In essence, a disassembler is the exact opposite of an assembler. Where an assembler converts code written in an assembly language into binary machine code, a disassembler reverses the process and attempts to recreate the assembly code from the binary machine code.
Since most assembly languages have a one-to-one correspondence with underlying machine instructions, the process of disassembly is relatively straight-forward, and a basic disassembler can often be implemented simply by reading in bytes, and performing a table lookup. Of course, disassembly has its own problems and pitfalls, and they are covered later in this chapter.
Many disassemblers have the option to output assembly language instructions in Intel, AT&T, or (occasionally) HLA syntax. Examples in this book will use Intel and AT&T syntax interchangeably. We will typically not use HLA syntax for code examples, but that may change in the future.
Here we are going to list some commonly available disassembler tools. Notice that there are professional disassemblers (which cost money for a license) and there are freeware/shareware disassemblers. Each disassembler will have different features, so it is up to you as the reader to determine which tools you prefer to use.
Many of the Unix disassemblers, especially the open source ones, have been ported to other platforms, like Windows (mostly using MinGW or Cygwin). Some Disassemblers like otool ([OS X) are distro-specific.
Since data and instructions are all stored in an executable as binary data, the obvious question arises: how can a disassembler tell code from data Is any given byte a variable, or part of an instruction
Many interactive disassemblers will give the user the option to render segments of code as either code or data, but non-interactive disassemblers will make the separation automatically. Disassemblers often will provide the instruction AND the corresponding hex data on the same line, shifting the burden for decisions about the nature of the code to the user. Some disassemblers (e.g. ciasdis) will allow you to specify rules about whether to disassemble as data or code and invent label names, based on the content of the object under scrutiny. Scripting your own \"crawler\" in this way is more efficient; for large programs interactive disassembling may be impractical to the point of being unfeasible.
The general problem of separating code from data in arbitrary executable programs is equivalent to the halting problem. As a consequence, it is not possible to write a disassembler that will correctly separate code and data for all possible input programs. Reverse engineering is full of such theoretical limitations, although by Rice's theorem all interesting questions about program properties are undecidable (so compilers and many other tools that deal with programs in any form run into such limits as well). In practice a combination of interactive and automatic analysis and perseverance can handle all but programs specifically designed to thwart reverse engineering, like using encryption and decrypting code just prior to use, and moving code around in memory.
User defined textual identifiers, such as variable names, label names, and macros are removed by the assembly process. They may still be present in generated object files, for use by tools like debuggers and relocating linkers, but the direct connection is lost and re-establishing that connection requires more than a mere disassembler. Especially small constants may have more than one possible name. Operating system calls (like DLLs in MS-Windows, or syscalls in Unices) may be reconstructed, as their names appear in a separate segment or are known beforehand. Many disassemblers allow the user to attach a name to a label or constant based on his understanding of the code. These identifiers, in addition to comments in the source file, help to make the code more readable to a human, and can also shed some clues on the purpose of the code. Without these comments and identifiers, it is harder to understand the purpose of the source code, and it can be difficult to determine the algorithm being used by that code. When you combine this problem with the possibility that the code you are trying to read may, in reality, be data (as outlined above), then it can be even harder to determine what is going on. Another challenge is posed by modern optimising compilers; they inline small subroutines, then combine instructions over call and return boundaries. This loses valuable information about the way the program is structured.
Akin to Disassembly, Decompilers take the process a step further and actually try to reproduce the code in a high level language. Frequently, this high level language is C, because C is simple and primitive enough to facilitate the decompilation process. Decompilation does have its drawbacks, because lots of data and readability constructs are lost during the original compilation process, and they cannot be reproduced. Since the science of decompilation is still young, and results are \"good\" but not \"great\", this page will limit itself to a listing of decompilers, and a general (but brief) discussion of the possibilities of decompilation. Compared to disassemblers a decompiler generates code that doesnot require that one is familiar at the processor at hand. It may even be that the decompiled code can be compiled on a different processor, or give a reasonable starting point to reproduce the program on a different processor.
From a human disassembler's point of view, this is a nightmare, although this is straightforward to read in the original Assembly source code, as there is no way to decide if the db should be interpreted or not from the binary form, and this may contain various jumps to real executable code area, triggering analysis of code that should never be analysed, and interfering with the analysis of the real code (e.g. disassembling the above code from 0000h or 0001h won't give the same results at all). 1e1e36bf2d