During my internship at Trail of Bits, I prototyped a harness that improves the testability of the eBPF verifier, simplifying the testing of eBPF programs. My eBPF harness runs in user space, independently of any locally running kernel, and thus opens the door to testing of eBPF programs across different kernel versions.

eBPF enables users to instrument a running system by loading small programs into the operating system kernel. As a safety measure, the kernel “verifies” eBPF programs at load time and rejects any that it deems unsafe. However, using eBPF is a CI / CD nightmare, because there’s no way to know whether a given eBPF program will successfully load and pass verification without testing it on a running kernel. 

My harness aims to eliminate that nightmare by executing the eBPF verifier outside of the running kernel. To use the harness, a developer tweaks my libbpf-based sample programs (hello.bpf.c and hello_loader.c) to tailor them to the eBPF program being tested. The version of libbpf provided by my harness links against a “kernel library” that implements the actual bpf syscall, which provides isolation from the running kernel. The harness works well with kernel version 5.18, but it is still a proof of concept; enabling support for other kernel versions and additional eBPF program features will require a significant amount of work.