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Symbolizer markup format

This document defines a text format for log messages that can be processed by a symbolizing filter. The basic idea is that logging code emits text that contains raw address values and so forth, without the logging code doing any real work to convert those values to human-readable form. Instead, logging text uses the markup format defined here to identify pieces of information that should be converted to human-readable form after the fact. As with other markup formats, the expectation is that most of the text will be displayed as is, while the markup elements will be replaced with expanded text, or converted into active UI elements, that present more details in symbolic form.

This means there is no need for symbol tables, DWARF debugging sections, or similar information to be directly accessible at runtime. There is also no need at runtime for any logic intended to compute human-readable presentation of information, such as C++ symbol demangling. Instead, logging must include markup elements that give the contextual information necessary to make sense of the raw data, such as memory layout details.

This format identifies markup elements with a syntax that is both simple and distinctive. It's simple enough to be matched and parsed with straightforward code. It's distinctive enough that character sequences that look like the start or end of a markup element should rarely if ever appear incidentally in logging text. It's specifically intended not to require sanitizing plain text, such as the HTML/XML requirement to replace < with &lt; and the like.

Scope and assumptions

This specification defines a format standard for Zircon and Fuchsia. But there is nothing specific to Zircon or Fuchsia about the markup format. A symbolizing filter implementation will be independent both of the target operating system and machine architecture where the logs are generated and of the host operating system and machine architecture where the filter runs.

This format assumes that the symbolizing filter processes intact whole lines. If long lines might be split during some stage of a logging pipeline, they must be reassembled to restore the original line breaks before feeding lines into the symbolizing filter. Most markup elements must appear entirely on a single line (often with other text before and/or after the markup element). There are some markup elements that are specified to span lines, with line breaks in the middle of the element. Even in those cases, the filter is not expected to handle line breaks in arbitrary places inside a markup element, but only inside certain fields.

This format assumes that the symbolizing filter processes a coherent stream of log lines from a single process address space context. If a logging stream interleaves log lines from more than one process, these must be collated into separate per-process log streams and each stream processed by a separate instance of the symbolizing filter. Because the kernel and user processes use disjoint address regions in most operating systems (including Zircon), a single user process address space plus the kernel address space can be treated as a single address space for symbolization purposes if desired.

Dependence on Build IDs

The symbolizer markup scheme relies on contextual information about runtime memory address layout to make it possible to convert markup elements into useful symbolic form. This relies on having an unmistakable identification of which binary was loaded at each address.

An ELF Build ID is the payload of an ELF note with name "GNU" and type NT_GNU_BUILD_ID, a unique byte sequence that identifies a particular binary (executable, shared library, loadable module, or driver module). The linker generates this automatically based on a hash that includes the complete symbol table and debugging information, even if this is later stripped from the binary.

This specification uses the ELF Build ID as the sole means of identifying binaries. Each binary relevant to the log must have been linked with a unique Build ID. The symbolizing filter must have some means of mapping a Build ID back to the original ELF binary (either the whole unstripped binary, or a stripped binary paired with a separate debug file).


The markup format supports a restricted subset of ANSI X3.64 SGR (Select Graphic Rendition) control sequences. These are unlike other markup elements: * They specify presentation details (bold or colors) rather than semantic information. The association of semantic meaning with color (e.g. red for errors) is chosen by the code doing the logging, rather than by the UI presentation of the symbolizing filter. This is a concession to existing code (e.g. LLVM sanitizer runtimes) that use specific colors and would require substantial changes to generate semantic markup instead. * A single control sequence changes "the state", rather than being an hierarchical structure that surrounds affected text.

The filter processes ANSI SGR control sequences only within a single line. If a control sequence to enter a bold or color state is encountered, it's expected that the control sequence to reset to default state will be encountered before the end of that line. If a "dangling" state is left at the end of a line, the filter may reset to default state for the next line.

An SGR control sequence is not interpreted inside any other markup element. However, other markup elements may appear between SGR control sequences and the color/bold state is expected to apply to the symbolic output that replaces the markup element in the filter's output.

The accepted SGR control sequences all have the form "\033[%um" (expressed here using C string syntax), where %u is one of these:

Code Effect Notes
0 Reset to default formatting.
1 Use bold text Combines with color states, doesn't reset them.
30 Black foreground
31 Red foreground
32 Green foreground
33 Yellow foreground
34 Blue foreground
35 Magenta foreground
36 Cyan foreground
37 White foreground

Common markup element syntax

All the markup elements share a common syntactic structure to facilitate simple matching and parsing code. Each element has the form:


tag identifies one of the element types described below, and is always a short alphabetic string that must be in lower case. The rest of the element consists of one or more fields. Fields are separated by : and cannot contain any : or } characters. How many fields must be or may be present and what they contain is specified for each element type.

No markup elements or ANSI SGR control sequences are interpreted inside the contents of a field.

In the descriptions of each element type, printf-style placeholders indicate field contents:

  • %s

    A string of printable characters, not including : or }.

  • %p

    An address value represented by 0x followed by an even number of hexadecimal digits (using either lower-case or upper-case for A..F). If the digits are all 0 then the 0x prefix may be omitted. No more than 16 hexadecimal digits are expected to appear in a single value (64 bits).

  • %u

    A nonnegative decimal integer.

  • %x

    A sequence of an even number of hexadecimal digits (using either lower-case or upper-case for A..F), with no 0x prefix. This represents an arbitrary sequence of bytes, such as an ELF Build ID.

Presentation elements

These are elements that convey a specific program entity to be displayed in human-readable symbolic form.

  • {{{symbol:%s}}}

    Here %s is the linkage name for a symbol or type. It may require demangling according to language ABI rules. Even for unmangled names, it's recommended that this markup element be used to identify a symbol name so that it can be presented distinctively.


  • {{{pc:%p}}}, {{{pc:%p:ra}}}, {{{pc:%p:pc}}}

    Here %p is the memory address of a code location. It might be presented as a function name and source location. The second two forms distinguish the kind of code location, as described in detail for bt elements below.


  • {{{data:%p}}}

    Here %p is the memory address of a data location. It might be presented as the name of a global variable at that location.


  • {{{bt:%u:%p}}}, {{{bt:%u:%p:ra}}}, {{{bt:%u:%p:pc}}}

    This represents one frame in a backtrace. It usually appears on a line by itself (surrounded only by whitespace), in a sequence of such lines with ascending frame numbers. So the human-readable output might be formatted assuming that, such that it looks good for a sequence of bt elements each alone on its line with uniform indentation of each line. But it can appear anywhere, so the filter should not remove any non-whitespace text surrounding the element.

    Here %u is the frame number, which starts at zero for the location of the fault being identified, increments to one for the caller of frame zero's call frame, to two for the caller of frame one, etc. %p is the memory address of a code location.

    Code locations in a backtrace come from two distinct sources. Most backtrace frames describe a return address code location, i.e. the instruction immediately after a call instruction. This is the location of code that has yet to run, since the function called there has not yet returned. Hence the code location of actual interest is usually the call site itself rather than the return address, i.e. one instruction earlier. When presenting the source location for a return address frame, the symbolizing filter will subtract one byte or one instruction length from the actual return address for the call site, with the intent that the address logged can be translated directly to a source location for the call site and not for the apparent return site thereafter (which can be confusing). When inlined functions are involved, the call site and the return site can appear to be in different functions at entirely unrelated source locations rather than just a line away, making the confusion of showing the return site rather the call site quite severe.

    Often the first frame in a backtrace ("frame zero") identifies the precise code location of a fault, trap, or asynchronous interrupt rather than a return address. At other times, even the first frame is actually a return address (for example, backtraces collected at the time of an object allocation and reported later when the allocated object is used or misused). When a system supports in-thread trap handling, there may also be frames after the first that represent a precise interrupted code location rather than a return address, presented as the "caller" of a trap handler function (for example, signal handlers in POSIX systems).

    Return address frames are identified by the :ra suffix. Precise code location frames are identified by the :pc suffix.

    Traditional practice has often been to collect backtraces as simple address lists, losing the distinction between return address code locations and precise code locations. Some such code applies the "subtract one" adjustment described above to the address values before reporting them, and it's not always clear or consistent whether this adjustment has been applied or not. These ambiguous cases are supported by the bt and pc forms with no :ra or :pc suffix, which indicate it's unclear which sort of code location this is. However, it's highly recommended that all emitters use the suffixed forms and deliver address values with no adjustments applied. When traditional practice has been ambiguous, the majority of cases seem to have been of printing addresses that are return address code locations and printing them without adjustment. So the symbolizing filter will usually apply the "subtract one byte" adjustment to an address printed without a disambiguating suffix. Assuming that a call instruction is longer than one byte on all supported machines, applying the "subtract one byte" adjustment a second time still results in an address somewhere in the call instruction, so a little sloppiness here often does little or no harm.


  • {{{hexdict:...}}}

    This element can span multiple lines. Here ... is a sequence of key-value pairs where a single : separates each key from its value, and arbitrary whitespace separates the pairs. The value (right-hand side) of each pair either is one or more 0 digits, or is 0x followed by hexadecimal digits. Each value might be a memory address or might be some other integer (including an integer that looks like a likely memory address but actually has an unrelated purpose). When the contextual information about the memory layout suggests that a given value could be a code location or a global variable data address, it might be presented as a source location or variable name or with active UI that makes such interpretation optionally visible.

    The intended use is for things like register dumps, where the emitter doesn't know which values might have a symbolic interpretation but a presentation that makes plausible symbolic interpretations available might be very useful to someone reading the log. At the same time, a flat text presentation should usually avoid interfering too much with the original contents and formatting of the dump. For example, it might use footnotes with source locations for values that appear to be code locations. An active UI presentation might show the dump text as is, but highlight values with symbolic information available and pop up a presentation of symbolic details when a value is selected.


        CS:                   0 RIP:     0x6ee17076fb80 EFL:            0x10246 CR2:                  0
        RAX:      0xc53d0acbcf0 RBX:     0x1e659ea7e0d0 RCX:                  0 RDX:     0x6ee1708300cc
        RSI:                  0 RDI:     0x6ee170830040 RBP:     0x3b13734898e0 RSP:     0x3b13734898d8
         R8:     0x3b1373489860  R9:         0x2776ff4f R10:     0x2749d3e9a940 R11:              0x246
        R12:     0x1e659ea7e0f0 R13: 0xd7231230fd6ff2e7 R14:     0x1e659ea7e108 R15:      0xc53d0acbcf0

Trigger elements

These elements cause an external action and will be presented to the user in a human readable form. Generally they trigger an external action to occur that results in a linkable page. The link or some other informative information about the external action can then be presented to the user.

  • {{{dumpfile:%s:%s}}}

    Here the first %s is an identifier for a type of dump and the second %s is an identifier for a particular dump that's just been published. The types of dumps, the exact meaning of "published", and the nature of the identifier are outside the scope of the markup format per se. In general it might correspond to writing a file by that name or something similar.

    This element may trigger additional post-processing work beyond symbolizing the markup. It indicates that a dump file of some sort has been published. Some logic attached to the symbolizing filter may understand certain types of dump file and trigger additional post-processing of the dump file upon encountering this element (e.g. generating visualizations, symbolization). The expectation is that the information collected from contextual elements (described below) in the logging stream may be necessary to decode the content of the dump. So if the symbolizing filter triggers other processing, it may need to feed some distilled form of the contextual information to those processes.

    On Zircon and Fuchsia in particular, "publish" means to call the __sanitizer_publish_data function from <zircon/sanitizer.h> with the "type" identifier as the "sink name" string. The "dump identifier" is the name attached to the Zircon VMO whose handle was passed in the call to __sanitizer_publish_data. TODO(mcgrathr): Link to docs about __sanitizer_publish_data and getting data dumps off the device.

    An example of a type identifier is sancov, for dumps from LLVM SanitizerCoverage.



Contextual elements

These are elements that supply information necessary to convert presentation elements to symbolic form. Unlike presentation elements, they are not directly related to the surrounding text. Contextual elements should appear alone on lines with no other non-whitespace text, so that the symbolizing filter might elide the whole line from its output without hiding any other log text.

The contextual elements themselves do not necessarily need to be presented in human-readable output. However, the information they impart may be essential to understanding the logging text even after symbolization. So it's recommended that this information be preserved in some form when the original raw log with markup may no longer be readily accessible for whatever reason.

Contextual elements should appear in the logging stream before they are needed. That is, if some piece of context may affect how the symbolizing filter would interpret or present a later presentation element, the necessary contextual elements should have appeared somewhere earlier in the logging stream. It should always be possible for the symbolizing filter to be implemented as a single pass over the raw logging stream, accumulating context and massaging text as it goes.

  • {{{reset}}}

    This should be output before any other contextual element. The need for this contextual element is to support implementations that handle logs coming from multiple processes. Such implementations might not know when a new process starts or ends. Because some identifying information (like process IDs) might be the same between old and new processes, a way is needed to distinguish two processes with such identical identifying information. This element informs such implementations to reset the state of a filter so that information from a previous process's contextual elements is not assumed for new process that just happens have the same identifying information.

  • {{{module:%i:%s:%s:...}}}

    This element represents a so called "module". A "module" is a single linked binary, such as a loaded ELF file. Usually each module occupies a contiguous range of memory (always does on Zircon).

    Here %i is the module ID which is used by other contextual elements to refer to this module. The first %s is a human-readable identifier for the module, such as an ELF DT_SONAME string or a file name; but it might be empty. It's only for casual information. Only the module ID is used to refer to this module in other contextual elements, never the %s string. The module element defining a module ID must always be emitted before any other elements that refer to that module ID, so that a filter never needs to keep track of dangling references. The second %s is the module type and it determines what the remaining fields are. The following module types are supported:

    • elf:%x

    Here %x encodes an ELF Build ID. The Build ID should refer to a single linked binary. The Build ID string is the sole way to identify the binary from which this module was loaded.


  • {{{mmap:%p:%x:...}}}

    This contextual element is used to give information about a particular region in memory. %p is the starting address and %x gives the size in hex of the region of memory. The ... part can take different forms to give different information about the specified region of memory. The allowed forms are the following:

    • load:%i:%s:%p

    This subelement informs the filter that a segment was loaded from a module. The module is identified by its module id %i. The %s is one or more of the letters 'r', 'w', and 'x' (in that order and in either upper or lower case) to indicate this segment of memory is readable, writable, and/or executable. The symbolizing filter can use this information to guess whether an address is a likely code address or a likely data address in the given module. The remaining %p gives the module relative address. For ELF files the module relative address will be the p_vaddr of the associated program header. For example if your module's executable segment has p_vaddr=0x1000, p_memsz=0x1234, and was loaded at 0x7acba69d5000 then you need to subtract 0x7acba69d4000 from any address between 0x7acba69d5000 and 0x7acba69d6234 to get the module relative address. The starting address will usually have been rounded down to the active page size, and the size rounded up.