Dive into BPF: a list of reading material

Dive into BPF: a list of reading material by Quentin Monnet.

From the post:

BPF, as in Berkeley Packet Filter, was initially conceived in 1992 so as to provide a way to filter packets and to avoid useless packet copies from kernel to userspace. It initially consisted in a simple bytecode that is injected from userspace into the kernel, where it is checked by a verifier—to prevent kernel crashes or security issues—and attached to a socket, then run on each received packet. It was ported to Linux a couple of years later, and used for a small number of applications (tcpdump for example). The simplicity of the language as well as the existence of an in-kernel Just-In-Time (JIT) compiling machine for BPF were factors for the excellent performances of this tool.

Then in 2013, Alexei Starovoitov completely reshaped it, started to add new functionalities and to improve the performances of BPF. This new version is designated as eBPF (for “extended BPF”), while the former becomes cBPF (“classic” BPF). New features such as maps and tail calls appeared. The JIT machines were rewritten. The new language is even closer to native machine language than cBPF was. And also, new attach points in the kernel have been created.

Thanks to those new hooks, eBPF programs can be designed for a variety of use cases, that divide into two fields of applications. One of them is the domain of kernel tracing and event monitoring. BPF programs can be attached to kprobes and they compare with other tracing methods, with many advantages (and sometimes some drawbacks).

The other application domain remains network programming. In addition to socket filter, eBPF programs can be attached to tc (Linux traffic control tool) ingress or egress interfaces and perform a variety of packet processing tasks, in an efficient way. This opens new perspectives in the domain.

And eBPF performances are further leveraged through the technologies developed for the IO Visor project: new hooks have also been added for XDP (“eXpress Data Path”), a new fast path recently added to the kernel. XDP works in conjunction with the Linux stack, and relies on BPF to perform very fast packet processing.

Even some projects such as P4, Open vSwitch, consider or started to approach BPF. Some others, such as CETH, Cilium, are entirely based on it. BPF is buzzing, so we can expect a lot of tools and projects to orbit around it soon…

I haven’t even thought about the Berkeley Packet Filter in more than a decade.

But such a wonderful reading list merits mention in its own right. What a great model for reading lists on other topics!

And one or more members of your team may want to get closer to the metal on packet traffic.

PS: I don’t subscribe to the only governments can build nation state level tooling for hacks. Loose confederations of people built the Internet. Something to keep in mind while sharing code and hacks.

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