A powerful set of tools is helpful not only for developers. On GNU/Linux strace is one such tool and helped me already with a wide variety of problems. However it is always confined to one process or a process tree and cannot help with system wide problems / questions. Although there have been many attempts in the past, the Linux developers seem to have found a common underlying infrastructure in the form of BPF for such tools, allowing flexible and high-performance probing.
Already back in 2016, the Netflix developer Brendan Gregg showed what is possible in his talk Linux BPF Superpowers.
If you want to get a quick idea of what is possible with this tool set, you can do this easily on a Debian Buster GNU/Linux system:
dzu@krikkit:~$ sudo apt install bpfcc-tools [sudo] password for dzu: Reading package lists... Done Building dependency tree Reading state information... Done The following additional packages will be installed: ieee-data libbpfcc python-bpfcc python-netaddr Suggested packages: ipython python-netaddr-docs The following NEW packages will be installed: bpfcc-tools ieee-data libbpfcc python-bpfcc python-netaddr 0 upgraded, 5 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded. Need to get 15.9 MB of archives. After this operation, 66.7 MB of additional disk space will be used. Do you want to continue? [Y/n] Get:1 http://deb.debian.org/debian buster/main amd64 libbpfcc amd64 0.8.0-4 [13.4 MB] Get:2 http://deb.debian.org/debian buster/main amd64 python-bpfcc all 0.8.0-4 [29.4 kB] Get:3 http://deb.debian.org/debian buster/main amd64 ieee-data all 20180805.1 [1590 kB] Get:4 http://deb.debian.org/debian buster/main amd64 python-netaddr all 0.7.19-1 [229 kB] Get:5 http://deb.debian.org/debian buster/main amd64 bpfcc-tools all 0.8.0-4 [654 kB] Fetched 15.9 MB in 1s (11.4 MB/s) Selecting previously unselected package libbpfcc. (Reading database ... 307420 files and directories currently installed.) Preparing to unpack .../libbpfcc_0.8.0-4_amd64.deb ... Unpacking libbpfcc (0.8.0-4) ... Selecting previously unselected package python-bpfcc. Preparing to unpack .../python-bpfcc_0.8.0-4_all.deb ... Unpacking python-bpfcc (0.8.0-4) ... Selecting previously unselected package ieee-data. Preparing to unpack .../ieee-data_20180805.1_all.deb ... Unpacking ieee-data (20180805.1) ... Selecting previously unselected package python-netaddr. Preparing to unpack .../python-netaddr_0.7.19-1_all.deb ... Unpacking python-netaddr (0.7.19-1) ... Selecting previously unselected package bpfcc-tools. Preparing to unpack .../bpfcc-tools_0.8.0-4_all.deb ... Unpacking bpfcc-tools (0.8.0-4) ... Setting up ieee-data (20180805.1) ... Setting up python-netaddr (0.7.19-1) ... Setting up libbpfcc (0.8.0-4) ... Setting up python-bpfcc (0.8.0-4) ... Setting up bpfcc-tools (0.8.0-4) ... Processing triggers for man-db (2.8.5-2) ... Processing triggers for libc-bin (2.28-10) ... dzu@krikkit:~$
One simple but very powerful tool is execsnoop showing every exec call on the system. On Debian the package maintainer has decided to name all the tools with an -bpfcc suffix not to collide with tools from the perf suite, so we have to call it like this:
dzu@krikkit:~$ sudo execsnoop-bpfcc PCOMM PID PPID RET ARGS nikola 11710 7479 0 /home/dzu/src/python/nikola/bin/nikola build ldconfig 11711 11710 0 /sbin/ldconfig -p sh 11715 11714 0 /bin/sh -c command -v debian-sa1 > /dev/null && debian-sa1 1 1 debian-sa1 11716 11715 0 /usr/lib/sysstat/debian-sa1 1 1 nikola 11717 7479 0 /home/dzu/src/python/nikola/bin/nikola build ldconfig 11718 11717 0 /sbin/ldconfig -p nikola 11724 7479 0 /home/dzu/src/python/nikola/bin/nikola build ldconfig 11725 11724 0 /sbin/ldconfig -p sshd 11741 797 0 /usr/sbin/sshd -D -R sshd 11766 797 0 /usr/sbin/sshd -D -R sh 11768 767 0 /bin/sh -c iptables -w -n -L INPUT | grep -q 'f2b-sshd[ \t]' iptables 11769 11768 0 /usr/sbin/iptables -w -n -L INPUT grep 11770 11768 0 /usr/bin/grep -q f2b-sshd[ \t] sh 11771 767 0 /bin/sh -c iptables -w -I f2b-sshd 1 -s 126.96.36.199 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-port-unreachable iptables 11772 11771 0 /usr/sbin/iptables -w -I f2b-sshd 1 -s 188.8.131.52 -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-port-unreachable nikola 11788 7479 0 /home/dzu/src/python/nikola/bin/nikola build ldconfig 11789 11788 0 /sbin/ldconfig -p
This run shows the blog software Nikola building the page during my edits, some unsolicited attempts at logging in to my PC and fail2ban finally kicking in to block the IP address of the offending ssh attempt.
The nifty little tool is in fact a readable Python script dynamically loading C code to hook the syscall__execve and do_ret_sys_execve Linux kernel functions. This is indeed very elegant. It has to be kept in mind however that the C code will not get compiled into machine code but into byte code for the BPF virtual machine. This virtual machine is intentionally not a generic virtual machine to preserve safety and security guarantees.
If you are interested in BPF and you are a fan of printed books then you will be glad to hear that O'Reilly just published Linux Observability with BPF for your perusal.
All in all, BPF is an exciting new Linux kernel technology and it is interesting to reflect on how this subsystem originating as a "packet filter" has gained (and will gain) completely new applications. It certainly is a powerful tool for Linux developers.