kinvolk logo | Blog

Introducing gobpf - Using eBPF from Go

What is eBPF?

eBPF is a “bytecode virtual machine” in the Linux kernel that is used for tracing kernel functions, networking, performance analysis and more. Its roots lay in the Berkley Packet Filter (sometimes called LSF, Linux Socket Filtering), but as it supports more operations (e.g. BPF_CALL 0x80 /* eBPF only: function call */) and nowadays has much broader use than packet filtering on a socket, it’s called extended BPF.

With the addition of the dedicated bpf() syscall in Linux 3.18, it became easier to perform the various eBPF operations. Further, the BPF compiler collection from the IO Visor Project and its libbpf provide a rich set of helper functions as well as Python bindings that make it more convenient to write eBPF powered tools.

To get an idea of how eBPF looks, let’s take a peek at struct bpf_insn prog[] - a list of instructions in pseudo-assembly. Below we have a simple user-space C program to count the number of fchownat(2) calls. We use bpf_prog_load from libbpf to load the eBPF instructions as a kprobe and use bpf_attach_kprobe to attach it to the syscall. Now each time fchownat is called, the kernel executes the eBPF program. The program loads the map (more about maps later), increments the counter and exits. In the C program, we read the value from the map and print it every second.

#include <errno.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <string.h>
#include <unistd.h>

#include <linux/version.h>

#include <bcc/bpf_common.h>
#include <bcc/libbpf.h>

int main() {
	int map_fd, prog_fd, key=0, ret;
	long long value;
	char log_buf[8192];
	void *kprobe;

	/* Map size is 1 since we store only one value, the chown count */
	map_fd = bpf_create_map(BPF_MAP_TYPE_HASH, sizeof(key), sizeof(value), 1);
	if (map_fd < 0) {
		fprintf(stderr, "failed to create map: %s (ret %d)\n", strerror(errno), map_fd);
		return 1;

	ret = bpf_update_elem(map_fd, &key, &value, 0);
	if (ret != 0) {
		fprintf(stderr, "failed to initialize map: %s (ret %d)\n", strerror(errno), ret);
		return 1;

	struct bpf_insn prog[] = {
		/* Put 0 (the map key) on the stack */
		BPF_ST_MEM(BPF_W, BPF_REG_10, -4, 0),
		/* Put frame pointer into R2 */
		/* Decrement pointer by four */
		/* Put map_fd into R1 */
		BPF_LD_MAP_FD(BPF_REG_1, map_fd),
		/* Load current count from map into R0 */
		/* If returned value NULL, skip two instructions and return */
		/* Put 1 into R1 */
		BPF_MOV64_IMM(BPF_REG_1, 1),
		/* Increment value by 1 */
		/* Return from program */

	prog_fd = bpf_prog_load(BPF_PROG_TYPE_KPROBE, prog, sizeof(prog), "GPL", LINUX_VERSION_CODE, log_buf, sizeof(log_buf));
	if (prog_fd < 0) {
		fprintf(stderr, "failed to load prog: %s (ret %d)\ngot CAP_SYS_ADMIN?\n%s\n", strerror(errno), prog_fd, log_buf);
		return 1;

	kprobe = bpf_attach_kprobe(prog_fd, "p_sys_fchownat", "p:kprobes/p_sys_fchownat sys_fchownat", -1, 0, -1, NULL, NULL);
	if (kprobe == NULL) {
		fprintf(stderr, "failed to attach kprobe: %s\n", strerror(errno));
		return 1;

	for (;;) {
		ret = bpf_lookup_elem(map_fd, &key, &value);
		if (ret != 0) {
			fprintf(stderr, "failed to lookup element: %s (ret %d)\n", strerror(errno), ret);
		} else {
			printf("fchownat(2) count: %lld\n", value);

	return 0;

The example requires libbcc and can be compiled with:

gcc -I/usr/include/bcc/compat main.c -o chowncount -lbcc

Nota bene: the increment in the example code is not atomic. In real code, we would have to use one map per CPU and aggregate the result.

It is important to know that eBPF programs run directly in the kernel and that their invocation depends on the type. They are executed without change of context. As we have seen above, kprobes for example are triggered whenever the kernel executes a specified function.

Thanks to clang and LLVM, it’s not necessary to actually write plain eBPF instructions. Modules can be written in C and use functions provided by libbpf (as we will see in the gobpf example below).

eBPF Program Types

The type of an eBPF program defines properties like the kernel helper functions available to the program or the input it receives from the kernel. Linux 4.8 knows the following program types:

enum bpf_prog_type {

A program of type BPF_PROG_TYPE_SOCKET_FILTER, for instance, receives a struct __sk_buff * as its first argument whereas it’s struct pt_regs * for programs of type BPF_PROG_TYPE_KPROBE.

eBPF Maps

Maps are a “generic data structure for storage of different types of data” and can be used to share data between eBPF programs as well as between kernel and userspace. The key and value of a map can be of arbitrary size as defined when creating the map. The user also defines the maximum number of entries (max_entries). Linux 4.8 knows the following map types:

enum bpf_map_type {

While BPF_MAP_TYPE_HASH and BPF_MAP_TYPE_ARRAY are generic maps for different types of data, BPF_MAP_TYPE_PROG_ARRAY is a special purpose array map. It holds file descriptors referring to other eBPF programs and can be used by an eBPF program to “replace its own program flow with the one from the program at the given program array slot”. The BPF_MAP_TYPE_PERF_EVENT_ARRAY map is for storing a data of type struct perf_event in a ring buffer.

In the example above we used a map of type hash with a size of 1 to hold the call counter.


In the context of the work we are doing on Weave Scope for Weaveworks, we have been working extensively with both eBPF and Go. As Scope is written in Go, it makes sense to use eBPF directly from Go.

In looking at how to do this, we stumbled upon some code in the IO Visor Project that looked like a good starting point. After talking to the folks at the project, we decided to move this out into a dedicated repository: gobpf is a Go library that leverages the bcc project to make working with eBPF programs from Go simple.

To get an idea of how this works, the following example chrootsnoop shows how to use a bpf.PerfMap to monitor chroot(2) calls:

package main

import (


import "C"

const source string = `
#include <uapi/linux/ptrace.h>
#include <bcc/proto.h>

typedef struct {
	u32 pid;
	char comm[128];
	char filename[128];
} chroot_event_t;


int kprobe__sys_chroot(struct pt_regs *ctx, const char *filename)
	u64 pid = bpf_get_current_pid_tgid();
	chroot_event_t event = {
		.pid = pid >> 32,
	bpf_get_current_comm(&event.comm, sizeof(event.comm));
	bpf_probe_read(&event.filename, sizeof(event.filename), (void *)filename);
	chroot_events.perf_submit(ctx, &event, sizeof(event));
	return 0;

type chrootEvent struct {
	Pid      uint32
	Comm     [128]byte
	Filename [128]byte

func main() {
	m := bpf.NewBpfModule(source, []string{})
	defer m.Close()

	chrootKprobe, err := m.LoadKprobe("kprobe__sys_chroot")
	if err != nil {
		fmt.Fprintf(os.Stderr, "Failed to load kprobe__sys_chroot: %s\n", err)

	err = m.AttachKprobe("sys_chroot", chrootKprobe)
	if err != nil {
		fmt.Fprintf(os.Stderr, "Failed to attach kprobe__sys_chroot: %s\n", err)

	chrootEventsTable := bpf.NewBpfTable(0, m)

	chrootEventsChannel := make(chan []byte)

	chrootPerfMap, err := bpf.InitPerfMap(chrootEventsTable, chrootEventsChannel)
	if err != nil {
		fmt.Fprintf(os.Stderr, "Failed to init perf map: %s\n", err)

	sig := make(chan os.Signal, 1)
	signal.Notify(sig, os.Interrupt, os.Kill)

	go func() {
		var chrootE chrootEvent
		for {
			data := <-chrootEventsChannel
			err := binary.Read(bytes.NewBuffer(data), binary.LittleEndian, &chrootE)
			if err != nil {
				fmt.Fprintf(os.Stderr, "Failed to decode received chroot event data: %s\n", err)
			comm := (*C.char)(unsafe.Pointer(&chrootE.Comm))
			filename := (*C.char)(unsafe.Pointer(&chrootE.Filename))
			fmt.Printf("pid %d %s called chroot(2) on %s\n", chrootE.Pid, C.GoString(comm), C.GoString(filename))


You will notice that our eBPF program is written in C for this example. The bcc project uses clang to convert the code to eBPF instructions.

We don’t have to interact with libbpf directly from our Go code, as gobpf implements a callback and makes sure we receive the data from our eBPF program through the chrootEventsChannel.

To test the example, you can run it with sudo -E go run chrootsnoop.go and for instance execute any systemd unit with RootDirectory statement. A simple chroot ... also works, of course.

# hello.service
Description=hello service



You should see output like:

pid 7857 (hello) called chroot(2) on /tmp/chroot


With its growing capabilities, eBPF has become an indispensable tool for modern Linux system software. gobpf helps you to conveniently use libbpf functionality from Go.

gobpf is in a very early stage, but usable. Input and contributions are very much welcome.

If you want to learn more about our use of eBPF in software like Weave Scope, stay tuned and have a look at our work on GitHub:

Follow Kinvolk on Twitter to get notified when new blog posts go live.