Kernel Object Names Lifetime

Much of the Windows kernel functionality is exposed via kernel objects. Processes, threads, events, desktops, semaphores, and many other object types exist. Some object types can have string-based names, which means they can be “looked up” by that name. In this post, I’d like to consider some subtleties that concern object names.

Let’s start by examining kernel object handles in Process Explorer. When we select a process of interest, we can see the list of handles in one of the bottom views:

Handles view in Process Explorer

However, Process Explorer shows what it considers handles to named objects only by default. But even that is not quite right. You will find certain object types in this view that don’t have string-based names. The simplest example is processes. Processes have numeric IDs, rather than string-based names. Still, Process Explorer shows processes with a “name” that shows the process executable name and its unique process ID. This is useful information, for sure, but it’s not the object’s name.

Same goes for threads: these are displayed, even though threads (like processes) have numeric IDs rather than string-based names.

If you wish to see all handles in a process, you need to check the menu item Show Unnamed Handles and Mappings in the View menu.

Object Name Lifetime

What is the lifetime associated with an object’s name? This sounds like a weird question. Kernel objects are reference counted, so obviously when an object reference count drops to zero, it is destroyed, and its name is deleted as well. This is correct in part. Let’s look a bit deeper.

The following example code creates a Notepad process, and puts it into a named Job object (error handling omitted for brevity):

STARTUPINFO si = { sizeof(si) };

WCHAR name[] = L"notepad";
::CreateProcess(nullptr, name, nullptr, nullptr, FALSE, 0, 
	nullptr, nullptr, &si, &pi);

HANDLE hJob = ::CreateJobObject(nullptr, L"MyTestJob");
::AssignProcessToJobObject(hJob, pi.hProcess);

After running the above code, we can open Process Explorer, locate the new Notepad process, double-click it to get to its properties, and then navigate to the Job tab:

We can clearly see the job object’s name, prefixed with “\Sessions\1\BaseNamedObjects” because simple object names (like “MyTestJob”) are prepended with a session-relative directory name, making the name unique to this session only, which means processes in other sessions can create objects with the same name (“MyTestJob”) without any collision. Further details on names and sessions is outside the scope of this post.

Let’s see what the kernel debugger has to say regarding this job object:

lkd> !process 0 1 notepad.exe
PROCESS ffffad8cfe3f4080
    SessionId: 1  Cid: 6da0    Peb: 175b3b7000  ParentCid: 16994
    DirBase: 14aa86d000  ObjectTable: ffffc2851aa24540  HandleCount: 233.
    Image: notepad.exe
    VadRoot ffffad8d65d53d40 Vads 90 Clone 0 Private 524. Modified 0. Locked 0.
    DeviceMap ffffc28401714cc0
    Token                             ffffc285355e9060
    ElapsedTime                       00:04:55.078
    UserTime                          00:00:00.000
    KernelTime                        00:00:00.000
    QuotaPoolUsage[PagedPool]         214720
    QuotaPoolUsage[NonPagedPool]      12760
    Working Set Sizes (now,min,max)  (4052, 50, 345) (16208KB, 200KB, 1380KB)
    PeakWorkingSetSize                3972
    VirtualSize                       2101395 Mb
    PeakVirtualSize                   2101436 Mb
    PageFaultCount                    4126
    MemoryPriority                    BACKGROUND
    BasePriority                      8
    CommitCharge                      646
    Job                               ffffad8d14503080

lkd> !object ffffad8d14503080
Object: ffffad8d14503080  Type: (ffffad8cad8b7900) Job
    ObjectHeader: ffffad8d14503050 (new version)
    HandleCount: 1  PointerCount: 32768
    Directory Object: ffffc283fb072730  Name: MyTestJob

Clearly, there is a single handle to the job object. The PointerCount value is not the real reference count because of the kernel’s tracking of the number of usages each handle has (outside the scope of this post as well). To get the real reference count, we can click the PointerCount DML link in WinDbg (the !truref command):

kd> !trueref ffffad8d14503080
ffffad8d14503080: HandleCount: 1 PointerCount: 32768 RealPointerCount: 3

We have a reference count of 3, and since we have one handle, it means there are two references somewhere to this job object.

Now let’s see what happens when we close the job handle we’re holding:


Reopening the Notepad’s process properties in Process Explorer shows this:

Running the !object command again on the job yields the following:

lkd> !object ffffad8d14503080
Object: ffffad8d14503080  Type: (ffffad8cad8b7900) Job
    ObjectHeader: ffffad8d14503050 (new version)
    HandleCount: 0  PointerCount: 1
    Directory Object: 00000000  Name: MyTestJob

The handle count dropped to zero because we closed our (only) existing handle to the job. The job object’s name seem to be intact at first glance, but not really: The directory object is NULL, which means the object’s name is no longer visible in the object manager’s namespace.

Is the job object alive? Clearly, yes, as the pointer (reference) count is 1. When the handle count it zero, the Pointer Count is the correct reference count, and there is no need to run the !truref command. At this point, you should be able to guess why the object is still alive, and where is that one reference coming from.

If you guessed “the Notepad process”, then you are right. When a process is added to a job, it adds a reference to the job object so that it remains alive if at least one process is part of the job.

We, however, have lost the only handle we have to the job object. Can we get it back knowing the object’s name?

hJob = ::OpenJobObject(JOB_OBJECT_QUERY, FALSE, L"MyTestJob");

This call fails, and GetLastError returns 2 (“the system cannot find the file specified”, which in this case is the job object’s name). This means that the object name is destroyed when the last handle of the object is closed, even if there are outstanding references on the object (the object is alive!).

This the job object example is just that. The same rules apply to any named object.

Is there a way to “preserve” the object name even if all handles are closed? Yes, it’s possible if the object is created as “Permanent”. Unfortunately, this capability is not exposed by the Windows API functions like CreateJobObject, CreateEvent, and all other create functions that accept an object name.

Quick update: The native NtMakePermanentObject can make an object permanent given a handle, if the caller has the SeCreatePermanent privilege. This privilege is not granted to any user/group by default.

A permanent object can be created with kernel APIs, where the flag OBJ_PERMANENT is specified as one of the attribute flags part of the OBJECT_ATTRIBUTES structure that is passed to every object creation API in the kernel.

A “canonical” kernel example is the creation of a callback object. Callback objects are only usable in kernel mode. They provide a way for a driver/kernel to expose notifications in a uniform way, and allow interested parties (drivers/kernel) to register for notifications based on that callback object. Callback objects are created with a name so that they can be looked up easily by interested parties. In fact, there are quite a few callback objects on a typical Windows system, mostly in the Callback object manager namespace:

Most of the above callback objects’ usage is undocumented, except three which are documented in the WDK (ProcessorAdd, PowerState, and SetSystemTime). Creating a callback object with the following code creates the callback object but the name disappears immediately, as the ExCreateCallback API returns an object pointer rather than a handle:

UNICODE_STRING name = RTL_CONSTANT_STRING(L"\\Callback\\MyCallback");
status = ExCreateCallback(&cb, &cbAttr, TRUE, TRUE);

The correct way to create a callback object is to add the OBJ_PERMANENT flag:

UNICODE_STRING name = RTL_CONSTANT_STRING(L"\\Callback\\MyCallback");
status = ExCreateCallback(&cb, &cbAttr, TRUE, TRUE);

A permanent object must be made “temporary” (the opposite of permanent) before actually dereferencing it by calling ObMakeTemporaryObject.

Aside: Getting to an Object’s Name in WinDbg

For those that wonder how to locate an object’s name give its address. I hope that it’s clear enough… (watch the bold text).

lkd> !object ffffad8d190c0080
Object: ffffad8d190c0080  Type: (ffffad8cad8b7900) Job
    ObjectHeader: ffffad8d190c0050 (new version)
    HandleCount: 1  PointerCount: 32770
    Directory Object: ffffc283fb072730  Name: MyTestJob
lkd> dt nt!_OBJECT_HEADER ffffad8d190c0050
   +0x000 PointerCount     : 0n32770
   +0x008 HandleCount      : 0n1
   +0x008 NextToFree       : 0x00000000`00000001 Void
   +0x010 Lock             : _EX_PUSH_LOCK
   +0x018 TypeIndex        : 0xe9 ''
   +0x019 TraceFlags       : 0 ''
   +0x019 DbgRefTrace      : 0y0
   +0x019 DbgTracePermanent : 0y0
   +0x01a InfoMask         : 0xa ''
   +0x01b Flags            : 0 ''
   +0x01b NewObject        : 0y0
   +0x01b KernelObject     : 0y0
   +0x01b KernelOnlyAccess : 0y0
   +0x01b ExclusiveObject  : 0y0
   +0x01b PermanentObject  : 0y0
   +0x01b DefaultSecurityQuota : 0y0
   +0x01b SingleHandleEntry : 0y0
   +0x01b DeletedInline    : 0y0
   +0x01c Reserved         : 0
   +0x020 ObjectCreateInfo : 0xffffad8c`d8e40cc0 _OBJECT_CREATE_INFORMATION
   +0x020 QuotaBlockCharged : 0xffffad8c`d8e40cc0 Void
   +0x028 SecurityDescriptor : 0xffffc284`3dd85eae Void
   +0x030 Body             : _QUAD
lkd> db nt!ObpInfoMaskToOffset L10
fffff807`72625e20  00 20 20 40 10 30 30 50-20 40 40 60 30 50 50 70  .  @.00P @@`0PPp
lkd> dx (nt!_OBJECT_HEADER_NAME_INFO*)(0xffffad8d190c0050 - ((char*)0xfffff807`72625e20)[(((nt!_OBJECT_HEADER*)0xffffad8d190c0050)->InfoMask & 3)])
(nt!_OBJECT_HEADER_NAME_INFO*)(0xffffad8d190c0050 - ((char*)0xfffff807`72625e20)[(((nt!_OBJECT_HEADER*)0xffffad8d190c0050)->InfoMask & 3)])                 : 0xffffad8d190c0030 [Type: _OBJECT_HEADER_NAME_INFO *]
    [+0x000] Directory        : 0xffffc283fb072730 [Type: _OBJECT_DIRECTORY *]
    [+0x008] Name             : "MyTestJob" [Type: _UNICODE_STRING]
    [+0x018] ReferenceCount   : 0 [Type: long]
    [+0x01c] Reserved         : 0x0 [Type: unsigned long]

The Quest for the Ultimate GUI Framework

I love Graphical User Interfaces, especially the good ones 🙂 Some people feel more comfortable with a terminal and command line arguments – I prefer a graphical representation, especially when visualization of information can be much more effective than text (even if colorful).

Most of the tools I write are GUI tools; I like colors and graphics – computers are capable of so much graphic and visualization power – why not see it in all its glory? GUIs are not a silver bullet by any means. Sometimes bad GUIs are encountered, which might send the user to the command terminal. I’m not going to discuss here what makes up a good GUI. This post is about technologies to create GUIs.

Disclaimer: much of the rest of this post is subjective – my experience with Windows GUIs. I’m also not discussing web UI – not really in the same scope. I’m interested in taking advantage of the machine, not being constrained or affected by some browser or HTML/CSS/JS engine. The discussion is not exhaustive, either; there is a limit to a post 🙂

In the old days, the Win32 User Interface reined supreme. It was created in the days where memory was scarce, colors were few, hardware acceleration did not exist, and consistency was the name of the game. Modern GUIs were just starting to come up.

Windows supports all the standard controls (widgets) a typical GUI application would need. From buttons and menus, to list views and tree views, to edit controls, the standard set of typical application usage was covered. The basis of the Win32 GUI model was (and still is) the might Handle to Window (HWND). This entity represented the surface on which the window (typically a control) would render its graphical representation and handle its interaction logic. This worked fairly well throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.

The model was not perfect, but any means. Customizing controls was difficult, and in some cases downright impossible. Built-in customization was minimal, any substantial customization required subclassing – essentially taking control of handling some window messages differently in the hope of not breaking integration with the default message processing. It was a lot of work at best, and imperfect or impossible at worse. Messages like WM_PAINT and WM_ERASEBKGND were commonly overridden, but also mouse and keyboard-related messages. In some cases, there was no good option for customization and full blown control had to be written from scratch.

Here is a simple example: say you want to change the background color of a button. This should in theory be simple – change some property and you’re done. Not so easy with the Win32 button – it had to be owner-drawn or custom-drawn (WM_CUSTOMDRAW) in later versions of Windows. And that’s really a simple example.

Layout didn’t really exist. Controls were placed at an (x,y) coordinate measured from the top-left corner of the parent window – in pixels, mind you – with a specified width and height. There were no “panels” to handle more complex layout, in a grid for example, horizontally, or vertically, etc.

From a programmatic perspective, working directly with the Windows GUI API was no picnic either. Microsoft realized this, and developed The Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC) library in the early 1990s to make working with Win32 GUI somewhat easier, by wrapping some of the functionality in C++ classes, and adding some nice features like docking windows. MFC was very popular at the time, as it was easier to use when getting started with building GUIs. It didn’t solve anything fundamental, as it was just using the Win32 GUI API under the covers. Several third-party libraries were written on top of MFC to provide even more functionality out of the box. MFC can still be used today, with Visual Studio still providing wizards and other helpers for MFC developers.

MFC wasn’t perfect of course. Beyond the obvious usage of the Win32 UI controls, it was fairly bloated, dragging with it a large DLL or adding a big static chunk if linked statically. Another library came out, the Windows Template Library (WTL), that provided a thin layer around the Windows GUI API, based on template classes, meaning that there was no “runtime” in the same sense as MFC – no library to link with – just whatever is compiled directly.

Personally, I like WTL a lot. In fact, my tools in recent years use WTL exclusively. It’s much more flexible than MFC, and doesn’t impose a particular way of working as MFC strongly did. The downside is that WTL wasn’t an official Microsoft library, mostly developed by good people inside the company in their spare time. Visual Studio has no special support for WTL. That said, WTL is still being maintained, and had some incremental features added throughout the years.

At the same time as MFC and WTL were used by C++ developers, another might tool entered the scene: Visual Basic. This environment was super successful for primary two reasons:

  • The programming language was based on BASIC, which many people had at least acquaintance with, as it was the most common programming language for personal computers in the 1980s and early 1990s.
  • The “Visual” aspect of Visual Basic was new and compelling. Just drag controls from a toolbox onto a surface, change properties in the designer and/or at runtime, connect to events easily, and you’re good to go.

To this day, I sometimes encounter customers and applications still built with Visual Basic 6, even though its official support date is long gone.

The .NET Era

At around 2002, .NET and C# were introduced by Microsoft as a response to the Java language and ecosystem that came out in 1995. With .NET, the Windows Forms (WinForms) library was provided, which was very similar to the Visual Basic experience, but with the more modern and powerful .NET Framework. And with .NET 2 in 2005, where .NET really kicked in (generics and other important features released), Windows Forms was the go-to UI framework while Visual Basic’s popularity somewhat waning.

However, WinForms was still based around the Win32 GUI model – HWNDs, no easy customization, etc. However, Microsoft did a lot of work to make WinForms more customizable than pure Win32 or MFC by subclassing many of the existing controls and adding functionality available with simple properties. Support was added to customize menus with colors and icons, buttons with images and custom colors, and more. The drag-n-drop experience from Visual Basic was available as well, making it relatively easy to migrate from Visual Basic.

.NET 3 and WPF

The true revolution came in 2006 when .NET 3 was released. .NET 3 had 3 new technologies that were greatly advertised:

WCF was hugely successful, and took over older technologies as it unified all types of communications, whether based on remoting, HTTP, sockets, or whatever. WF had only moderate success.

WPF was the new UI framework, and it was revolutionary. WPF ditched the Win32 UI model – a WPF “main” window still had an HWND – you can’t get away with that – but all the controls were drawn by WPF – the Win32 UI controls were not used. From Win32’s perspective there was just one HWND. Compare that to Win32 UI model, where every control is an HWND – buttons, list boxes, list views, toolbars, etc.

With the HWND restrictions gone, WPF used DirectX for rendering purposes, compared to the aging Graphics Device Interface (GDI) API used by Win32 GUIs. Without the artificial boundaries of HWNDs, WPF could do anything – combine anything – 2D, 3D, animation, media, unlimited customization – without any issues, as the entire HWND surface belonged to WPF.

I remember when I was introduced to WPF (at that time code name “Avalon”) – I was blown away. It was a far cry from the old, predictable, non-customizable model of Win32 GUIs.

WPF wasn’t just about the graphics and visuals. It also provided powerful data binding, much more powerful than the limited model supported by WinForms. I would even go so far as say it’s one of the most important of WPF’s features. WPF introduced XAML – an XML based language to declaratively build UIs, with object creation, properties, and even declarative data binding. Customizing controls could be done in several ways, including existing properties, control templates and data templates. WPF was raw power.

So, is WPF the ultimate GUI framework? It certainly looked like a prime candidate.

WPF made progress, ironing out issues, adding some features in .NET 3.5 and .NET 4. But then it seemed to have grinded to a halt. WPF barely made some minor improvements in .NET 4.5. One can say that it was pretty complete, so perhaps nothing much to add?

One aspect of WPF not dealt with well was performance. WPF could be bogged down by many control with complex data bindings – data bindings were mostly implemented with Reflection – a flexible but relatively slow .NET mechanism. There was certainly opportunities for improvement. Additionally, some controls were inherently slow, most notable the DataGrid, which was useful, but problematic as it was painfully slow. Third party libraries came in to the rescue and provided improved Data Grids of their own (most not free).

WPF had a strong following, with community created controls, and other goodies. Microsoft, however, seemed to have lost interest in WPF, the reason perhaps being the “Metro” revolution of 2012.

“Metro” and Going Universal

Windows 8 was a major release for Microsoft where UI is concerned. The “Metro” minimal language was all the rage at the time. Touch devices started to appear and Microsoft did not want to lose the battle. I noticed that Microsoft tends to move from one extreme to another, finally settling somewhere in the middle – but that usually takes years. Windows 8 is a perfect example. Metro applications (as they were called at the time) were always full screen – even on desktops with big displays. A new framework was built, based around the Windows Runtime – a new library based on the old but trusty Component Object Model (COM), with metadata used with the .NET metadata format.

The Windows Runtime UI model was built on similar principles as WPF – XAML (not the same one, mind you; that would be too easy), data binding, control templates, and other similar (but simplified) concepts from WPF. The Windows Runtime was internally built in C++, with “convenient” language projections provided out of the box for C++ (C++/CX at the time), .NET (C# and VB), and even JavaScript.

Generally, Windows 8 and the Universal applications (as they were later renamed) were pretty terrible. The “Metro design language”, with its monochromatic simplistic icons and graphics was ridiculous. Colors were gone. I felt like I’m sliding back to the 1980s when colors were limited. This “Metro” style spread everywhere as far as Microsoft is concerned. For example, Visual Studio 2012 that was out at the time was monochromatic – all icons in black only! It was a nightmare. Microsoft’s explanation was “to focus the developer attention to the code, remove distractions”. In actually, it failed miserably. I remember the control toolbox for WinForms and WPF in VS 2012 – all icons were gray – there was just no way to distinguish between them at a glance – which destroys the point of having icons in the first place. Microsoft boasted that their designers managed to make all these once colorful icons with a single color! What an achievement.

With Visual Studio 2013, they started to bring some colors back… the whole thing was so ridiculous.

The “Universal” model was created at least to address the problem of creating applications with the same code for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. To that end, it was successful, as the Win32 GUI was not implemented on Windows Phone, presumably because it was outdated, with lots and lots of code that is not well-suited for a small, much less powerful, form factor like the phone and other small devices.

Working with Universal applications (now called Universal Windows Platform applications) was similar to WPF to some extent, but the controls were geared towards touch devices, where fingers are mostly used. Controls were big, list views were scrolling smoothly but had very few lines of content. For desktop applications, it was a nightmare. Not to mention that Windows 7 (still very popular at the time) was not supported.

WPF was still the best option in the Microsoft space at the time, even though it stagnated. At least it worked on Windows 7, and its default control rendering was suited to desktop applications.

Windows 8.1 made some improvements in Universal apps – at least a minimize button was added! Windows 10 fixed the Universal fiasco by allowing windows to be resized normally like in the “old” days. There was a joke at the time saying that “Windows 10 returned windows to Windows. Before that it was Window – singular”.

That being said, Windows 10’s own UI was heavily influenced by Metro. The settings up use monochrome icons – how can anyone think this is better than colorful icons for easy recognition. This trend continues with Windows 11 where various classic windows are “converted” to the new “design language”. At least the settings app uses somewhat colorful icons on Windows 11.

The Universal apps could only run with a single instance, something that has since changed, but still employed. For example, the settings app in Windows 10 and 11 is single instance. Why on earth should it be in an OS named “Windows”? Give me more than one Settings window at a time!

Current State of Affairs

WPF is not moving forward. With the introduction of .NET Core (later renamed to simply .NET), WPF was open sourced, and is available in .NET 5+. It’s not cross platform, as most of the other .NET 5+ pieces.

UWP is a failure, even Microsoft admits that. It’s written in C++ (it’s based on the Windows Runtime after all), which should give it good performance not bogged down by .NET’s garbage collector and such. But its projections for C++ is awful, and in my opinion unusable. If you create a new UWP application with C++ in Visual Studio, you’ll get plenty of files, including IDL (Interface Definition Language), some generated files, and all that for a single button in a window. I tried writing something more complex, and gave up. It’s too slow and convoluted. The only real option is to use .NET – something I may not want to do with all its dependencies and overhead.

Regardless, the controls default look and feel is geared towards touch devices. I don’t care about the little animations – I want to be able to use a proper list view. For example, the Windows 11 new Task Manager that is built with the new WinUI technology (described next) uses the Win32 classic list view – because it’s fast and appropriate for this kind of tool. The rest is WinUI – the tabs are gone, there are monochromatic icons – it’s just ridiculous. The WinUI adds nothing except a dark theme option.

Task manager in Windows 11

The WinUI technology is similar to UWP in concept and implementation. The current state of UI affairs is messy – there is WinUI, UWP, .NET Maui (to replace Xamarin for mobile devices but not just) – what are people supposed to use?

All these UI libraries don’t really cater for desktop apps. This is why I’m still using WTL (which is wrapping the Win32 classic GUI API). There is no good alternative from Microsoft.

But perhaps not all is lost – Avalonia is a fairly new library attempting to bring WPF style UI and capabilities to more than just Windows. But it’s not a Microsoft library, but built by people in the community as open source – there is no telling if at some point it will stop being supported. On the other hand, WPF – a Microsoft library – stopped being supported.

Other Libraries

At this point you may be wondering why use a Microsoft library at all for desktop GUI – Microsoft has dropped the ball, as they continue to make a mess. Maybe use Blazor on the desktop? Out of scope for this post.

There are other options. many GUI libraries that use C or C++ exist – wxWidgets, GTK, and Qt, to name a few. wxWidgets supports Windows fairly well. Installing GTK successfully is a nightmare. Qt is very powerful and takes control of drawing everything, similar to the WPF model. It has powerful tools for designing GUIs, with its own declarative language based on JavaScript. With Qt you also have to use its own classes for non-UI stuff, like strings and lists. It’s also pricey for closed source.

Another alternative which has a lot of promise (some of which is already delivered) is Dear ImGui. This library is different from most others, as it’s Immediate Mode GUI, rather than Retained Mode which most other are. It’s cross platform, very flexible and fast. Just look at some of the GUIs built with it – truly impressive.

I’ll probably migrate to using ImGui. Is it the ultimate GUI framework? Not yet, but I feel it’s the closest to attain that goal. A couple of years back I implemented a mini-Process Explorer like tool with ImGui. Its list view is flexible and rich, and the library in general gets better all the time. It has great support from the authors and the community. It’s not perfect yet, there are still rough edges, and in some cases you have to work harder because of its cross-platform nature.

I should also mention Uno Platform, another cross-platform UI framework built on top of .NET, that made great strides in recent years.

What’s Next?

Microsoft has dropped the ball on desktop apps. The Win32 classic model is not being maintained. Just try to create a “dark mode” UI. I did that to some extent for the Sysinternals tools at the time. It was hard. Some things I just couldn’t do right – the scrollbars that are attached to list views and tree views, for example.

Prior to common controls version 6 (Vista), Microsoft had a “flat scroll bars” feature that allowed customization of scrollbars fairly easily (colors, for example). But surprisingly, common controls version 6 dropped this feature! Flat scroll bars are no longer supported. I had to go through hoops to implement dark scroll bars for Sysinternals – and even that was imperfect.

In my own tools, I created a theme engine as well – implemented differently – and I decided to forgo customizing scroll bars. Let them remain as is – it’s just too difficult and fragile.

I do hope Microsoft changes something in the way they look at desktop apps. This is where most Windows users are! Give us WPF in C++. Or enhance the Win32 model. The current UI mess is not helping, either.

I’m going to set some time to work on building some tools that use Dear ImGui – I feel it has the most bang for the buck.

Memory Information in Task Manager

You may have been asked this question many times: “How much memory does this process consume?” The question seems innocent enough. Your first instinct might be to open Task Manager, go to the Processes tab, find the process in the list, and look at the column marked “Memory“. What could be simpler?

A complication is hinted at when looking in the Details tab. The default memory-related column is named “Memory (Active Private Working Set)”, which seems more complex than simply “Memory”. Opening the list of columns from the Details tab shows more columns where the term “Memory” is used. What gives?

The Processes’ tab Memory column is the same as the Details’ tab Memory (active private working set). But what does it mean? Let’s break it down:

  • Working set – the memory is accessible by the processor with no page fault exception. Simply put, the memory is in RAM (physical memory).
  • Private – the memory is private to the process. This is in contrast to shared memory, which is (at least can be) shared with other processes. The canonical example of shared memory is PE images – DLLs and executables. A DLL that is mapped to multiple processes will (in most cases) have a single presence in physical memory.
  • Active – this is an artificial term used by Task Manager related to UWP (Universal Windows Platform) processes. If a UWP process’ window is minimized, this column shows zero memory consumption, because in theory, since all the process’ threads are suspended, that memory can be repurposed for other processes to use. You can try it by running Calculator, and minimizing its window. You’ll see this column showing zero. Restore the window, and it will show some non-zero value. In fact, there is a column named Memory (private working set), which shows the same thing but does not take into consideration the “active” aspect of UWP processes.

So what does all this mean? The fact that this column shows only private memory is a good thing. That’s because the shared memory size (in most cases) is not controllable and is fixed – for example, the size of a DLL – it’s out of our control – the process just needs to use the DLL. The downside of this active private working set column is that fact it only shows memory current part of the process working set – in RAM. A process may allocate a large junk of memory, but most of it may not be in RAM right now, but it is still consumed, and counts towards the commit limit of the system.

Here is a simple example. I’m writing the following code to allocate (commit) 64 GM of memory:

auto ptr = VirtualAlloc(nullptr, 64LL << 30, MEM_COMMIT | MEM_RESERVE, PAGE_READWRITE);

Here is what Task manager shows in its Performance/Memory tab before the call:

“In Use” indicates current RAM (physical memory) usage – it’s 34.6 GB. The “Committed” part is more important – it indicates how much memory I can totally commit on the system, regardless of whether it’s in physical memory now or not. It shows “44/128 GB” – 44 GB are committed now (34.6 of that in RAM), and my commit limit is 128 GB (it’s the sum of my total RAM and the configured page files sizes). Here is the same view after I commit the above 64 GB:

Notice the physical memory didn’t change much, but the committed memory “jumped” by 64 GB, meaning there is now only 20 GB left for other processes to use before the system runs out of memory (or page file expansion occurs). Looking at the Details that for this Test process shows the active private working set column indicating a very low memory consumption because it’s looking at private RAM usage only:

Only when the process starts “touching” (using) the committed memory, physical pages will start being used by the process. The name “committed” indicates the commitment of the system to providing that entire memory block if required no matter what.

Where is that 64 GB shown? The column to use is called in Task Manager Commit Size, which is in fact private committed memory:

Commit Size is the correct column to look at when trying to ascertain memory consumption in processes. The sad thing is that it’s not the default column shown, and that’s why many people use the misleading active private working set column. My guess is the reason the misleading column is shown by default is because physical memory is easy to understand for most people, whereas virtual memory – (some of which is in RAM and some which is not) is not trivially understood.

Compare Commit Size to active private working set sometimes reveals a big difference – an indication that most of the private memory of a process is not in RAM right now, but the memory is still consumed as far as the memory manager is concerned.

A related confusion exists because of different terminology used by different tools. Specifically, Commit Size in Task Manager is called Private Bytes in Process Explorer and Performance Monitor.

Task Manager’s other memory columns allow you to look at more memory counters such as Working Set (total RAM used by a process, including private and shared memory), Peak Working Set, Memory (shared working set), and Working Set Delta.

There are other subtleties I am not expanding on in this post. Hopefully, I’ll touch on these in a future post.

Bottom line: Commit Size is the way to go.

Minimal Executables

Here is a simple experiment to try: open Visual Studio and create a C++ console application. All that app is doing is display “hello world” to the console:

#include <stdio.h>

int main() {
	printf("Hello, world!\n");
	return 0;

Build the executable in Release build and check its size. I get 11KB (x64). Not too bad, perhaps. However, if we check the dependencies of this executable (using the dumpbin command line tool or any PE Viewer), we’ll find the following in the Import directory:

There are two dependencies: Kernel32.dll and VCRuntime140.dll. This means these DLLs will load at process start time no matter what. If any of these DLLs is not found, the process will crash. We can’t get rid of Kernel32 easily, but we may be able to link statically to the CRT. Here is the required change to VS project properties:

After building, the resulting executable jumps to 136KB in size! Remember, it’s a “hello, world” application. The Imports directory in a PE viewer now show Kernel32.dll as the only dependency.

Is that best we can do? Why do we need the CRT in the first place? One obvious reason is the usage of the printf function, which is implemented by the CRT. Maybe we can use something else without depending on the CRT. There are other reasons the CRT is needed. Here are a few:

  • The CRT is the one calling our main function with the correct argc and argv. This is expected behavior by developers.
  • Any C++ global objects that have constructors are executed by the CRT before the main function is invoked.
  • Other expected behaviors are provided by the CRT, such as correct handling of the errno (global) variable, which is not really global, but uses Thread-Local-Storage behind the scenes to make it per-thread.
  • The CRT implements the new and delete C++ operators, without which much of the C++ standard library wouldn’t work without major customization.

Still, we may be OK doing things outside the CRT, taking care of ourselves. Let’s see if we can pull it off. Let’s tell the linker that we’re not interested in the CRT:

Setting “Ignore All Default Libraries” tells the linker we’re not interested in linking with the CRT in any way. Building the app now gives some linker errors:

1>Test2.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol __security_check_cookie
1>Test2.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol __imp___acrt_iob_func
1>Test2.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol __imp___stdio_common_vfprintf
1>LINK : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol mainCRTStartup
1>D:\Dev\Minimal\x64\Release\Test2.exe : fatal error LNK1120: 4 unresolved externals

One thing we expected is the missing printf implementation. What about the other errors? We have the missing “security cookie” implementation, which is a feature of the CRT to try to detect stack overrun by placing a “cookie” – some number – before making certain function calls and making sure that cookie is still there after returning. We’ll have to settle without this feature. The main missing piece is mainCRTStartup, which is the default entry point that the linker is expecting. We can change the name, or overwrite main to have that name.

First, let’s try to fix the linker errors before reimplementing the printf functionality. We’ll remove the printf call and rebuild. Things are improving:

>Test2.obj : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol __security_check_cookie
1>LINK : error LNK2001: unresolved external symbol mainCRTStartup
1>D:\Dev\Minimal\x64\Release\Test2.exe : fatal error LNK1120: 2 unresolved externals

The “security cookie” feature can be removed with another compiler option:

When rebuilding, we get a warning about the “/sdl” (Security Developer Lifecycle) option conflicting with removing the security cookie, which we can remove as well. Regardless, the final linker error remains – mainCRTStartup.

We can rename main to mainCRTStartup and “implement” printf by going straight to the console API (part of Kernel32.Dll):

#include <Windows.h>

int mainCRTStartup() {
	char text[] = "Hello, World!\n";
		text, (DWORD)strlen(text), nullptr, nullptr);

	return 0;

This compiles and links ok, and we get the expected output. The file size is only 4KB! An improvement even over the initial project. The dependencies are still just Kernel32.DLL, with the only two functions used:

You may be thinking that although we replaced printf, that’s wasn’t the full power of printf – it supports various format specifiers, etc., which are going to be difficult to reimplement. Is this just a futile exercise?

Not necessarily. Remember that every user mode process always links with NTDLL.dll, which means the API in NtDll is always available. As it turns out, a lot of functionality that is implemented by the CRT is also implemented in NTDLL. printf is not there, but the next best thing is – sprintf and the other similar formatting functions. They would fill a buffer with the result, and then we could call WriteConsole to spit it to the console. Problem solved!

Removing the CRT

Well, almost. Let’s add a definition for sprintf_s (we’ll be nice and go with the “safe” version), and then use it:

#include <Windows.h>

extern "C" int __cdecl sprintf_s(
	char* buffer,
	size_t sizeOfBuffer,
	const char* format,	...);

int mainCRTStartup() {
	char text[64];
	sprintf_s(text, _countof(text), "Hello, world from process %u\n", ::GetCurrentProcessId());
		text, (DWORD)strlen(text), nullptr, nullptr);

	return 0;

Unfortunately, this does not link: sprintf_s is an unresolved external, just like strlen. It makes sense, since the linker does not know where to look for it. Let’s help out by adding the import library for NtDll:

#pragma comment(lib, "ntdll")

This should work, but one error persists – sprintf_s; strlen however, is resolved. The reason is that the import library for NtDll provided by Microsoft does not have an import entry for sprintf_s and other CRT-like functions. Why? No good reason I can think of. What can we do? One option is to create an NtDll.lib import library of our own and use it. In fact, some people have already done that. One such file can be found as part of my NativeApps repository (it’s called NtDll64.lib, as the name does not really matter). The other option is to link dynamically. Let’s do that:

int __cdecl sprintf_s_f(
	char* buffer, size_t sizeOfBuffer, const char* format, ...);

int mainCRTStartup() {
	auto sprintf_s = (decltype(sprintf_s_f)*)::GetProcAddress(
        ::GetModuleHandle(L"ntdll"), "sprintf_s");
	if (sprintf_s) {
		char text[64];
		sprintf_s(text, _countof(text), "Hello, world from process %u\n", ::GetCurrentProcessId());
			text, (DWORD)strlen(text), nullptr, nullptr);

	return 0;

Now it works and runs as expected.

You may be wondering why does NTDLL implement the CRT-like functions in the first place? The CRT exists, after all, and can be normally used. “Normally” is the operative word here. Native applications, those that can only depend on NTDLL cannot use the CRT. And this is why these functions are implemented as part of NTDLL – to make it easier to build native applications. Normally, native applications are built by Microsoft only. Examples include Smss.exe (the session manager), CSrss.exe (the Windows subsystem process), and UserInit.exe (normally executed by WinLogon.exe on a successful login).

One thing that may be missing in our “main” function are command line arguments. Can we just add the classic argc and argv and go about our business? Let’s try:

int mainCRTStartup(int argc, const char* argv[]) {
char text[64];
sprintf_s(text, _countof(text), 
    "argc: %d argv[0]: 0x%p\n", argc, argv[0]);
	text, (DWORD)strlen(text), nullptr, nullptr);

Seems simple enough. argv[0] should be the address of the executable path itself. The code carefully displays the address only, not trying to dereference it as a string. The result, however, is perplexing:

argc: -359940096 argv[0]: 0x74894808245C8948

This seems completely wrong. The reason we see these weird values (if you try it, you’ll get different values. In fact, you may get different values in every run!) is that the expected parameters by a true entry point of an executable is not based on argc and argv – this is part of the CRT magic. We don’t have a CRT anymore. There is in fact just one argument, and it’s the Process Environment Block (PEB). We can add some code to show some of what is in there (non-relevant code omitted):

#include <Windows.h>
#include <winternl.h>
int mainCRTStartup(PPEB peb) {
	char text[256];
	sprintf_s(text, _countof(text), "PEB: 0x%p\n", peb);
		text, (DWORD)strlen(text), nullptr, nullptr);

	sprintf_s(text, _countof(text), "Executable: %wZ\n", 
		text, (DWORD)strlen(text), nullptr, nullptr);

	sprintf_s(text, _countof(text), "Commandline: %wZ\n", 
		text, (DWORD)strlen(text), nullptr, nullptr);

<Winternl.h> contains some NTDLL definitions, such as a partially defined PEB. In it, there is a ProcessParameters member that holds the image path and the full command line. Here is the result on my console:

PEB: 0x000000EAC01DB000
Executable: D:\Dev\Minimal\x64\Release\Test3.exe
Commandline: "D:\Dev\Minimal\x64\Release\Test3.exe"

The PEB is the argument provided by the OS to the entry point, whatever its name is. This is exactly what native applications get as well. By the way, we could have used GetCommandLine from Kernel32.dll to get the command line if we didn’t add the PEB argument. But for native applications (that can only depend on NTDLL), GetCommandLine is not an option.

Going Native

How far are we from a true native application? What would be the motivation for such an application anyway, besides small file size and reduced dependencies? Let’s start with the first question.

To make our executable truly native, we have to do two things. The first is to change the subsystem of the executable (stored in the PE header) to Native. VS provides this option via a linker setting:

The second thing is to remove the dependency on Kernel32.Dll. No more WriteConsole and no GetCurrentProcessId. We will have to find some equivalent in NTDLL, or write our own implementation leveraging what NtDll has to offer. This is obviously not easy, given that most of NTDLL is undocumented, but most function prototypes are available as part of the Process Hacker/phnt project.

For the second question – why bother? Well, one reason is that native applications can be configured to run very early in Windows boot – these in fact run by Smss.exe itself when it’s the only existing user-mode process at that time. Such applications (like autochk.exe, a native chkdsk.exe) must be native – they cannot depend on the CRT or even on kernel32.dll, since the Windows Subsystem Process (csrss.exe) has not been launched yet.

For more information on Native Applications, you can view my talk on the subject.

I may write a blog post on native application to give more details. The examples shown here can be found here.

Happy minimization!

Levels of Kernel Debugging

Doing any kind of research into the Windows kernel requires working with a kernel debugger, mostly WinDbg (or WinDbg Preview). There are at least 3 “levels” of debugging the kernel.

Level 1: Local Kernel Debugging

The first is using a local kernel debugger, which means configuring WinDbg to look at the kernel of the local machine. This can be configured by running the following command in an elevated command window, and restarting the system:

bcdedit -debug on

You must disable Secure Boot (if enabled) for this command to work, as Secure Boot protects against putting the machine in local kernel debugging mode. Once the system is restarted, WinDbg launched elevated, select File/Kernel Debug and go with the “Local” option (WinDbg Preview shown):

If all goes well, you’ll see the “lkd>” prompt appearing, confirming you’re in local kernel debugging mode.

What can you in this mode? You can look at anything in kernel and user space, such as listing the currently existing processes (!process 0 0), or examining any memory location in kernel or user space. You can even change kernel memory if you so desire, but be careful, any “bad” change may crash your system.

The downside of local kernel debugging is that the system is a moving target, things change while you’re typing commands, so you don’t want to look at things that change quickly. Additionally, you cannot set any breakpoint; you cannot view any CPU registers, since these are changing constantly, and are on a CPU-basis anyway.

The upside of local kernel debugging is convenience – setting it up is very easy, and you can still get a lot of information with this mode.

Level 2: Remote Debugging of a Virtual Machine

The next level is a full kernel debugging experience of a virtual machine, which can be running locally on your host machine, or perhaps on another host somewhere. Setting this up is more involved. First, the target VM must be set up to allow kernel debugging and set the “interface” to the host debugger. Windows supports several interfaces, but for a VM the best to use is network (supported on Windows 8 and later).

First, go to the VM and ping the host to find out its IP address. Then type the following:

bcdedit /dbgsettings net hostip: port:55000 key:

Replace the host IP with the correct address, and select an unused port on the host. The key can be left out, in which case the command will generate something for you. Since that key is needed on the host side, it’s easier to select something simple. If the target VM is not local, you might prefer to let the command generate a random key and use that.

Next, launch WinDbg elevated on the host, and attach to the kernel using the “Net” option, specifying the correct port and key:

Restart the target, and it should connect early in its boot process:

Microsoft (R) Windows Debugger Version 10.0.25200.1003 AMD64
Copyright (c) Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Using NET for debugging
Opened WinSock 2.0
Waiting to reconnect...
Connected to target on port 55000 on local IP
You can get the target MAC address by running .kdtargetmac command.
Connected to Windows 10 25309 x64 target at (Tue Mar  7 11:38:18.626 2023 (UTC - 5:00)), ptr64 TRUE
Kernel Debugger connection established.  (Initial Breakpoint requested)

************* Path validation summary **************
Response                         Time (ms)     Location
Deferred                                       SRV*d:\Symbols*
Symbol search path is: SRV*d:\Symbols*
Executable search path is: 
Windows 10 Kernel Version 25309 MP (1 procs) Free x64
Edition build lab: 25309.1000.amd64fre.rs_prerelease.230224-1334
Machine Name:
Kernel base = 0xfffff801`38600000 PsLoadedModuleList = 0xfffff801`39413d70
System Uptime: 0 days 0:00:00.382
fffff801`38a18655 cc              int     3

Enter the g command to let the system continue. The prompt is “kd>” with the current CPU number on the left. You can break at any point into the target by clicking the “Break” toolbar button in the debugger. Then you can set up breakpoints, for whatever you’re researching. For example:

1: kd> bp nt!ntWriteFile
1: kd> g
Breakpoint 0 hit
fffff801`38dccf60 4c8bdc          mov     r11,rsp
2: kd> k
 # Child-SP          RetAddr               Call Site
00 fffffa03`baa17428 fffff801`38a81b05     nt!NtWriteFile
01 fffffa03`baa17430 00007ff9`1184f994     nt!KiSystemServiceCopyEnd+0x25
02 00000095`c2a7f668 00007ff9`0ec89268     0x00007ff9`1184f994
03 00000095`c2a7f670 0000024b`ffffffff     0x00007ff9`0ec89268
04 00000095`c2a7f678 00000095`c2a7f680     0x0000024b`ffffffff
05 00000095`c2a7f680 0000024b`00000001     0x00000095`c2a7f680
06 00000095`c2a7f688 00000000`000001a8     0x0000024b`00000001
07 00000095`c2a7f690 00000095`c2a7f738     0x1a8
08 00000095`c2a7f698 0000024b`af215dc0     0x00000095`c2a7f738
09 00000095`c2a7f6a0 0000024b`0000002c     0x0000024b`af215dc0
0a 00000095`c2a7f6a8 00000095`c2a7f700     0x0000024b`0000002c
0b 00000095`c2a7f6b0 00000000`00000000     0x00000095`c2a7f700
2: kd> .reload /user
Loading User Symbols
2: kd> k
 # Child-SP          RetAddr               Call Site
00 fffffa03`baa17428 fffff801`38a81b05     nt!NtWriteFile
01 fffffa03`baa17430 00007ff9`1184f994     nt!KiSystemServiceCopyEnd+0x25
02 00000095`c2a7f668 00007ff9`0ec89268     ntdll!NtWriteFile+0x14
03 00000095`c2a7f670 00007ff9`08458dda     KERNELBASE!WriteFile+0x108
04 00000095`c2a7f6e0 00007ff9`084591e6     icsvc!ICTransport::PerformIoOperation+0x13e
05 00000095`c2a7f7b0 00007ff9`08457848     icsvc!ICTransport::Write+0x26
06 00000095`c2a7f800 00007ff9`08452ea3     icsvc!ICEndpoint::MsgTransactRespond+0x1f8
07 00000095`c2a7f8b0 00007ff9`08452abc     icsvc!ICTimeSyncReferenceMsgHandler+0x3cb
08 00000095`c2a7faf0 00007ff9`084572cf     icsvc!ICTimeSyncMsgHandler+0x3c
09 00000095`c2a7fb20 00007ff9`08457044     icsvc!ICEndpoint::HandleMsg+0x11b
0a 00000095`c2a7fbb0 00007ff9`084574c1     icsvc!ICEndpoint::DispatchBuffer+0x174
0b 00000095`c2a7fc60 00007ff9`08457149     icsvc!ICEndpoint::MsgDispatch+0x91
0c 00000095`c2a7fcd0 00007ff9`0f0344eb     icsvc!ICEndpoint::DispatchThreadFunc+0x9
0d 00000095`c2a7fd00 00007ff9`0f54292d     ucrtbase!thread_start<unsigned int (__cdecl*)(void *),1>+0x3b
0e 00000095`c2a7fd30 00007ff9`117fef48     KERNEL32!BaseThreadInitThunk+0x1d
0f 00000095`c2a7fd60 00000000`00000000     ntdll!RtlUserThreadStart+0x28
2: kd> !process -1 0
PROCESS ffffc706a12df080
    SessionId: 0  Cid: 0828    Peb: 95c27a1000  ParentCid: 044c
    DirBase: 1c57f1000  ObjectTable: ffffa50dfb92c880  HandleCount: 123.
    Image: svchost.exe

In this “level” of debugging you have full control of the system. When in a breakpoint, nothing is moving. You can view register values, call stacks, etc., without anything changing “under your feet”. This seems perfect, so do we really need another level?

Some aspects of a typical kernel might not show up when debugging a VM. For example, looking at the list of interrupt service routines (ISRs) with the !idt command on my Hyper-V VM shows something like the following (truncated):

2: kd> !idt

Dumping IDT: ffffdd8179e5f000

00:	fffff80138a79800 nt!KiDivideErrorFault
01:	fffff80138a79b40 nt!KiDebugTrapOrFault	Stack = 0xFFFFDD8179E95000
02:	fffff80138a7a140 nt!KiNmiInterrupt	Stack = 0xFFFFDD8179E8D000
03:	fffff80138a7a6c0 nt!KiBreakpointTrap
2e:	fffff80138a80e40 nt!KiSystemService
2f:	fffff80138a75750 nt!KiDpcInterrupt
30:	fffff80138a733c0 nt!KiHvInterrupt
31:	fffff80138a73720 nt!KiVmbusInterrupt0
32:	fffff80138a73a80 nt!KiVmbusInterrupt1
33:	fffff80138a73de0 nt!KiVmbusInterrupt2
34:	fffff80138a74140 nt!KiVmbusInterrupt3
35:	fffff80138a71d88 nt!HalpInterruptCmciService (KINTERRUPT ffffc70697f23900)

36:	fffff80138a71d90 nt!HalpInterruptCmciService (KINTERRUPT ffffc70697f23a20)

b0:	fffff80138a72160 ACPI!ACPIInterruptServiceRoutine (KINTERRUPT ffffdd817a1ecdc0)

Some things are missing, such as the keyboard interrupt handler. This is due to certain things handled “internally” as the VM is “enlightened”, meaning it “knows” it’s a VM. Normally, it’s a good thing – you get nice support for copy/paste between the VM and the host, seamless mouse and keyboard interaction, etc. But it does mean it’s not the same as another physical machine.

Level 3: Remote debugging of a physical machine

In this final level, you’re debugging a physical machine, which provides the most “authentic” experience. Setting this up is the trickiest. Full description of how to set it up is described in the debugger documentation. In general, it’s similar to the previous case, but network debugging might not work for you depending on the network card type your target and host machines have.

If network debugging is not supported because of the limited list of network cards supported, your best bet is USB debugging using a dedicated USB cable that you must purchase. The instructions to set up USB debugging are provided in the docs, but it may require some trial and error to locate the USB ports that support debugging (not all do). Once you have that set up, you’ll use the “USB” tab in the kernel attachment dialog on the host. Once connected, you can set breakpoints in ISRs that may not exist on a VM:

: kd> !idt

Dumping IDT: fffff8022f5b1000

00:	fffff80233236100 nt!KiDivideErrorFault
80:	fffff8023322cd70 i8042prt!I8042KeyboardInterruptService (KINTERRUPT ffffd102109c0500)
Dumping Secondary IDT: ffffe5815fa0e000 

01b0:hidi2c!OnInterruptIsr (KMDF) (KINTERRUPT ffffd10212e6edc0)

0: kd> bp i8042prt!I8042KeyboardInterruptService
0: kd> g
Breakpoint 0 hit
fffff802`6dd42100 4889542410      mov     qword ptr [rsp+10h],rdx
0: kd> k
 # Child-SP          RetAddr               Call Site
00 fffff802`2f5cdf48 fffff802`331453cb     i8042prt!I8042KeyboardInterruptService
01 fffff802`2f5cdf50 fffff802`3322b25f     nt!KiCallInterruptServiceRoutine+0x16b
02 fffff802`2f5cdf90 fffff802`3322b527     nt!KiInterruptSubDispatch+0x11f
03 fffff802`2f5be9f0 fffff802`3322e13a     nt!KiInterruptDispatch+0x37
04 fffff802`2f5beb80 00000000`00000000     nt!KiIdleLoop+0x5a

Happy debugging!

Windows Kernel Programming Class Recordings

I’ve recently posted about the upcoming training classes, the first of which is Advanced Windows Kernel Programming in April. Some people have asked me how can they participate if they have not taken the Windows Kernel Programming fundamentals class, and they might not have the required time to read the book.

Since I don’t plan on providing the fundamentals training class before April, after some thought, I decided to do the following.

I am selling one of the previous Windows Kernel Programming class recordings, along with the course PDF materials, the labs, and solutions to the labs. This is the first time I’m selling recordings of my public classes. If this “experiment” goes well, I might consider doing this with other classes as well. Having recordings is not the same as doing a live training class, but it’s the next best thing if the knowledge provided is valuable and useful. It’s about 32 hours of video, and plenty of labs to keep you busy 🙂

As an added bonus, I am also giving the following to those purchasing the training class:

  • You get 10% discount for the Advanced Windows Kernel Programming class in April.
  • You will be added to a discord server that will host all the Alumni from my public classes (an idea I was given by some of my students which will happen soon)
  • A live session with me sometime in early April (I’ll do a couple in different times of day so all time zones can find a comfortable session) where you can ask questions about the class, etc.

These are the modules covered in the class recordings:

  • Module 0: Introduction
  • Module 1: Windows Internals Overview
  • Module 2: The I/O System
  • Module 3: Device Driver Basics
  • Module 4: The I/O Request Packet
  • Module 5: Kernel Mechanisms
  • Module 6: Process and Thread Monitoring
  • Module 7: Object and Registry Notifications
  • Module 8: File System Mini-Filters Fundamentals
  • Module 9: Miscellaneous Techniques

If you’re interested in purchasing the class, send me an email to with the title “Kernel Programming class recordings” and I will reply with payment details. Once paid, reply with the payment information, and I will share a link with the course. I’m working on splitting the recordings into meaningful chunks, so not all are ready yet, but these will be completed in the next day or so.

Here are the rules after a purchase:

  • No refunds – once you have access to the recordings, this is it.
  • No sharing – the content is for your own personal viewing. No sharing of any kind is allowed.
  • No reselling – I own the copyright and all rights.

The cost is 490 USD for the entire class. That’s the whole 32 hours.

If you’re part of a company (or simply have friends) that would like to purchase multiple “licenses”, contact me for a discount.

Upcoming Public Training Classes for April/May

Today I’m happy to announce two training classes to take place in April and May. These classes will be in 4-hour session chunks, so that it’s easier to consume even for uncomfortable time zones.

The first is Advanced Windows Kernel Programming, a class I was promising for quite some time now… it will be held on the following dates:

  • April: 18, 20, 24, 27 and May: 1, 4, 8, 11 (4 days total)
  • Times: 11am to 3pm ET (8am-12pm PT, 4pm to 8pm UT/GMT)

The course will include advanced topics in Windows kernel development, and is recommended for those that were in my Windows Kernel Programming class or have equivalent knowledge; for example, by reading my book Windows Kernel Programming.

Example topics include: deep dive into Windows’ kernel design, working with APCs, Windows Filtering Platform callout drivers, advanced memory management techniques, plug & play filter drivers, and more!

The second class is Windows Internals to be held on the following dates:

  • May: 2, 3, 9, 10, 15, 18, 22, 24, 30 and June: 1, 5 (5.5 days)
  • Times: 11am to 3pm ET (8am-12pm PT, 4pm to 8pm UT/GMT)

The syllabus can be found here (some modifications possible, but the general outline remains).

950 USD (if paid by an individual), 1900 USD (if paid by a company). The cost is the same for these training classes. Previous students in my classes get 10% off.
Multiple participants from the same company get a discount as well (contact me for the details).

If you’d like to register, please send me an email to with the name of the training in the email title, provide your full name, company (if any), preferred contact email, and your time zone.

The sessions will be recorded, so you can watch any part you may be missing, or that may be somewhat overwhelming in “real time”.

As usual, if you have any questions, feel free to send me an email, or DM on twitter (@zodiacon) or Linkedin (

Introduction to the Windows Filtering Platform

As part of the second edition of Windows Kernel Programming, I’m working on chapter 13 to describe the basics of the Windows Filtering Platform (WFP). The chapter will focus mostly on kernel-mode WFP Callout drivers (it is a kernel programming book after all), but I am also providing a brief introduction to WFP and its user-mode API.

This introduction (with some simplifications) is what this post is about. Enjoy!

The Windows Filtering Platform (WFP) provides flexible ways to control network filtering. It exposes user-mode and kernel-mode APIs, that interact with several layers of the networking stack. Some configuration and control is available directly from user-mode, without requiring any kernel-mode code (although it does require administrator-level access). WFP replaces older network filtering technologies, such as Transport Driver Interface (TDI) filters some types of NDIS filters.

If examining network packets (and even modification) is required, a kernel-mode Callout driver can be written, which is what we’ll be concerned with in this chapter. We’ll begin with an overview of the main pieces of WFP, look at some user-mode code examples for configuring filters before diving into building simple Callout drivers that allows fine-grained control over network packets.

WFP is comprised of user-mode and kernel-mode components. A very high-level architecture is shown here:

In user-mode, the WFP manager is the Base Filtering Engine (BFE), which is a service implemented by bfe.dll and hosted in a standard svchost.exe instance. It implements the WFP user-mode API, essentially managing the platform, talking to its kernel counterpart when needed. We’ll examine some of these APIs in the next section.

User-mode applications, services and other components can utilize this user-mode management API to examine WFP objects state, and make changes, such as adding or deleting filters. A classic example of such “user” is the Windows Firewall, which is normally controllable by leveraging the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) that is provided for this purpose, but using these APIs from other applications is just as effective.

The kernel-mode filter engine exposes various logical layers, where filters (and callouts) can be attached. Layers represent locations in the network processing of one or more packets. The TCP/IP driver makes calls to the WFP kernel engine so that it can decide which filters (if any) should be “invoked”.

For filters, this means checking the conditions set by the filter against the current request. If the conditions are satisfied, the filter’s action is applied. Common actions include blocking a request from being further processed, allowing the request to continue without further processing in this layer, continuing to the next filter in this layer (if any), and invoking a callout driver. Callouts can perform any kind of processing, such as examining and even modifying packet data.
The relationship between layers, filters, and callouts is shown here:

As you can see the diagram, each layer can have zero or more filters, and zero or more callouts. The number and meaning of the layers is fixed and provided out of the box by Windows. On most system, there are about 100 layers. Many of the layers are sets of pairs, where one is for IPv4 and the other (identical in purpose) is for IPv6.

The WFP Explorer tool I created provides some insight into what makes up WFP. Running the tool and selecting View/Layers from the menu (or clicking the Layers tool bar button) shows a view of all existing layers.

You can download the WFP Explorer tool from its Github repository
( or the AllTools repository

Each layer is uniquely identified by a GUID. Its Layer ID is used internally by the kernel engine as an identifier rather than the GUID, as it’s smaller and so is faster (layer IDs are 16-bit only). Most layers have fields that can be used by filters to set conditions for invoking their actions. Double-clicking a layer shows its properties. The next figure shows the general properties of an example layer. Notice it has 382 filters and 2 callouts attached to it.

Clicking the Fields tab shows the fields available in this layer, that can be used by filters to set conditions.

The meaning of the various layers, and the meaning of the fields for the layers are all documented in the official WFP documentation.

The currently existing filters can be viewed in WFP Explorer by selecting Filters from the View menu. Layers cannot be added or removed, but filters can. Management code (user or kernel) can add and/or remove filters dynamically while the system is running. You can see that on the system the tool is running on there are currently 2978 filters.

Each filter is uniquely identified by a GUID, and just like layers has a “shorter” id (64-bit) that is used by the kernel engine to more quickly compare filter IDs when needed. Since multiple filters can be assigned to the same layer, some kind of ordering must be used when assessing filters. This is where the filter’s weight comes into play. A weight is a 64-bit value that is used to sort filters by priority. As you can see in figure 13-7, there are two weight properties – weight and effective weight. Weight is what is specified when adding the filter, but effective weight is the actual one used. There are three possible values to set for weight:

  • A value between 0 and 15 is interpreted by WFP as a weight index, which simply means that the effective weight is going to start with 4 bits having the specified weight value and generate the other 60 bit. For example, if the weight is set to 5, then the effective weight is going to be between 0x5000000000000000 and 0x5FFFFFFFFFFFFFFF.
  • An empty value tells WFP to generate an effective weight somewhere in the 64-bit range.
  • A value above 15 is taken as is to become the effective weight.

What is an “empty” value? The weight is not really a number, but a FWP_VALUE type can hold all sorts of values, including holding no value at all (empty).

Double-clicking a filter in WFP Explorer shows its general properties:

The Conditions tab shows the conditions this filter is configured with. When all the conditions are met, the action of the filter is going to fire.

The list of fields used by a filter must be a subset of the fields exposed by the layer this filter is attached to. There are six conditions shown in figure 13-9 out of the possible 39 fields supported by this layer (“ALE Receive/Accept v4 Layer”). As you can see, there is a lot of flexibility in specifying conditions for fields – this is evident in the matching enumeration, FWPM_MATCH_TYPE:

typedef enum FWP_MATCH_TYPE_ {
    FWP_MATCH_EQUAL    = 0,

The WFP API exposes its functionality for user-mode and kernel-mode callers. The header files used are different, to cater for differences in API expectations between user-mode and kernel-mode, but APIs in general are identical. For example, kernel APIs return NTSTATUS, whereas user-mode APIs return a simple LONG, that is the error value that is returned normally from GetLastError. Some APIs are provided for kernel-mode only, as they don’t make sense for user mode.

W> The user-mode WFP APIs never set the last error, and always return the error value directly. Zero (ERROR_SUCCESS) means success, while other (positive) values mean failure. Do not call GetLastError when using WFP – just look at the returned value.

WFP functions and structures use a versioning scheme, where function and structure names end with a digit, indicating version. For example, FWPM_LAYER0 is the first version of a structure describing a layer. At the time of writing, this was the only structure for describing a layer. As a counter example, there are several versions of the function beginning with FwpmNetEventEnum: FwpmNetEventEnum0 (for Vista+), FwpmNetEventEnum1 (Windows 7+), FwpmNetEventEnum2 (Windows 8+), FwpmNetEventEnum3 (Windows 10+), FwpmNetEventEnum4 (Windows 10 RS4+), and FwpmNetEventEnum5 (Windows 10 RS5+). This is an extreme example, but there are others with less “versions”. You can use any version that matches the target platform. To make it easier to work with these APIs and structures, a macro is defined with the base name that is expanded to the maximum supported version based on the target compilation platform. Here is part of the declarations for the macro FwpmNetEventEnum:

DWORD FwpmNetEventEnum0(
   _In_ HANDLE engineHandle,
   _In_ HANDLE enumHandle,
   _In_ UINT32 numEntriesRequested,
   _Outptr_result_buffer_(*numEntriesReturned) FWPM_NET_EVENT0*** entries,
   _Out_ UINT32* numEntriesReturned);
DWORD FwpmNetEventEnum1(
   _In_ HANDLE engineHandle,
   _In_ HANDLE enumHandle,
   _In_ UINT32 numEntriesRequested,
   _Outptr_result_buffer_(*numEntriesReturned) FWPM_NET_EVENT1*** entries,
   _Out_ UINT32* numEntriesReturned);
DWORD FwpmNetEventEnum2(
   _In_ HANDLE engineHandle,
   _In_ HANDLE enumHandle,
   _In_ UINT32 numEntriesRequested,
   _Outptr_result_buffer_(*numEntriesReturned) FWPM_NET_EVENT2*** entries,
   _Out_ UINT32* numEntriesReturned);

You can see that the differences in the functions relate to the structures returned as part of these APIs (FWPM_NET_EVENTx). It’s recommended you use the macros, and only turn to specific versions if there is a compelling reason to do so.

The WFP APIs adhere to strict naming conventions that make it easier to use. All management functions start with Fwpm (Filtering Windows Platform Management), and all management structures start with FWPM. The function names themselves use the pattern <prefix><object type><operation>, such as FwpmFilterAdd and FwpmLayerGetByKey.

It’s curious that the prefixes used for functions, structures, and enums start with FWP rather than the (perhaps) expected WFP. I couldn’t find a compelling reason for this.

WFP header files start with fwp and end with u for user-mode or k for kernel-mode. For example, fwpmu.h holds the management functions for user-mode callers, whereas fwpmk.h is the header for kernel callers. Two common files, fwptypes.h and fwpmtypes.h are used by both user-mode and kernel-mode headers. They are included by the “main” header files.

User-Mode Examples

Before making any calls to specific APIs, a handle to the WFP engine must be opened with FwpmEngineOpen:

DWORD FwpmEngineOpen0(
   _In_opt_ const wchar_t* serverName,  // must be NULL
   _In_ UINT32 authnService,            // RPC_C_AUTHN_DEFAULT
   _In_opt_ SEC_WINNT_AUTH_IDENTITY_W* authIdentity,
   _In_opt_ const FWPM_SESSION0* session,
   _Out_ HANDLE* engineHandle);

Most of the arguments have good defaults when NULL is specified. The returned handle must be used with subsequent APIs. Once it’s no longer needed, it must be closed:

DWORD FwpmEngineClose0(_Inout_ HANDLE engineHandle);

Enumerating Objects

What can we do with an engine handle? One thing provided with the management API is enumeration. These are the APIs used by WFP Explorer to enumerate layers, filters, sessions, and other object types in WFP. The following example displays some details for all the filters in the system (error handling omitted for brevity, the project wfpfilters has the full source code):

#include <Windows.h>
#include <fwpmu.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <string>

#pragma comment(lib, "Fwpuclnt")

std::wstring GuidToString(GUID const& guid) {
    WCHAR sguid[64];
    return ::StringFromGUID2(guid, sguid, _countof(sguid)) ? sguid : L"";

const char* ActionToString(FWPM_ACTION const& action) {
    switch (action.type) {
        case FWP_ACTION_BLOCK:               return "Block";
        case FWP_ACTION_PERMIT:              return "Permit";
        case FWP_ACTION_CALLOUT_TERMINATING: return "Callout Terminating";
        case FWP_ACTION_CALLOUT_INSPECTION:  return "Callout Inspection";
        case FWP_ACTION_CALLOUT_UNKNOWN:     return "Callout Unknown";
        case FWP_ACTION_CONTINUE:            return "Continue";
        case FWP_ACTION_NONE:                return "None";
        case FWP_ACTION_NONE_NO_MATCH:       return "None (No Match)";
    return "";

int main() {
    // open a handle to the WFP engine
    HANDLE hEngine;
    FwpmEngineOpen(nullptr, RPC_C_AUTHN_DEFAULT, nullptr, nullptr, &hEngine);

    // create an enumeration handle
    HANDLE hEnum;
    FwpmFilterCreateEnumHandle(hEngine, nullptr, &hEnum);

    UINT32 count;
    FWPM_FILTER** filters;
    // enumerate filters
    FwpmFilterEnum(hEngine, hEnum, 
        8192,       // maximum entries, 
        &filters,   // returned result
        &count);    // how many actually returned

    for (UINT32 i = 0; i < count; i++) {
        auto f = filters[i];
        printf("%ws Name: %-40ws Id: 0x%016llX Conditions: %2u Action: %s\n",
    // free memory allocated by FwpmFilterEnum

    // close enumeration handle
    FwpmFilterDestroyEnumHandle(hEngine, hEnum);

    // close engine handle

    return 0;

The enumeration pattern repeat itself with all other WFP object types (layers, callouts, sessions, etc.).

Adding Filters

Let’s see if we can add a filter to perform some useful function. Suppose we want to prevent network access from some process. We can add a filter at an appropriate layer to make it happen. Adding a filter is a matter of calling FwpmFilterAdd:

DWORD FwpmFilterAdd0(
   _In_ HANDLE engineHandle,
   _In_ const FWPM_FILTER0* filter,
   _Out_opt_ UINT64* id);

The main work is to fill a FWPM_FILTER structure defined like so:

typedef struct FWPM_FILTER0_ {
    GUID filterKey;
    FWPM_DISPLAY_DATA0 displayData;
    UINT32 flags;
    /* [unique] */ GUID *providerKey;
    FWP_BYTE_BLOB providerData;
    GUID layerKey;
    GUID subLayerKey;
    FWP_VALUE0 weight;
    UINT32 numFilterConditions;
    /* [unique][size_is] */ FWPM_FILTER_CONDITION0 *filterCondition;
    FWPM_ACTION0 action;
    /* [switch_is] */ /* [switch_type] */ union 
        /* [case()] */ UINT64 rawContext;
        /* [case()] */ GUID providerContextKey;
        }     ;
    /* [unique] */ GUID *reserved;
    UINT64 filterId;
    FWP_VALUE0 effectiveWeight;

The weird-looking comments are generated by the Microsoft Interface Definition Language (MIDL) compiler when generating the header file from an IDL file. Although IDL is most commonly used by Component Object Model (COM) to define interfaces and types, WFP uses IDL to define its APIs, even though no COM interfaces are used; just plain C functions. The original IDL files are provided with the SDK, and they are worth checking out, since they may contain developer comments that are not “transferred” to the resulting header files.

Some members in FWPM_FILTER are necessary – layerKey to indicate the layer to attach this filter, any conditions needed to trigger the filter (numFilterConditions and the filterCondition array), and the action to take if the filter is triggered (action field).

Let’s create some code that prevents the Windows Calculator from accessing the network. You may be wondering why would calculator require network access? No, it’s not contacting Google to ask for the result of 2+2. It’s using the Internet for accessing current exchange rates.

Clicking the Update Rates button causes Calculator to consult the Internet for the updated exchange rate. We’ll add a filter that prevents this.

We’ll start as usual by opening handle to the WFP engine as was done in the previous example. Next, we need to fill the FWPM_FILTER structure. First, a nice display name:

FWPM_FILTER filter{};   // zero out the structure
WCHAR filterName[] = L"Prevent Calculator from accessing the web"; = filterName;

The name has no functional part – it just allows easy identification when enumerating filters. Now we need to select the layer. We’ll also specify the action:

filter.action.type = FWP_ACTION_BLOCK;

There are several layers that could be used for blocking access, with the above layer being good enough to get the job done. Full description of the provided layers, their purpose and when they are used is provided as part of the WFP documentation.

The last part to initialize is the conditions to use. Without conditions, the filter is always going to be invoked, which will block all network access (or just for some processes, based on its effective weight). In our case, we only care about the application – we don’t care about ports or protocols. The layer we selected has several fields, one of with is called ALE App ID (ALE stands for Application Layer Enforcement).

This field can be used to identify an executable. To get that ID, we can use FwpmGetAppIdFromFileName. Here is the code for Calculator’s executable:

WCHAR filename[] = LR"(C:\Program Files\WindowsApps\Microsoft.WindowsCalculator_11.2210.0.0_x64__8wekyb3d8bbwe\CalculatorApp.exe)";
FwpmGetAppIdFromFileName(filename, &appId);

The code uses the path to the Calculator executable on my system – you should change that as needed because Calculator’s version might be different. A quick way to get the executable path is to run Calculator, open Process Explorer, open the resulting process properties, and copy the path from the Image tab.

The R"( and closing parenthesis in the above snippet disable the “escaping” property of backslashes, making it easier to write file paths (C++ 14 feature).

The return value from FwpmGetAppIdFromFileName is a BLOB that needs to be freed eventually with FwpmFreeMemory.

Now we’re ready to specify the one and only condition:

cond.fieldKey = FWPM_CONDITION_ALE_APP_ID;      // field
cond.matchType = FWP_MATCH_EQUAL;
cond.conditionValue.type = FWP_BYTE_BLOB_TYPE;
cond.conditionValue.byteBlob = appId;

filter.filterCondition = &cond;
filter.numFilterConditions = 1;

The conditionValue member of FWPM_FILTER_CONDITION is a FWP_VALUE, which is a generic way to specify many types of values. It has a type member that indicates the member in a big union that should be used. In our case, the type is a BLOB (FWP_BYTE_BLOB_TYPE) and the actual value should be passed in the byteBlob union member.

The last step is to add the filter, and repeat the exercise for IPv6, as we don’t know how Calculator connects to the currency exchange server (we can find out, but it would be simpler and more robust to just block IPv6 as well):

FwpmFilterAdd(hEngine, &filter, nullptr, nullptr);

filter.layerKey = FWPM_LAYER_ALE_AUTH_CONNECT_V6;   // IPv6
FwpmFilterAdd(hEngine, &filter, nullptr, nullptr);

We didn’t specify any GUID for the filter. This causes WFP to generate a GUID. We didn’t specify weight, either. WFP will generate them.

All that’s left now is some cleanup:


Running this code (elevated) should and trying to refresh the currency exchange rate with Calculator should fail. Note that there is no need to restart Calculator – the effect is immediate.

We can locate the filters added with WFP Explorer:

Double-clicking one of the filters and selecting the Conditions tab shows the only condition where the App ID is revealed to be the full path of the executable in device form. Of course, you should not take any dependency on this format, as it may change in the future.

You can right-click the filters and delete them using WFP Explorer. The FwpmFilterDeleteByKey API is used behind the scenes. This will restore Calculator’s exchange rate update functionality.

Unnamed Directory Objects

A lot of the functionality in Windows is based around various kernel objects. One such object is a Directory, not to be confused with a directory in a file system. A Directory object is conceptually simple: it’s a container for other kernel objects, including other Directory objects, thus creating a hierarchy used by the kernel’s Object Manager to manage named objects. This arrangement can be easily seen with tools like WinObj from Sysinternals:

The left part of WinObj shows object manager directories, where named objects are “stored” and can be located by name. Clear and simple enough.

However, Directory objects can be unnamed as well as named. How can this be? Here is my Object Explorer tool (similar functionality is available with my System Explorer tool as well). One of its views is a “statistical” view of all object types, some of their properties, such as their name, type index, number of objects and handles, peak number of objects and handles, generic access mapping, and the pool type they’re allocated from.

If you right-click the Directory object type and select “All Objects”, you’ll see another view that shows all Directory objects in the system (well, not necessarily all, but most*).

If you scroll a bit, you’ll see many unnamed Directory objects that have no name:

It seems weird, as a Directory with no name doesn’t make sense. These directories, however, are “real” and serve an important purpose – managing a private object namespace. I blogged about private object namespaces quite a few years ago (it was in my old blog site that is now unfortunately lost), but here is the gist of it:

Object names are useful because they allow easy sharing between processes. For example, if two or more processes would like to share memory, they can create a memory mapped file object (called Section within the kernel) with a name they are all aware of. Calling CreateFileMapping (or one of its variants) with the same name will create the object (by the first caller), where subsequent callers get handles to the existing object because it was looked up by name.

This is easy and useful, but there is a possible catch: since the name is “visible” using tools or APIs, other processes can “interfere” with the object by getting their own handle using that visible name and “meddle” with the object, maliciously or accidentally.

The solution to this problem arrived in Windows Vista with the idea of private object namespaces. A set of cooperating processes can create a private namespace only they can use, protected by a “secret” name and more importantly a boundary descriptor. The details are beyond the scope of this post, but it’s all documented in the Windows API functions such as CreateBoundaryDescriptor, CreatePrivateNamespace and friends. Here is an example of using these APIs to create a private namespace with a section object in it (error handling omitted):

HANDLE hBD = ::CreateBoundaryDescriptor(L"MyDescriptor", 0);
auto psid = reinterpret_cast<PSID>(sid);
DWORD sidLen;
::CreateWellKnownSid(WinBuiltinUsersSid, nullptr, psid, &sidLen);
::AddSIDToBoundaryDescriptor(&m_hBD, psid);

// create the private namespace
hNamespace = ::CreatePrivateNamespace(nullptr, hBD, L"MyNamespace");
if (!hNamespace) { // maybe created already?
	hNamespace = ::OpenPrivateNamespace(hBD, L"MyNamespace");

HANDLE hSharedMem = ::CreateFileMapping(INVALID_HANDLE_VALUE, nullptr, PAGE_READWRITE, 0, 1 << 12, L"MyNamespace\\MySharedMem"));

This snippet is taken from the PrivateSharing code example from the Windows 10 System Programming part 1 book.

If you run this demo application, and look at the resulting handle (hSharedMem) in the above code in a tool like Process Explorer or Object Explorer you’ll see the name of the object is not given:

The full name is not shown and cannot be retrieved from user mode. And even if it could somehow be located, the boundary descriptor provides further protection. Let’s examine this object in the kernel debugger. Copying its address from the object’s properties:

Pasting the address into a local kernel debugger – first using the generic !object command:

lkd> !object 0xFFFFB3068E162D10
Object: ffffb3068e162d10  Type: (ffff9507ed78c220) Section
    ObjectHeader: ffffb3068e162ce0 (new version)
    HandleCount: 1  PointerCount: 32769
    Directory Object: ffffb3069e8cbe00  Name: MySharedMem

The name is there, but the directory object is there as well. Let’s examine it:

lkd> !object ffffb3069e8cbe00
Object: ffffb3069e8cbe00  Type: (ffff9507ed6d0d20) Directory
    ObjectHeader: ffffb3069e8cbdd0 (new version)
    HandleCount: 3  PointerCount: 98300

    Hash Address          Type                      Name
    ---- -------          ----                      ----
     19  ffffb3068e162d10 Section                   MySharedMem

There is one object in this directory. What’s the directory’s name? We need to examine the object header for that – its address is given in the above output:

lkd> dt nt!_OBJECT_HEADER ffffb3069e8cbdd0
   +0x000 PointerCount     : 0n32769
   +0x008 HandleCount      : 0n1
   +0x008 NextToFree       : 0x00000000`00000001 Void
   +0x010 Lock             : _EX_PUSH_LOCK
   +0x018 TypeIndex        : 0x53 'S'
   +0x019 TraceFlags       : 0 ''
   +0x019 DbgRefTrace      : 0y0
   +0x019 DbgTracePermanent : 0y0
   +0x01a InfoMask         : 0x8 ''
   +0x01b Flags            : 0 ''
   +0x01b NewObject        : 0y0
   +0x01b KernelObject     : 0y0
   +0x01b KernelOnlyAccess : 0y0
   +0x01b ExclusiveObject  : 0y0
   +0x01b PermanentObject  : 0y0
   +0x01b DefaultSecurityQuota : 0y0
   +0x01b SingleHandleEntry : 0y0
   +0x01b DeletedInline    : 0y0
   +0x01c Reserved         : 0x301
   +0x020 ObjectCreateInfo : 0xffff9508`18f2ba40 _OBJECT_CREATE_INFORMATION
   +0x020 QuotaBlockCharged : 0xffff9508`18f2ba40 Void
   +0x028 SecurityDescriptor : 0xffffb305`dd0d56ed Void
   +0x030 Body             : _QUAD

Getting a kernel’s object name is a little tricky, and will not be fully described here. The first requirement is the InfoMask member must have bit 1 set (value of 2), as this indicates a name is present. Since it’s not (the value is 8), there is no name to this directory. We can examine the directory object in more detail by looking at the real data structure underneath given the object’s original address:

kd> dt nt!_OBJECT_DIRECTORY ffffb3069e8cbe00
   +0x000 HashBuckets      : [37] (null) 
   +0x128 Lock             : _EX_PUSH_LOCK
   +0x130 DeviceMap        : (null) 
   +0x138 ShadowDirectory  : (null) 
   +0x140 NamespaceEntry   : 0xffffb306`9e8cbf58 Void
   +0x148 SessionObject    : (null) 
   +0x150 Flags            : 1
   +0x154 SessionId        : 0xffffffff

The interesting piece is the NamespaceEntry member, which is not-NULL. This indicates the purpose of this directory: to be a container for a private namespace’s objects. You can also click on HasBuckets and locate the single section object there.

Going back to Process Explorer, enabling unnamed object handles (View menu, Show Unnamed Handles and Mappings) and looking for unnamed directory objects:

The directory’s address is the same one we were looking at!

The pointer at NamespaceEntry points to an undocumented structure that is not currently provided with the symbols. But just looking a bit beyond the directory’s object structure shows a hint:

lkd> db ffffb3069e8cbe00+158
ffffb306`9e8cbf58  d8 f9 a3 55 06 b3 ff ff-70 46 12 66 07 f8 ff ff  ...U....pF.f....
ffffb306`9e8cbf68  00 be 8c 9e 06 b3 ff ff-48 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  ........H.......
ffffb306`9e8cbf78  00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00-0b 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  ................
ffffb306`9e8cbf88  01 00 00 00 02 00 00 00-48 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  ........H.......
ffffb306`9e8cbf98  01 00 00 00 20 00 00 00-4d 00 79 00 44 00 65 00  .... ...M.y.D.e.
ffffb306`9e8cbfa8  73 00 63 00 72 00 69 00-70 00 74 00 6f 00 72 00  s.c.r.i.p.t.o.r.
ffffb306`9e8cbfb8  02 00 00 00 18 00 00 00-01 02 00 00 00 00 00 05  ................
ffffb306`9e8cbfc8  20 00 00 00 21 02 00 00-00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00   ...!...........

The name “MyDescriptor” is clearly visible, which is the name of the boundary descriptor in the above code.

The kernel debugger’s documentation indicates that the !object command with a -p switch should show the private namespaces. However, this fails:

lkd> !object -p
00000000: Unable to get value of ObpPrivateNamespaceLookupTable

The debugger seems to fail locating a global kernel variable. This is probably a bug in the debugger command, because object namespaces scope has changed since the introduction of Server Silos in Windows 10 version 1607 (for example, Docker uses these when running Windows containers). Each silo has its own object manager namespace, so the old global variable does not exist anymore. I suspect Microsoft has not updated this command switch to support silos. Even with no server silos running, the host is considered to be in its own (global) silo, called host silo. You can see its details by utilizing the !silo debugger command:

kd> !silo -g host
Server silo globals fffff80766124540:
		Default Error Port: ffff950815bee140
		ServiceSessionId  : 0
		OB Root Directory : 
		State             : Running

Clicking the “Server silo globals” link, shows more details:

kd> dx -r1 (*((nt!_ESERVERSILO_GLOBALS *)0xfffff80766124540))
(*((nt!_ESERVERSILO_GLOBALS *)0xfffff80766124540))                 [Type: _ESERVERSILO_GLOBALS]
    [+0x000] ObSiloState      [Type: _OBP_SILODRIVERSTATE]
    [+0x2e0] SeSiloState      [Type: _SEP_SILOSTATE]
    [+0x310] SeRmSiloState    [Type: _SEP_RM_LSA_CONNECTION_STATE]
    [+0x360] EtwSiloState     : 0xffff9507edbc9000 [Type: _ETW_SILODRIVERSTATE *]
    [+0x368] MiSessionLeaderProcess : 0xffff95080bbdb040 [Type: _EPROCESS *]
    [+0x370] ExpDefaultErrorPortProcess : 0xffff950815bee140 [Type: _EPROCESS *]

ObSiloState is the root object related to the object manager. Clicking this one shows:

lkd> dx -r1 (*((ntkrnlmp!_OBP_SILODRIVERSTATE *)0xfffff80766124540))
(*((ntkrnlmp!_OBP_SILODRIVERSTATE *)0xfffff80766124540))                 [Type: _OBP_SILODRIVERSTATE]
    [+0x000] SystemDeviceMap  : 0xffffb305c8c48720 [Type: _DEVICE_MAP *]
    [+0x008] SystemDosDeviceState [Type: _OBP_SYSTEM_DOS_DEVICE_STATE]
    [+0x078] DeviceMapLock    [Type: _EX_PUSH_LOCK]
    [+0x080] PrivateNamespaceLookupTable [Type: _OBJECT_NAMESPACE_LOOKUPTABLE]

PrivateNamespaceLookupTable is the root object for the private namespaces for this Silo (in this example it’s the host silo).

The interested reader is welcome to dig into this further.

The list of private namespaces is provided with the WinObjEx64 tool if you run it elevated and have local kernel debugging enabled, as it uses the kernel debugger’s driver to read kernel memory.

* Most objects, because the way Object Explorer works is by enumerating handles and associating them with objects. However, some objects are held using references from the kernel with zero handles. Such objects cannot be detected by Object Explorer.

Upcoming COM Programming Class

Today I’m happy to announce the next COM Programming class to be held in February 2023. The syllabus for the 3 day class can be found here. The course will be delivered in 6 half-days (4 hours each).

Dates: February (7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16).
Times: 11am to 3pm EST (8am to 12pm PST) (4pm to 8pm UT)
Cost: 750 USD (if paid by an individual), 1400 USD (if paid by a company).

Half days should make it comfortable enough even if you’re not in an ideal time zone.

The class will be conducted remotely using Microsoft Teams.

What you need to know before the class: You should be comfortable using Windows on a Power User level. Concepts such as processes, threads, DLLs, and virtual memory should be understood fairly well. You should have experience writing code in C and some C++. You don’t have to be an expert, but you must know C and basic C++ to get the most out of this class. In case you have doubts, talk to me.

Participants in my Windows Internals and Windows System Programming classes have the required knowledge for the class.

We’ll start by looking at why COM was created in the first place, and then build clients and servers, digging into various mechanisms COM provides. See the syllabus for more details.

Previous students in my classes get 10% off. Multiple participants from the same company get a discount (email me for the details).

To register, send an email to with the title “COM Programming Training”, and write the name(s), email(s) and time zone(s) of the participants.