Jackalope Save

Binary, coverage-guided fuzzer for Windows and macOS

Project README


Copyright 2020 Google LLC

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License");
you may not use this file except in compliance with the License.
You may obtain a copy of the License at


Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software
distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS,
See the License for the specific language governing permissions and
limitations under the License.

What is Jackalope

Jackalope is a customizable, distributed, coverage-guided fuzzer that is able to work with black-box binaries.

Why another fuzzer?

While there are a lot of good coverage-guided fuzzers that work on targets where source code is available, there are relatively few that work on black box binaries, in particular on Windows and macOS operating systems, and those that do exist are mainly based on codebases that aren't very easy to customize. The initial goals of Jackalope are:

  • Easy to customize for targets where generic fuzzers might not work well. This might include
    • Custom mutators
    • Custom sample delivery mechanizms
    • Custom instrumentation, etc.
  • Easy to paralellize, both on a single machine and across multiple machines

What does it do?

Jackalope can be used stand-alone, but is more powerful when used as a library, where users can plug in custom components that would replace the default behavior. By default, Jackalope ships with:

  • Binary instrumentation using TinyInst
  • A simple set of generic mutators for binary formats as well as a grammar-based mutation engine
  • Sample delivery via file or via shared memory

Jackalope can be run in parallel

  • On a single machine: by passing the number of fuzzing threads via -nthreads command line parameter
  • Across multiple machines: By running one instance as a server (-start_server command line flag) and having fuzzers on the worker machines connect to this server (-server command line flag). The server then collects and distributes samples, crashes and coverage across the workers.

What does it not do?

Jackalope does not currently include advanced mutation strategies. Instead it ships with a set of generic mutators, which will work for many targets, however the users are encouraged to write custom mutators and mutation strategies according to the targets they want to fuzz.

Which platforms are supported?

Currently, fuzzing of black-box binaries is supported on Windows and macOS.

Jackalope is also able to run on Linux with Sanitizer Coverage (source code of the targer required). This mode is documented in a separate document.

Building Jackalope

Prerequisite: Python 3

  1. Open a terminal and set up your build environment if needed. On Windows, instead of opening a generic command prompt, you'll want to open Visual Studio command prompt for the platform you are building for, or run vcvars64.bat / vcvars32.bat.

  2. Navigate to the directory containing the source.

  3. Run the following commands:

git clone --recurse-submodules [email protected]:googleprojectzero/TinyInst.git
(alternately: git clone --recurse-submodules https://github.com/googleprojectzero/TinyInst.git)
mkdir build
cd build
cmake <generator arguments> ..
cmake --build . --config Release

The generator arguments depend on your environmaent. On macOS you'd want to use -G Xcode, while for example on Windows with Visual Studio 2019 and for 64-bit build you would use -G "Visual Studio 16 2019" -A x64.

Getting No CMAKE_C_COMPILER could be found error on macOS? Try updating cmake. Also make sure Xcode is installed and you ran it at least once (it installs some components on 1st run).

Running Jackalope


./fuzzer <fuzzer arguments> <instrumentation and other components arguments> -- <target command line>

The following command line arguments are supported:

-in - Input directory (directory containing initial sample set). If input directory is "-", the fuzzer attempts to restore the previous session (same as using the -restore flag).

-out - Output directory

-t - Sample timeoutin ms

-t1 - Timeout for target initialization (e.g. before reaching the target method if defined). Defaults to sample timeout.

-nthreads - Number of fuzzer threads. Default is 1.

-delivery <file|shmem> - Sample delivery mechanism to use. If file, each sample is output as file and "@@" in the target arguments is replaced with a path to the file. If shmem, the fuzzer creates shared memory instead and replaces "@@" in the target arguments with the name of the shared memory. It is the target's responsibility to open the shared memory and extract the sample in this case. Default is file.

-file_extension - When using file sample delivery, appends the specified extension to the filename. Useful if the target expects input files to have a certain extension.

-restore or -resume - Restores and resumes a previous fuzzing session. Both fuzzer and server process support restoring.

-server - Specifies the coverage server to use.

-start_server - Run a server process instead of fuzzing process.

-crash_retry - Number of times to try reproduce a crash. Defaults to 10. Crashes that don't reproduce within this number of retries or don't reproduce when running without instrumentation are marked as flaky.

-coverage_retry - Number of times to retry reproducing new coverage. Coverage that can't be reliably reproduced within this number of retry is considered flaky. Samples that contain only flaky coverage aren't saved.

-clean_target_on_coverage - Restart the target when reproducing coverage. Defaults to true.

-minimize_samples - Attempt to minimize new samples before saving them to the corpus. Defaults to true.

-iterations_per_round - Number of times to mutate and run a sample from the corpus before moving on to the next sample. Defaults to 1000. You might consider decreasing this value for very slow targets.

-deterministic_mutations - Use deterministic in addition to nondeterninistic mutations. Defaults to true unless the -server flag is used.

-deterministic_only - Prioritize deterministic mutations. Note: even with this flag, the fuzzer is still going to use nondeterministic mutations, but only after all deterministic mutations have been exhausted. It might be useful when running with a -server to have a single clinent instance perform deterministic mutations.

-max_sample_size - The maximum sample size to use. All input samples larger than max_sample_size get trimmed and mutators can't produce new samples which exceed that sie. Defaults to 1000000. Warning: When using shared memory sample delivery, max_sample_size must match the maximum sample size expected by the target, e.g. like in the test target here.

-keep_samples_in_memory - Whether to always keep all samples in memory. Defaults to true. Recommended unless the corpus is too large to fit in memory.

-track_ranges - Enable the read range tracking feature. More information here.

-dry_run - Makes Jackalope exit after all of the input samples have been processed, but before starting actual fuzzing. Useful for corpus minimization (Note: Jackalope only adds samples containing previously unseen coverage into the output corpus) or reproducing a large number of crashes.

-add_all_inputs - Adds all samples from the input directory into the fuzzing corpus, even those that don't trigger any new coverage. Default is off.

-dict <path> - Provides a dictionary to be used during mutation. The dictionary should be a text file with every entry on a separate line. \xXX escape sequences can be used.

-dump_coverage - Periodically export coverage (as coverage.txt in the output directory) in a format suitable for importing into Lighthouse

For TinyInst instrumentation command line arguments, refer to TinyInst readme.

Example (macOS):

./fuzzer -in in -out out -t 1000 -delivery shmem -instrument_module test -target_module test -target_method __Z4fuzzPc -nargs 1 -iterations 10000 -persist -loop -cmp_coverage -- ./test -m @@

Example (Windows):

fuzzer.exe -in in -out out -t 1000 -delivery shmem -instrument_module test.exe -target_module test.exe -target_method fuzz -nargs 1 -iterations 10000 -persist -loop -cmp_coverage -- test.exe -m @@

Explanation: This runs the fuzzer using "in" as input directory and "out" as output directory. Samples are delivered via shared memory without writing to disk (-delivery shmem). Coverage is collected from the test / test.exe module (-instrument_module flag). The target is run in persistent mode with function fuzz() from test / test.exe module being run in a loop. This function takes 1 argument and will be run in the loop for maximum of 10000 iterations before restarting the target process. Compare coverage is used (-cmp_coverage flag) in order to bruteforce through multi-byte comparisons easily. test.exe -m @@ is the target command line where @@ gets replaced with the shared memory name (it would be replaced with the filename if -delivery shmem wasn't used).


Jackalope consists of the following main classes:

Fuzzer - The 'main' class that handles most of the high-level tasks such as keeping track of corpus and coverage, scheduling jobs to threads, communicating with the server (if present). The Fuzzer class exposes several virtual methods that can be used to modify it's behavior. Users can create custom fuzzers by subclassinng the Fuzzer class and overloading these methods.

Sample - A simple class for storing sample data (bytes).

Mutator - Handles mutations. The main job of the Mutator class is to implement the Mutate() method which modifies a sample. However, mutators can also be more complex and, for example, define additional context for each sample that will be passed during Mutate() calls. Mutators can also be "meta-mutators" which combine other mutators in different ways. See mutator.h for the built-in mutators. When fuzzer selects an input sample, it will fuzz it for a certain number of "rounds", before moving on to the next sample, and a mutator can control the number of rounds. Specifically, the fuzzer will continue with the same input sample until the top-level mutator returns false from its Mutate() method.

Instrumentation - Handles running of target and collecting coverage. The fuzzer comes with an implementation of Instrumentation which uses TinyInst

SampleDelivery - Handles passing a sample to the target. The fuzzer comes bundled with sample delivery via file and via shared memory.

PRNG - Pseudorandom number generator. By defauly, Jackalope uses PRNG based on Mersenne twister.

Server - Implements server components of the fuzzr. The server is responsible for collecting coverage from clients as well as samples that trigger new coverage. The server then distributes those samples to other fuzzer processes.

Client - Implements methods for communicating with the server.

Customizing the fuzzer

The "intended" way to customize the fuzzer is to subclass the Fuzzer class and override the relevant methods. See main.cpp for a simple example. The methods that can be overriden are:

CreateMutator() - Creates a mutator configuration for the fuzzer. For an example, see https://github.com/googleprojectzero/Jackalope/blob/main/main.cpp#L25

OutputFilter() - Can modify a sample before passing it to the target, for example to fix the header or checksums. The default implementation will pass the sample as is.

AdjustSamplePriority() - The fuzzer maintains a queue of samples to fuzz sorted by priority. This method can be used to adjust the priority of a sample after each run. The default implementation decreases the priority of the sample for each run that did not result in new coverage. If a run resulted in the new coverage, the priority of the sample is reset. This ensures that the fuzzer will spend more time fuzzing the samples that produce new coverage when mutated.

CreateSampleDelivery() - Can be used to define custom mechanisms for delivering the sample to the target. An example could be sending the sample over network or IPC.

CreateInstrumentation() - Can be overriden in order for the fuzzer to use custom instrumentation.

CreatePRNG() - Can be overriden in order to use custom PRNG.


Q: On macOS, I'm getting an error related to task_for_pid.

A: On macOS, a debugger (Jackalope is acting as a debugger for the target) needs to have an appropriate permission to debug another process. This can be resolved in two ways:

  • By running Jackalope with higher permissions (e.g. using sudo). Depending on the target, SIP might need to be disabled as well.
  • By building the target with appropriate entitlements, e.g. Get Task Allow entitlement. The easiest way to do that is to simply build the target with XCode, as XCode will automatically add appropriate entitlements for debugging to the target.

Q: I am getting errors/crashes/hangs when running under instrumentation that I'm not getting when running the target normally.

A: These can often be resolved by adding the following flags:

  • If you are getting errors or slowdowns related to custom exceptions or C++ exception processing, these can be resolved in most cases by adding -generate_unwind flag. In case this does not work, there is a more aggressive -patch_return_addresses flag, however note that it has a significant performance impact. You can read more about these flags here. On Windows, another alternative to -generate_unwind/-patch_return_addresses is to fuzz a 32-bit build of your target.
  • Try adding -stack_offset 0x1000 or another value. This will resolve instrumentation issues with target writing on address lower than the stack pointer (this behavior was obeserved on macOS with leaf functions in some modules).

Q: Getting coverage is nice, but can I also have memory sanitization?

A: I recommend using special allocators provided by the operating system itself to catch memory errors more reliably.

  • On Windows: You can use Page Heap. Specifically, you can use gflags.exe /i <target_executable> +hpa (Note: needs to be called as an administrator) to enable page heap for your target process.
  • On macOS: You can use Guard Malloc although note that its support in TinyInst is experimental and additional workarounds might be required. See this page for more information.

Q: I'm getting an error about "Process hanged before reaching the target method"

A: Use the -t1 flag to set/increase the initialization timeout.


This is not an official Google product.

Open Source Agenda is not affiliated with "Jackalope" Project. README Source: googleprojectzero/Jackalope
Open Issues
Last Commit
2 weeks ago

Open Source Agenda Badge

Open Source Agenda Rating