x86_64 calling conventions and stack frames

Amittai Aviram amittai.aviram@yale.edu
Sat Dec 24 11:02:00 GMT 2011

I am trying to make sense out of the executable code that GCC (4.4.3) is generating for an x86_64 machine running under Ubuntu Linux.  In particular, I don't understand how the code keeps track of stack frames.  In the old days, in 32-bit code, I am accustomed to seeing this as a "prologue" in just about every function:

push %ebp
movl %esp, %ebp

Then, at the end of the function, there would either be 

sub $xx, %esp   # Where xx is a number based on GCC's accounting.
pop %ebp

or simply


which accomplishes the same thing:
- Set the Stack Pointer to the top of the current frame, just below the return address
- Restore the old Frame Pointer value.

In 64-bit code, as I see it through an objdump disassembly, many functions do not follow this convention--they do not push %rbp and then save %rsp to %rbp, How does a debugger like GDB build a backtrace?

My real goal here to is to try to figure out a reasonable address to consider as the top (highest address) of the user stack when execution reaches the start of a function further into the program, where perhaps the Stack Pointer has moved down.  I had at first thought that I could use the old backtrace method: chasing saved Frame Pointer values until the value saved is 0--then, the next one after that can count as the highest practical value.  Now, I don't know how to get the equivalent address in 64-bit code.


Amittai Aviram
PhD Student in Computer Science
Yale University
646 483 2639

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