  • Install an S2E-compatible kernel that can be used with the LinuxMonitor plugin and snapshot the image

  • Create a JSON file describing the image. This JSON description is important for the new_project command

  • Create a ready-to-run snapshot so that you do not have to reboot the guest everytime you want to run an analysis

Building the image will take some time (approx. 30 minutes), so go and make another coffee. By default, image_build requires KVM to accelerate the build process. If you do not have access to KVM (e.g. you are running S2E in WSL), you can disable this requirement with the -n option.

You may also build all images at once:

s2e image_build all

Note that this will build all Linux and Windows images. To only build the Linux images, use s2e image_build linux. You can find more information about the infrastructure that builds the images in the following repositories:

NOTE: The image build process caches intermediate build output in .tmp-output that can grow quite large. Once the images have been built you may wish to delete this directory if disk space is an issue.

Windows images

s2e-env can also be used to build Windows images. The supported Windows versions can be found here. The --iso-dir option must be specified when building Windows images. The directory specified must also contain an ISO with the name listed in images.json. For example, the following command can be used to build a Windows 7, SP1 image:

s2e image_build --iso-dir /path/to/isos windows-7sp1ent-x86_64

Where /path/to/isos is a directory containing

The ISOs listed in images.json are available from MSDN. s2e image_build --iso-dir /path/to/isos windows can be used to build all Windows images.

Creating a new analysis project

Now that you have a virtual machine image that you can use to analyze programs in, you will need to create a “project” to analyze your target program. To create such a project, run:

s2e new_project --image <image_name> /path/to/target/binary [target_args...]

This will create a new project under the projects directory. When you run the analysis, the virtual machine image that you specified with the --image option will be used. You may omit this option to let s2e new_project autodetect an appropriate guest image.


If your host runs Ubuntu 22.04, dynamically linked binaries that you build on your host will not run on Debian images that currently ship with S2E. The libc that ships with Ubuntu 22.04 is incompatible with previous versions of the distribution. You have the following options:

  1. Use the Ubuntu 22.04 guest image. Only a 64-bit image is available as Ubuntu no longer provides 32-bit images.

  2. Build your binaries in a Docker environment that matches the guest.

  3. Link your binaries statically. You will not be able to use

s2e new_project will pick the optimal guest for your host and will warn you if you specify the wrong one.

new_project inspects the target binary in order to create the appropriate configuration files and launch scripts:

S2E downloads this file from the host into the guest, then executes it. This file contains instructions on how to start the program, where to inject symbolic arguments, etc. When s2e-env creates a VM image, it configures the image to run automatically when the s2e user logs in. This script fetches from the host and executes it. This script varies depending on your target program, so you should always check this file and modify it as required before running your analysis.

guestfs0 [guestfs1]

One or more symlinks to the images’ guestfs. This is essentially a copy of the guest filesystem extracted from the VM image and is used by S2E’s VMI plugin for virtual machine introspection. Note that not all images provide a guestfs. There may be several guestfs folders in case the project image is derived from another base image.

guest-tools32 guest-tools64

A symlink to the S2E guest tools. These will be downloaded to the guest by the bootstrap script every time you launch a new analysis. This way, you do not have to rebuild the VM image every time you modify these tools.

This is the script that you will run most frequently. It starts S2E and runs the analysis as configured in the following files. This script contains various variables that you may edit depending on how you want to run S2E (multi-core mode, gdb, etc.).


Contains convenience functions for the s2e-config.lua file.


For specifying function models.


The main S2E configuration file. Analysis plugins are enabled and configured here (in the pluginsConfig table). S2E (and KLEE) arguments are also specified here (under kleeArgs in the s2e table). The available S2E arguments are defined in S2EExecutor.cpp.


If you specified symbolic files on the command line, either with @@ or by using a path to a host file, the symranges files allow you to specify which parts of the files to make symbolic.

Target program arguments

The new_project command also allows the user to specify any command line arguments they may wish to run their program with. These are specified as if the user was running the program normally.

For example, the following command would create a new project based on ls executing with the -a option (i.e. all entries):

s2e new_project --image <image_name> /bin/ls -a

For programs that (a) take input from a file and (b) the user would like to use a “symbolic file”, @@ can be used to mark the location in the target’s command line where the input file should be placed. s2e-env will generate an appropriate bootstrap script that creates this symbolic file and substitutes it into the command line. For example, to cat a symbolic file:

s2e new_project --image <image_name> /bin/cat @@

Using seed files

Seed files (or test inputs) are concrete inputs for the target program. These files can be anything that the target program accepts (e.g. PNG files, documents, etc.). They can be obtained from a fuzzer, generated by hand, etc. These seed files can then be used by S2E to concolically guide execution in the target program.

To enable seed files in your project, use the new_project subcommand’s --use-seeds flag. This will create a seeds directory in your project where seed files can be placed. This mode is suitable in case you have many seeds that are not all known in advance (e.g., generated on the fly by a fuzzer) and that you want to keep S2E running to let it fetch seeds as they come. For further discussion on seed files please see the CGC tutorial.

An alternative to --use-seeds is to specify a path to a host file as a program argument, like this:

s2e new_project --image <image_name> /bin/cat /path/to/host/file.txt

This will create a symbolic link to file.txt in the project directory as well as a file called file.txt.symranges, in which you can specify which parts of the file to make symbolic. By default, the symranges file is empty and therefore the file is fully concrete. This mode is useful if you have only one seed file known in advance.

Running your analysis

You will need to cd into your project directory to run the analysis. While s2e new_project does its best to create suitable configuration files, you should first examine these files and modify them as required. You may want to add/remove plugins from s2e-config.lua and add/remove QEMU runtime options and/or S2E environment variables from the launch scripts.

Some “real-world” examples of how to configure your project are presented in the next section.

Once you have finalized your configuration files and launch scripts, run to begin the analysis.

Parsing an execution trace

The execution_trace command can be used to parse one or more ExecutionTracer.dat files generated by S2E’s execution tracer plugins.

The following can be used to output the complete execution trace in s2e-last in JSON format:

s2e execution_trace my_project

The --path-id option can be specified one or more times to limit the number of execution paths in the JSON trace. For example, to only output the execution trace for states 0 and 34, do:

s2e execution_trace -p 0 -p 34 my_project

Importing and exporting projects

Projects can be exported and shared with others. The following command will export a project named my_project as a tar.xz archive.

s2e export_project my_project /path/to/my/my_project_archive.tar.xz

The export process will replace all absolute paths relating to your S2E environment with a placeholder string. This placeholder is then rewritten when the project is imported into another S2E environment via:

s2e import_project /path/to/my/my_project_archive.tar.xz

There are a few things to note when exporting and importing projects:

  • Image information for the specific project is exported “as-is”. Therefore the destination environment for the imported project must have a valid image with the details provided in the project.json file.

  • The guest-tools and guestfs directories are not exported. Instead symlinks to these directories are recreated on project import.

Next steps

Now that you know how to use s2e-env, why not start using it to analyze binaries from DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge, programs from Coreutils, or even your own programs!