Syzbot is an automated fuzzing infrastructure that uses Syzkaller to perform continuous fuzzing, primarily on the Linux kernel. Whenever it finds bugs, Syzbot reports it to the relevant mailing list. It also has a public dashboard where it lists all the open bugs that needs to be fixed.

Syzbot is quite effective in finding bugs in the kernel but due to the large number of bugs being found, many of them don’t get fixed in time. And so, we can help fix those bugs. In this post, I’ll share the general approaches and steps in fixing Syzbot bugs.

0. Setup your system

Before we can start fixing bugs, we need to have a Qemu virtual machine setup along with my favorite tool for debugging: kgdb.

  • First, download the Linux source code and compile it.
  • Then install and boot the compiled kernel in a virtual machine using Qemu. We also need a root filesystem for this. I use the root filesystem generated by file provided by Syzkaller.
  • Finally, install gdb and set up kgdb.
    • Compile the kernel with CONFIG_KGDB enabled in the kernel config.

    • When booting the kernel in Qemu, add the -s -S flags to the command. Qemu will wait for a GDB connection before booting up.

    • In another terminal, open GDB and type:

          target remote localhost:1234

1. Find a bug to fix

Pick a bug that

  • was recently encountered (in the latest kernels) by Syzbot
  • has a reproducer. Because, otherwise the bug would be harder to fix. The reproducer program can also act as a test case for the patch that solves the issue.
  • is not yet fixed and no one else is currently trying to fix it. This is to avoid duplicated effort. To check, see if there are any replies to the syzbot mail to the mailing list, any patch testing requests on the syzbot dashboard, or any patches in the mailing list that mentions this bug in it’s Reported-by tag. We don’t want to spend time fixing a bug, only to realize that it has already been fixed.
  • is in your subsystem or bug class of your interest (Stick to one subsystem or bug class if possible)

2. Reproduce the bug on your system

Once you have picked a bug to fix, we have to reproduce the bug on our machine. If we cannot reproduce the bug, we cannot fix it.

  • Find the “next” branch (which has all the latest commits that have not been merged in mainline) corresponding to the subsystem to which the bug belongs to. This can be found from the subsystem entry in the MAINTAINERS file, where a line starting with T: will specify the git tree of the subsystem. Checkout to that next branch and try to reproduce the bug on that version of the kernel. Bugs can be fixed on the respective subsystem’s development trees. Working with the next branch ensures that we are not fixing a bug that has already been fixed. Moreover, the patches that we send for the subsystem are usually developed on the next branch.
  • Compile the kernel with the respective sanitizer that detected the bug (KASAN, KMSAN, etc).
  • Run the reproducer on the compiled kernel in a virtual machine and test if the bug is detected.

If you are able to reliably reproduce the bug then you can try fixing it.

3. Find the cause of the bug

  • Compare different reports of the same bug to see if you can get some information For example, we can try to answer questions like these:

    • Is the stack trace changing across reports or is it the same? (i.e. can the bug be triggered from different code paths or only in a particular path)
    • Is the buggy access happenning at the same offset?
    • Is there anything similar or different across the reports? If yes, why?
  • Go down the stack trace and see what conditions needs to be true for this path to occur. (Shuah Khan suggested this during the LFX mentorship meetings.) For example, in the simplified example below, we can infer that since the buggy function is on the true branch of the if-else, the if condition must be true for the bug to happen.

           if (some_bool) {
      	// Buggy function is called from this path
           } else {
  • Use kgdb to debug the kernel. Set a breakpoint right before the bug and look around to see what is causing the bug.

  • Minimize the reproducer manually. Try to remove some system calls or operations from the reproducer while ensuring that the reproducer still causes the bug.

4. Fix the bug

Fixing the bug involves understanding the root cause and addressing it. It requires us to understand the subsystem that we are working with.

We should ensure that we are not simply fixing the effect of the bug. For instance, if we have a null pointer dereference bug, the simplest fix would be to add a null check before the line that is dereferencing, but this is not the correct fix. The right question to ask is whether that particular variable is expected to be NULL at that point in code. This requires us to understand a bit more about other parts of code in the subsystem.

How do we understand the code in a particular subsystem?

  • Read documentation:
    • Look for a corresponding file in the Documentation directory. This file is also usually mentioned in the MAINTAINERS file entry.
    • We can also search in LWN for any articles about that subsystem.
    • Often for device and filesystem drivers, there would be some specification document that gives all the details we need.
  • Read the code and comments in the code.

5. Create and test your patch with Syzbot

Once you have identified the root cause of the bug, we can create a patch to fix it. Make the change that fixes the bug. Test it locally using the reproducer program to see if the change actually fixed the bug. Then you can send your patch to Syzbot for testing.

6. Send your patch

Don’t forget to add the Reported-by or Reported-and-tested-by tag to give credit to syzbot. You can also look around the code to see if there are any other similar bugs.