TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Code Mechanic

Volume Number: 13 (1997)
Issue Number: 5
Column Tag: develop

Code Mechanic: Better Than Ever Stress Testing

by Dave Evans

There are few things more frustrating than losing access to your debugging tools due to a freeze, because you can't fix what you can't diagnose. The best course is to stop freezes before they start, so I'd like to share a common cause of freezes I've found. I'll also discuss some of the stress-testing options that are available to help you catch freeze-causing problems you might have missed, including an improved debugging tool.

Veteran readers of develop may notice a new title for this column. The previous title, "Balance of Power," was apt for its time, indicating a focus on PowerPC issues. But now that all new MacOS computers are PowerPC-based, everybody's writing about PowerPC, and my efforts in this area are complete. This new title reflects a focus on the mechanics of code tuning, with tips for improving your application's performance and stability, which I hope you'll find just as useful.

Protect Your Vectors

Even if you use a PowerPC-based MacOS computer, the first 256 bytes of memory are dedicated to 680x0 exception vectors, which the 680x0 software emulator uses to emulate 680x0 exceptions and interrupts. On a 680x0-based computer, these values are read by the processor itself when handling an exception or servicing an interrupt.

Under System 7, these important vectors are not memory protected. Any program can read from or write to them, possibly resulting in a serious failure. While not all of the vectors are used, modifying some of them will cause an immediate freeze, leaving you without access to your debugging tools. You probably don't address these vectors intentionally, but it often occurs accidentally when a nil pointer or empty handle is de-referenced.

Unintentionally reading from these vectors will produce a random result. In most cases the vectors are addresses of special system routines; these vectors can have any value, and they vary significantly from one computer model to another. As an example of how easy it is to cause a problem in this area, take a look at the following C code, similar to that found in some applications:

front_window = FrontWindow();
if (front_window->windowKind < 0)
 MyDeskAccessoryRoutine(front_window);

The developers didn't realize that FrontWindow can return nil when no windows are open. In that case the application de-references the nil pointer and makes a logical decision based on the sign of the half word at $6C in low memory, which is the high half of the interrupt level 3 vector. On most Macintosh computers released before 1995, this vector pointed into ROM starting at address $40800000. Because of this, the applications would test the high half word value of $4080, and they wouldn't run the desk accessory routine. This was the right behavior, but for the wrong reason; disaster was averted by luck.

Beginning with all PCI-based PowerPC computers, ROM starts at location $FFC00000. During the development of these computers, we found that applications with code like the above would crash because they executed unexpected code after comparing the new half word value of $FFC0. We were able to work around their problem by changing the interrupt level 3 vector to point to a routine in RAM. This changed the high half word value to be a small positive number, and the applications behaved as expected. Still, the best case would have been if the problem could have been avoided in the first place. The following code is an example of what would have been a better, crash-free approach:

front_window = FrontWindow();
if (front_window && front_window->windowKind < 0)
 MyDeskAccessoryRoutine(front_window);

Checking for nil pointers or handles is one way you can avoid these crashes in the first place. Checking for empty handles is another necessary step, since unlocked relocatable blocks that are marked purgeable may disappear any time memory can move.

To detect problems with purgeable blocks, you'll need tools to stress test your application. Utilities that display heap zones, allowing you to compact and purge a heap on demand, are a good start. For serious testing, however, you'll need a stress tool that operates all the time. One good tool for this is MemHell, which will compact and purge your heap whenever a Memory Manager routine that might move or purge memory is called. This slows down execution of your tests, but it will flush out problems with purgeable blocks.

So, while accidentally reading from low memory can cause unexpected results, accidentally writing to low memory can be fatal, and this is one of the most common causes of freezes that I've noticed. You may think this could never happen in your code, because none of your blocks are purgeable and you always check errors after allocating pointers. Think again; there are plenty of other opportunities. Do you check for an error after every GetResource call? Getting an unexpected error - from a corrupted resource file, for example - is one way you can end up with a nil handle. Besides diligent review of your code, you need to do stress testing to flush out possible errors, or freezes are likely to result.

Are You Stressed Enough?

There are a number of tools to help add stress to your testing. I've already mentioned MemHell for finding problems with purgeable blocks. You'll similarly need a tool to find reads and writes to the exception vectors.

The simplest choice is the ubiquitous and venerable EvenBetterBusError, written by Greg Marriott. This tool safeguards the first four bytes of memory, which are very often accidentally written over or read from. To detect reads, it places in the first four bytes of memory a value which when de-referenced will cause a crash. If you use a nil pointer or empty handle, the illegal value is likely to be used as data or de-referenced, leading to a crash. To detect writes, it checks periodically to see if the value that it placed has been overwritten; if so, you'll be notified with a DebugStr message. EvenBetterBusError is included as a dcmd in MacsBug beginning with version 6.5.4.

I've extended EvenBetterBusError to be more aggressive. The new version, YetEvenBetterBusError, writes a value over the first 256 bytes of memory which will cause a crash into your debugger when de-referenced. It also checks periodically for writes to these locations, but more frequently than EvenBetterBusError does. Like EvenBetterBusError, upon noticing a write to these locations it will notify you with a DebugStr message. YetEvenBetterBusError can be found at www.mactech.com.

To implement YetEvenBetterBusError, I had to sacrifice some compatibility with existing applications. Any application code that assumes the exception vectors start at address 0 will no longer function correctly. Most applications don't use the exception vectors directly, but some copy protection schemes do modify the vectors.

The correct way to determine the location of the exception vectors is by using the 680x0 instruction MOVEC, which must always be executed in supervisor mode. The location of the first vector is stored in the 680x0 VBR (Vector Base Register). To read the address, you would write the following assembly code:

_EnterSupervisorMode ; old sr result in d0
movec   vbr,a0   ; get the vbr
move.w  d0,sr    ; restore the old sr

Always use the VBR to find these vectors. Although early versions of the MacOS always placed them at location 0, they're now often elsewhere. When virtual memory is turned on, for example, the vectors will actually reside in the system heap, and the VBR will point to them. To maintain compatibility, however, if virtual memory doesn't handle an exception it calls through to the original vector table at location 0. This is why even with virtual memory on, writing over the low-memory exception vectors can still cause a freeze.

YetEvenBetterBusError is able to overwrite and then monitor the first 256 bytes of memory by moving the exception vector table entirely. So, even when virtual memory is on, with YetEvenBetterBusError installed the original low-memory vectors are never called. This is why some existing applications may be incompatible with YetEvenBetterBusError.

A Cure for Test Anxiety

It's true that fully testing your code to reflect all possible configurations and user actions can be a near-impossible task. But the perceived stability of both your application and the computer depends on how well we all write and test our software. To do the best possible job, use the stress-testing tools mentioned in this column or in the article "Squashing Memory Leaks with TidyHeap" in this issue. Do the right thing: stress test, then relax!

Thanks to Pete Gontier, Chris Jalbert, Bo3b Johnson, Dave Lyons, Quinn "The Eskimo!", and Keith Stattenfield for reviewing this column.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Adobe Dreamweaver CC 2018 18.0.0.10136 -...
Dreamweaver CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Dreamweaver customer). Adobe Dreamweaver CC 2018 allows you to... Read more
Adobe Lightroom 20170919-1412-ccb76bd] -...
Adobe Lightroom is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $9.99/month bundled with Photoshop CC as part of the photography package. Lightroom 6 is also available for purchase as a... Read more
Adobe Photoshop CC 2018 19.0.0 - Profess...
Photoshop CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Photoshop customer). Adobe Photoshop CC 2018, the industry standard... Read more
Adobe Muse CC 2017 2018.0.0 - Design and...
Muse CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $14.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Muse customer). Adobe Muse 2018 enables designers to create websites as... Read more
Adobe Animate CC 2017 18.0.0.107 - Anima...
Animate CC 2018 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous Flash Professional customer). Animate CC 2018 (was Flash CC) lets you... Read more
Hopper Disassembler 4.3.0- - Binary disa...
Hopper Disassembler is a binary disassembler, decompiler, and debugger for 32- and 64-bit executables. It will let you disassemble any binary you want, and provide you all the information about its... Read more
GraphicConverter 10.5.1 - $39.95
GraphicConverter is an all-purpose image-editing program that can import 200 different graphic-based formats, edit the image, and export it to any of 80 available file formats. The high-end editing... Read more
Delicious Library 3.7 - Import, browse a...
Delicious Library allows you to import, browse, and share all your books, movies, music, and video games with Delicious Library. Run your very own library from your home or office using our... Read more
Duet 1.6.7.0 - Use your iPad as an exter...
Duet is the first app that allows you to use your iDevice as an extra display for your Mac using the Lightning or 30-pin cable. Note: This app requires a $14.99 iOS companion app. Version 1.6.7.0:... Read more
iExplorer 4.1.5 - View and transfer file...
iExplorer is an iPhone browser for Mac lets you view the files on your iOS device. By using a drag and drop interface, you can quickly copy files and folders between your Mac and your iPhone or... Read more

Wheels of Aurelia (Games)
Wheels of Aurelia 1.0.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0.1 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander guide - ti...
Halcyon 6 is a well-loved indie RPG with stellar tactical combat and some pretty good writing, too. It's now landed on the App Store, so mobile fans, if you're itching for a good intergalactic adventure, here's your game. Being a strategy RPG, the... | Read more »
Game of Thrones: Conquest guide - how to...
Fans of base building games might be excited to know that yet another entry in the genre has materialized - Game of Thrones: Conquest. Yes, you can now join the many kingdoms of the famed book series, or create your own, as you try to conquer... | Read more »
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander (Games)
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander 1.4.2.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $6.99, Version: 1.4.2.0 (iTunes) Description: An epic space strategy RPG with base building, deep tactical combat, crew management, alien diplomacy,... | Read more »
Legacy of Discord celebrates its 1 year...
It’s been a thrilling first year for fans of Legacy of Discord, the stunning PvP dungeon-crawling ARPG from YOOZOO Games, and now it’s time to celebrate the game’s first anniversary. The developers are amping up the festivities with some exciting... | Read more »
3 reasons to play Thunder Armada - the n...
The bygone days of the Battleship board game might have past, but naval combat simulators still find an audience on mobile. Thunder Armada is Chinese developer Chyogames latest entry into the genre, drawing inspiration from the explosive exchanges... | Read more »
Experience a full 3D fantasy MMORPG, as...
Those hoping to sink their teeth into a meaty hack and slash RPG that encourages you to fight with others might want to check out EZFun’s new Eternity Guardians. Available to download for iOS and Android, Eternity Guardians is an MMORPG that lets... | Read more »
Warhammer Quest 2 (Games)
Warhammer Quest 2 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Dungeon adventures in the Warhammer World are back! | Read more »
4 of the best Halloween updates for mobi...
Halloween is certainly one of our favorite times for mobile game updates. Many popular titles celebrate this spooky season with fun festivities that can stretch from one week to even the whole month. As we draw closer and closer to Halloween, we'... | Read more »
Fire Rides guide - how to swing to succe...
It's another day, which means another Voodoo game has come to glue our hands to our mobile phones. Yes, it's been an especially prolific month for this particular mobile publisher, but we're certainly not complaining. Fire Rides is yet another... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple restocks full line of refurbished 13″ M...
Apple has restocked a full line of Apple Certified Refurbished 2017 13″ MacBook Pros for $200-$300 off MSRP. A standard Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and shipping is free.... Read more
13″ 3.1GHz/256GB MacBook Pro on sale for $167...
Amazon has the 2017 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro on sale today for $121 off MSRP including free shipping: – 13″ 3.1GHz/256GB Space Gray MacBook Pro (MPXV2LL/A): $1678 $121 off MSRP Keep an... Read more
13″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $120 off M...
B&H Photo has 2017 13″ MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $120 off MSRP, each including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only: – 13-inch 2.3GHz/128GB Space Gray MacBook... Read more
15″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $200 off M...
B&H Photo has 15″ MacBook Pros on sale for up to $200 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: – 15″ 2.8GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray (MPTR2LL/A): $2249, $150... Read more
Roundup of Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs,...
Apple has a full line of Certified Refurbished 2017 21″ and 27″ iMacs available starting at $1019 and ranging up to $350 off original MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free... Read more
Sale! 27″ 3.8GHz 5K iMac for $2098, save $201...
Amazon has the 27″ 3.8GHz 5K iMac (MNED2LL/A) on sale today for $2098 including free shipping. Their price is $201 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model (Apple’s $1949... Read more
Sale! 10″ Apple WiFi iPad Pros for up to $100...
B&H Photo has 10.5″ WiFi iPad Pros in stock today and on sale for $50-$100 off MSRP. Each iPad includes free shipping, and B&H charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: – 10.5″ 64GB iPad Pro: $... Read more
Apple iMacs on sale for up to $130 off MSRP w...
B&H Photo has 21-inch and 27-inch iMacs in stock and on sale for up to $130 off MSRP including free shipping. B&H charges sales tax in NY & NJ only: – 27″ 3.8GHz iMac (MNED2LL/A): $2179 $... Read more
2017 3.5GHz 6-Core Mac Pro on sale for $2799,...
B&H Photo has the 2017 3.5GHz 6-Core Mac Pro (MD878LL/A) on sale today for $2799 including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only . Their price is $200 off MSRP. Read more
12″ 1.2GHz Space Gray MacBook on sale for $11...
Amazon has the 2017 12″ 1.2GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook on sale for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free: 12″ 1.2GHz Space Gray MacBook: $1199.99 $100 off MSRP Read more

Jobs Board

Commerce Engineer, *Apple* Media Products -...
Commerce Engineer, Apple Media Products (New York City) Job Number: 113028813New York City, New York, United StatesPosted: Sep. 20, 2017Weekly Hours: 40.00 Job Read more
US- *Apple* Store Leader Program - Apple (Un...
US- Apple Store Leader Program Job Number: VariousUnited StatesPosted: Oct. 19, 2017Retail Store Job Summary Learn and grow as you explore the art of leadership at Read more
Product Manager - *Apple* Pay on the *Appl...
Job Summary Apple is looking for a talented product manager to drive the expansion of Apple Pay on the Apple Online Store. This position includes a unique Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Farmin...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Frameworks Engineer, *Apple* Watch - Apple...
Job Summary Join the team that is shaping the future of software development for Apple Watch! As a software engineer on the Apple Watch Frameworks team you will Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.