[RFC] AArch64 Memory tagging support

Alan Hayward Alan.Hayward@arm.com
Wed Aug 21 10:39:00 GMT 2019

This is a rough design for implementing ARMv8.5 MTE support in GDB,
detailing the UI changes and sketching out the internals.
The Linux interfaces (ptrace, coredumps etc) are currently still under
discussion, and so it will be quite a while before the GDB code is
implemented, but I wanted to get a design out early to ensure that the GDB
requirements from the Linux interfaces are known.

Any comments are welcome. At this stage I’m more concerned about the overall
strategy being workable.


The ARMv8.5 ISA introduces the Memory Tagging Extension (MTE) which allows
4bit tags to be assigned to each memory 16bytes of memory. Each allocation
is referred to as Allocated Tag (AT) in the text below. ATs are stored
separately to the main memory. When accessing a memory location, 4bits of
the address are reserved for use as a tag. This is referred to as a Logical
Tag (LT) in the text below. If the LT does not match the AT in a memory read
or write, then the access will trap.

For more details see the MTE links here:

For a very high-level overview see:

GDB UI: Memory Access

In the general use case, when using GDB to examine memory, GDB should print
out when a memory tag failure happens. However, the operation it was doing (for
example, reading/writing memory) should still succeed. A GDB user would not
expect a signal to be passed upwards to the subject program.

For example, x is an int* variable in the subject application and it contains
an address with an incorrect LT:

(gdb) print x             /* x contains an incorrect LT. */
$1 = 0x1234007c0
(gdb) print *x
<incorrect memory tag 0x12 for address 0x1234007c0>
$2 = 67
(gdb) set *x = 72
<incorrect memory tag 0x12 for address 0x1234007c0>
(gdb) print *x
<incorrect memory tag 0x12 for address 0x1234007c0>
$2 = 72

When printing areas of memory (for example with the command x) this warning
should only be printed once per dump.

(gdb) x/20xw y
0x1234007a0: 0x00000061 0x00000000 0x000a6425 0x00000000
0x1234007b0: 0x00000062 0x00000000 0x00000000 0x00000000
<incorrect memory tag 0x12 for address 0x1234007c0>
0x1234007c0: 0x00000040 0x00000003 0x00000405 0x00000000
0x1234007d0: 0x00000000 0x00000000 0xffffffff 0x00000009
0x1234007e0: 0x00033000 0x00000700 0x00000000 0x00000067

However, there will be instances where the GDB user wants to either suppress
any tag warning entirely or pass any errors upwards to the subject program as
a signal. GDB already has similar functionality available for signals using
the command handle. An Aarch64 only command "memtag” should be added for this.

(gdb) memtag handle
Memory tag failures will be printed
Memory tag failures will not raise a signal
(gdb) print *x
<incorrect memory tag 0x12 for address 0x1234007c0>
$1 = 67
(gdb) memtag handle noprint
Memory tag failures will not be printed
Memory tag failures will not raise a signal
(gdb) print *x
$2 = 67
(gdb) memtag handle raise
Memory tag failures will not be printed
Memory tag failures will raise a signal
(gdb) print *x
Program terminated with signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.
The program no longer exists.

Suggested arguments to "memtag handle" are "print", "noprint", "raise”,
"noraise”. This will only change the behaviour for memory tag failures
generated by the user inside GDB (ie this not affect inferior behaviour)

GDB UI: Examining Tags

The memtags command can also be used to read and write memory tags for a given
memory location. Also, we want to be able to read and write tags from a given

(gdb) print x                               /* x contains an incorrect tag. */
$1 = 0x1234007c0
(gdb) print *x
<incorrect memory tag 0x12 for address 0x1234007c0>
$1 = 67
(gdb) memtag showlogicaltag x        /* Extract the 4bit LT from the passed in pointer */
$2 = 0x12
(gdb) memtag showtag x        /* Show the AT for the memory address. Never returns errors if address contains the wrong LT.   */
$3 = 0x13
(gdb) memtag checktag x        /* Same as showtag, but also errors using the rules in "memtag handle".  */
<incorrect memory tag 0x12 for address 0x1234007c0>
$4 = 0x13
(gdb) memtag writetag x 0x12        /* Write the tag for the passed in memory address  */
(gdb) memtag checktag x
$5 = 0x12
(gdb) memtag writelogicaltag x 0x14        /* Update the tag in the pointer */
(gdb) print x                               /* x contains an incorrect tag. */
$1 = 0x1434007c0
(gdb) memtag checktag x
<incorrect memory tag 0x14 for address 0x1234007c0>

Linux Ptrace

Linux will ignore tags when reading/writing memory via PEEK/POKE ptrace
methods and /proc/<pid>/mem.

New ptrace commands PTRACE_PEEKDATATAG and PTRACE_POKEDATATAG will be added
to read/write data tags. Peek will allow a range of tags to be read in a
single call.

Memory accesses inside GDB

It should be enough for AArch64 to override target_xfer_partial.
If the process is using memory tags, and the address contains a LT, then
call PEEKDATATAG for the memory range being accessed and check if the access
would succeed. If it doesn't then print just the first failure to the screen.
If it does succeed then call the overridden function to access the memory.

Core Dumps

There will be extra sections inside a core dump containing the memory tags.
The core low version of target_xfer_partial needs overriding. 
Similar to the xfer_partial override in the previous section, add
functionality to check tags, and report failures. Check the tags by
accessing the MTE segments in the corefile.  Memory is stored in the core
dump untagged, so addresses will need stripping before accessing.


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