Resmack: Part 3: Perf Event Performance Overhead

Note: This post is part of a series on developing resmack. See the resmack tag for all posts in the series.

This is a small follow-up from the previous post on creating an experimental snapshot-based fuzzer (resmack-fuzz-test) that used perf events for its feedback metric during fuzzing.

The trivial target that I used during development did not make apparent any performance hits that fuzzing with perf events as feedback cause. This blog post is about the benchmarks used to test the performance impact of using perf events as feedback.

Trivial Target

Below is the trivial target used during the development of of resmack-fuzz-test:

void do_something_else(char *data) {
    if (strlen(data) < 9) {
        printf("Returning! strlen(data): %lu\n", strlen(data));

    if (data[0] == 'R') {
        if (data[1] == 'E') {
            if (data[2] == 'S') {
                if (data[3] == 'M') {
                    if (data[4] == 'A') {
                        if (data[5] == 'C') {
                            if (data[6] == 'K') {
                                if (data[7] == '!') {
                                    if (data[8] == '!') {
                                        PRINT(">> CRASH!\n");
                                        char *blah = 0;
                                        blah[0] = 'A';

When running resmack-fuzz-test with the trivial target above, we get anywhere between 16k and 20+k iterations per second.

The major item to note here is that very little time is spent actually in the target program. Any performance overhead of using perf events will not be noticeable.

Recall the recorded perf stats from the previous post:

perf report

Remember that this is from the perspective of the fuzzer process, not the snapshotted target process.

The key areas where time is spent are listed below:

percent Description Technical
52.49% Snapshot restoration ptrace_test::snapshot::Snapshot::restore
7.83% Perf events stats collection ptrace_test::coverage::CoverageMonitor::stats
6.64% Perf events start recording ptrace_test::coverage::CoverageMonitor::start
4.80% Perf events stop recording ptrace_test::coverage::CoverageMonitor::stop
4.16% Running the target proces nix::sys::wait::waitpid

The fuzzing process is only waiting on the process to run 4.16% of the time!


The perf benchmarks are run with the command below. The summary results of the benchmark can be found at target/critierion/perf/report/index.html:

cargo bench --bench perf -- --verbose

The perf benchmarks run the do_work() function below under different scenarios:

fn do_work() {
    let mut data: HashMap<usize, Vec<usize>> = HashMap::new();
    for i in 0..0x1000usize {
        if i % 4 == 0 {
        if i % 3 == 0 {
        if i % 2 == 0 {

The scenarios do_work() is run under are:

scenarios brnch insts !perf
1 X
2 X X
3 X
4 X

Below is the zoomed-in relevant portion of the violin graph comparing each of the scenarios:

zoomed-in violin graph

Somewhat surprisingly, little difference exists between using one or two performance counters at the same time.

The same can definitely not be said for the difference between no perf counters and using perf counters.

There is roughly a 4x performance hit when running code with perf counters.

Full Benchmark Output

The full benchmark output may be of interest to some of you.

Find it here

comments powered by Disqus