Did you know that a C program’s main() function is not the first code to be run? Depending on the program and the compiler, there are all kinds of interesting and complex functions that get run before main(), automatically inserted by the compiler and invisible to casual observers. For the past several days I’ve been on a quest to reverse engineer a minimal C program, to see what’s inside the executable file and how it’s put together. I was generally aware that some kind of special initialization happened before main() was called, but knew nothing about the details. As it turned out, understanding what happens before main() proved to be central to explaining large chunks of mystery code that I’d struggled with during my first analysis.
In my previous post, I used dumpbin, OllyDbg, and the IDA disassembler to examine the contents of a Windows executable file created from an 18 line C program. This example program is a text console application that only references printf, scanf, and strlen. The C functions compile into 120 bytes of x86 code. Yet dumpbin revealed that the executable file contained 2234 bytes of code, and imported 38 different functions from DLLs. It also located over 1300 bytes of unknown data and constants. The implementations of printf etc were in a C runtime library DLL, so that couldn’t explain the unexpected code bloat. Something else was at work.
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