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This file is a HOWTO for Wireshark developers. It describes general development
and coding practices for contributing to Wireshark no matter which part of
Wireshark you want to work on.
To learn how to write a dissector, read this first, then read the file
This file is compiled to give in depth information on Wireshark.
It is by no means all inclusive and complete. Please feel free to send
remarks and patches to the developer mailing list.
0. Prerequisites.
Before starting to develop a new dissector, a "running" Wireshark build
environment is required - there's no such thing as a standalone "dissector
build toolkit".
How to setup such an environment is platform dependent; detailed
information about these steps can be found in the "Developer's Guide"
(available from: and in the INSTALL and files of the sources root dir.
0.1. General README files.
You'll find additional information in the following README files:
- README.capture - the capture engine internals
- - Wireshark software design - incomplete
- README.developer - this file
- README.dissector - How to dissect a packet
- README.display_filter - Display Filter Engine
- README.idl2wrs - CORBA IDL converter
- README.packaging - how to distribute a software package containing WS
- README.regression - regression testing of WS and TS
- README.stats_tree - a tree statistics counting specific packets
- README.tapping - "tap" a dissector to get protocol specific events
- README.xml-output - how to work with the PDML exported output
- wiretap/README.developer - how to add additional capture file types to
0.2. Dissector related README files.
You'll find additional dissector related information in the file
README.dissector as well as the following README files:
- README.heuristic - what are heuristic dissectors and how to write them
- README.plugins - how to "pluginize" a dissector
- README.request_response_tracking - how to track req./resp. times and such
- README.wmem - how to obtain "memory leak free" memory
0.3 Contributors
James Coe <jammer[AT]>
Gilbert Ramirez <gram[AT]>
Jeff Foster <jfoste[AT]>
Olivier Abad <oabad[AT]>
Laurent Deniel <laurent.deniel[AT]>
Gerald Combs <gerald[AT]>
Guy Harris <guy[AT]>
Ulf Lamping <ulf.lamping[AT]>
1. Portability.
Wireshark runs on many platforms, and can be compiled with a number of
different compilers; here are some rules for writing code that will work
on multiple platforms.
Building Wireshark requires a compiler that supports C11. This includes
reasonably recent version of GCC and clang. Microsoft Visual Studio supports
C11 from Visual Studio 2019 version 16.8 and later. Support requires an updated
Universal C Runtime (UCRT) and Windows SDK version to work properly with the
conforming preprocessor. The minimum SDK version is 10.0.20348.0 (version 2104).
The C11 has some optional parts that are not a requirement to build Wireshark.
In particular the following optional C11 features must NOT be used:
- Variable length arrays
- Bounds-checking interfaces (Annex K)
We don't allow them because their value is questionable and requiring them
would exclude a lot of compilers and runtimes that we wish to support.
Don't initialize global or static variables (variables with static
storage duration) in their declaration with non-constant values. This is not
permitted in C. E.g., if "i" is a static or global
variable, don't declare "i" as
uint32_t i = somearray[2];
outside a function, or as
static uint32_t i = somearray[2];
inside or outside a function, declare it as just
uint32_t i;
static uint32_t i;
and later, in code, initialize it with
i = somearray[2];
instead. Initializations of variables with automatic storage duration -
i.e., local variables - with non-constant values is permitted, so,
within a function
uint32_t i = somearray[2];
is allowed.
Don't use zero-length arrays as structure members, use flexible array members
Don't use "uchar", "u_char", "ushort", "u_short", "uint", "u_int",
"ulong", "u_long" or "boolean"; they aren't defined on all platforms.
Use the fixed width integers provided in C since C99. These are defined
in <stdint.h>.
If you want an 8-bit unsigned quantity, use "uint8_t"; if you want an
8-bit character value with the 8th bit not interpreted as a sign bit,
use "unsigned char"; if you want a 16-bit unsigned quantity, use "uint16_t";
if you want a 32-bit unsigned quantity, use "uint32_t"; and if you want
an "int-sized" unsigned quantity, use "unsigned"; if you want a boolean,
use "bool" (defined in <stdbool.h>). You don't need to explicitly include
these headers; they are included in <wireshark.h>. Use that instead.
To print fixed width integers you must use the macros provided in <inttypes.h>.
uint32_t var;
printf("var = " PRIu32 "\n", var);
Don't use "long" to mean "signed 32-bit integer", and don't use
"unsigned long" to mean "unsigned 32-bit integer"; "long"s are 64 bits
long on many platforms. Use "gint32" for signed 32-bit integers and use
"guint32" for unsigned 32-bit integers.
Don't use "long" to mean "signed 64-bit integer" and don't use "unsigned
long" to mean "unsigned 64-bit integer"; "long"s are 32 bits long on
many other platforms. Don't use "long long" or "unsigned long long",
either, as not all platforms support them; use "int64_t" or "uint64_t",
which will be defined as the appropriate types for 64-bit signed and
unsigned integers.
On LLP64 data model systems (notably 64-bit Windows), "int" and "long"
are 32 bits while "size_t" and "ptrdiff_t" are 64 bits. This means that
the following will generate a compiler warning:
int i;
i = strlen("hello, sailor"); /* Compiler warning */
Normally, you'd just make "i" a size_t. However, many GLib and Wireshark
functions won't accept a size_t on LLP64:
size_t i;
char greeting[] = "hello, sailor";
guint byte_after_greet;
i = strlen(greeting);
byte_after_greet = tvb_get_guint8(tvb, i); /* Compiler warning */
Try to use the appropriate data type when you can. When you can't, you
will have to cast to a compatible data type, e.g.
size_t i;
char greeting[] = "hello, sailor";
uint8_t byte_after_greet;
i = strlen(greeting);
byte_after_greet = tvb_get_guint8(tvb, (int) i); /* OK */
int i;
char greeting[] = "hello, sailor";
uint8_t byte_after_greet;
i = (int) strlen(greeting);
byte_after_greet = tvb_get_guint8(tvb, i); /* OK */
See for more
information on the sizes of common types in different data models.
A lot of legacy code still uses GLib types and I/O replacement API. These
should be gradually transitioned to use the standard interfaces provided in
C11. Sometimes it may be necessary to use an unsavory cast or two or abuse
a macro to bridge the two codebases during the transition. Such is life,
use your judgement and do the best possible under the circumstances.
Avoid GLib synonyms like gchar and gint and especially don't
use gpointer and gconstpointer, unless you are writing GLib callbacks
and trying to match their signature exactly. These just obscure the
code and gconstpointer in particular is just semantically weird and poor style.
When printing or displaying the values of 64-bit integral data types,
don't use "%lld", "%llu", "%llx", or "%llo" - not all platforms
support "%ll" for printing 64-bit integral data types. Instead use
the macros in <inttypes.h>, for example:
proto_tree_add_uint64_format_value(tree, hf_uint64, tvb, offset, len,
val, "%" PRIu64, val);
For GLib routines, and only those, you can choose whichever format style
you prefer:
uint64_t val = UINT64_C(1);
char *str1 = g_string_printf("%" G_GUINT64_FORMAT, val);
char *str2 = g_string_printf("%" PRIu64, val);
These format macros will be the same modulo any GLib bugs.
When specifying an integral constant that doesn't fit in 32 bits, don't
use "LL" at the end of the constant - not all compilers use "LL" for
that. Instead, put the constant in a call to the "INT64_C()" or "UINT64_C()"
macro, e.g.
INT64_C(-11644473600), UINT64_C(11644473600)
rather than
-11644473600LL, 11644473600ULL
Don't assume that you can scan through a va_list initialized by va_start
more than once without closing it with va_end and re-initializing it with
va_start. This applies even if you're not scanning through it yourself,
but are calling a routine that scans through it, such as vfprintf() or
one of the routines in Wireshark that takes a format and a va_list as an
argument. You must do
va_start(ap, format);
call_routine1(xxx, format, ap);
va_start(ap, format);
call_routine2(xxx, format, ap);
rather than
va_start(ap, format);
call_routine1(xxx, format, ap);
call_routine2(xxx, format, ap);
Don't use a label without a statement following it. For example,
something such as
if (...) {
will not work with all compilers - you have to do
if (...) {
with some statement, even if it's a null statement, after the label.
Preferably don't do it at all.
Don't use "bzero()", "bcopy()", or "bcmp()"; instead, use the ANSI C
"memset()" (with zero as the second argument, so that it sets
all the bytes to zero);
"memcpy()" or "memmove()" (note that the first and second
arguments to "memcpy()" are in the reverse order to the
arguments to "bcopy()"; note also that "bcopy()" is typically
guaranteed to work on overlapping memory regions, while
"memcpy()" isn't, so if you may be copying from one region to a
region that overlaps it, use "memmove()", not "memcpy()" - but
"memcpy()" might be faster as a result of not guaranteeing
correct operation on overlapping memory regions);
and "memcmp()" (note that "memcmp()" returns 0, 1, or -1, doing
an ordered comparison, rather than just returning 0 for "equal"
and 1 for "not equal", as "bcmp()" does).
Not all platforms necessarily have "bzero()"/"bcopy()"/"bcmp()", and
those that do might not declare them in the header file on which they're
declared on your platform.
Don't use "index()" or "rindex()"; instead, use the ANSI C equivalents,
"strchr()" and "strrchr()". Not all platforms necessarily have
"index()" or "rindex()", and those that do might not declare them in the
header file on which they're declared on your platform.
Don't use "tvb_get_ptr()". If you must use it, keep in mind that the pointer
returned by a call to "tvb_get_ptr()" is not guaranteed to be aligned on any
particular byte boundary; this means that you cannot safely cast it to any
data type other than a pointer to "char", "unsigned char", "guint8", or other
one-byte data types. Casting a pointer returned by tvb_get_ptr() into any
multi-byte data type or structure may cause crashes on some platforms (even
if it does not crash on x86-based PCs). Even if such mis-aligned accesses
don't crash on your platform they will be slower than properly aligned
accesses would be. Furthermore, the data in a packet is not necessarily in
the byte order of the machine on which Wireshark is running. Use the tvbuff
routines to extract individual items from the packet, or, better yet, use
"proto_tree_add_item()" and let it extract the items for you.
Don't use structures that overlay packet data, or into which you copy
packet data; the C programming language does not guarantee any
particular alignment of fields within a structure, and even the
extensions that try to guarantee that are compiler-specific and not
necessarily supported by all compilers used to build Wireshark. Using
bitfields in those structures is even worse; the order of bitfields
is not guaranteed.
Don't use "ntohs()", "ntohl()", "htons()", or "htonl()"; the header
files required to define or declare them differ between platforms, and
you might be able to get away with not including the appropriate header
file on your platform but that might not work on other platforms.
Instead, use "g_ntohs()", "g_ntohl()", "g_htons()", and "g_htonl()";
those are declared by <glib.h>, and you'll need to include that anyway,
as Wireshark header files that all dissectors must include use stuff from
Don't fetch a little-endian value using "tvb_get_ntohs() or
"tvb_get_ntohl()" and then using "g_ntohs()", "g_htons()", "g_ntohl()",
or "g_htonl()" on the resulting value - the g_ routines in question
convert between network byte order (big-endian) and *host* byte order,
not *little-endian* byte order; not all machines on which Wireshark runs
are little-endian, even though PCs are. Fetch those values using
"tvb_get_letohs()" and "tvb_get_letohl()".
Do not use "open()", "rename()", "mkdir()", "stat()", "unlink()", "remove()",
"fopen()", "freopen()" directly. Instead use "ws_open()", "ws_rename()",
"ws_mkdir()", "ws_stat()", "ws_unlink()", "ws_remove()", "ws_fopen()",
"ws_freopen()": these wrapper functions change the path and file name from
UTF8 to UTF16 on Windows allowing the functions to work correctly when the
path or file name contain non-ASCII characters.
Also, use ws_read(), ws_write(), ws_lseek(), ws_dup(), ws_fstat(), and
ws_fdopen(), rather than read(), write(), lseek(), dup(), fstat(), and
fdopen() on descriptors returned by ws_open().
Those functions are declared in <wsutil/file_util.h>; include that
header in any code that uses any of those routines.
When opening a file with "ws_fopen()", "ws_freopen()", or "ws_fdopen()", if
the file contains ASCII text, use "r", "w", "a", and so on as the open mode
- but if it contains binary data, use "rb", "wb", and so on. On
Windows, if a file is opened in a text mode, writing a byte with the
value of octal 12 (newline) to the file causes two bytes, one with the
value octal 15 (carriage return) and one with the value octal 12, to be
written to the file, and causes bytes with the value octal 15 to be
discarded when reading the file (to translate between C's UNIX-style
lines that end with newline and Windows' DEC-style lines that end with
carriage return/line feed).
In addition, that also means that when opening or creating a binary
file, you must use "ws_open()" (with O_CREAT and possibly O_TRUNC if the
file is to be created if it doesn't exist), and OR in the O_BINARY flag,
even on UN*X - O_BINARY is defined by <wsutil/file_util.h> as 0 on UN*X.
Do not include <unistd.h>, <fcntl.h>, or <io.h> to declare any of the
routines listed as replaced by routines in <wsutil/file_util.h>;
instead, just include <wsutil/file_util.h>.
If you need the declarations of other functions defined by <unistd.h>,
don't include it without protecting it with
Don't use forward declarations of static arrays without a specified size
in a fashion such as this:
static const value_string foo_vals[];
static const value_string foo_vals[] = {
{ 0, "Red" },
{ 1, "Green" },
{ 2, "Blue" },
{ 0, NULL }
as some compilers will reject the first of those statements. Instead,
initialize the array at the point at which it's first declared, so that
the size is known.
For #define names and enum member names, prefix the names with a tag so
as to avoid collisions with other names - this might be more of an issue
on Windows, as it appears to #define names such as DELETE and
Don't use the "positional parameters" extension that many UNIX printf's
implement, e.g.:
snprintf(add_string, 30, " - (%1$d) (0x%1$04x)", value);
as not all UNIX printf's implement it, and Windows printf doesn't appear
to implement it. Use something like
snprintf(add_string, 30, " - (%d) (0x%04x)", value, value);
Don't use
case N ... M:
as that's not supported by all compilers.
Prefer the C99 output functions from <stdio.h> instead of their GLib
replacements (note that positional format parameters are not part of C99).
In the past we used to recommend using g_snprintf() and g_vsnprintf()
instead but since Visual Studio 2015 native C99 implementations are
available on all platforms we support. These are optimized better than
the gnulib (GLib) implementation and on hot codepaths that can be a
noticeable difference in execution speed.
tmpnam() -> mkstemp()
tmpnam is insecure and should not be used any more. Wireshark brings its
own mkstemp implementation for use on platforms that lack mkstemp.
Note: mkstemp does not accept NULL as a parameter.
Wireshark requires minimum versions of each of the libraries it uses, in
particular GLib 2.50.0 and Qt 5.12.0 or newer. If you require a mechanism
that is available only in a newer version of a library then use its
version detection macros, e.g. "#if GLIB_CHECK_VERSION(...)" and "#if
QT_VERSION_CHECK(...)" to conditionally compile code using that
When different code must be used on UN*X and Win32, use a #if or #ifdef
that tests _WIN32, not WIN32. Try to write code portably whenever
possible, however; note that there are some routines in Wireshark with
platform-dependent implementations and platform-independent APIs, such
as the routines in epan/filesystem.c, allowing the code that calls it to
be written portably without #ifdefs.
We support building on Windows using MinGW-w64 (experimental) so be mindful
of the difference between an #ifdef on _WIN32 and _MSC_VER. The first tests
if the platform is some version of Windows and also applies to MinGW. The
latter tests if the toolchain is Microsoft Visual Studio. Sometimes you need
one or the other, depending on whether the condition applies to all Windows
compilers or only Microsoft's compiler. Use #ifdef __MINGW32__ to test for
a MinGW toolchain, including MinGW-w64. The same concern applies to CMake
code. Depending on the particular situation you may need to use if(WIN32) or
if(MSVC) or if(MINGW).
Wireshark uses Libgcrypt as general-purpose crypto library. Some Wireshark
specific extensions are defined in wsutil/wsgcrypt.h. You might want to
include that file instead.
2. String handling
Do not use functions such as strcat() or strcpy().
A lot of work has been done to remove the existing calls to these functions and
we do not want any new callers of these functions.
Instead use snprintf() since that function will if used correctly prevent
buffer overflows for large strings.
Be sure that all pointers passed to %s specifiers in format strings are non-
NULL. Some implementations will automatically replace NULL pointers with the
string "(NULL)", but most will not.
When using a buffer to create a string, do not use a buffer stored on the stack.
I.e. do not use a buffer declared as
char buffer[1024];
instead allocate a buffer dynamically using the string-specific or plain wmem
routines (see README.wmem) such as
wmem_strbuf_t *strbuf;
strbuf = wmem_strbuf_new(pinfo->pool, "");
wmem_strbuf_append_printf(strbuf, ...
char *buffer=NULL;
#define MAX_BUFFER 1024
buffer=wmem_alloc(pinfo->pool, MAX_BUFFER);
snprintf(buffer, MAX_BUFFER, ...
This avoids the stack from being corrupted in case there is a bug in your code
that accidentally writes beyond the end of the buffer.
If you write a routine that will create and return a pointer to a filled in
string and if that buffer will not be further processed or appended to after
the routine returns (except being added to the proto tree),
do not preallocate the buffer to fill in and pass as a parameter instead
pass a pointer to a pointer to the function and return a pointer to a
wmem-allocated buffer that will be automatically freed. (see README.wmem)
I.e. do not write code such as
static void
foo_to_str(char *string, ... ){
<fill in string>
char buffer[1024];
foo_to_str(buffer, ...
proto_tree_add_string(... buffer ...
instead write the code as
static void
foo_to_str(char **buffer, ...
#define MAX_BUFFER x
*buffer=wmem_alloc(pinfo->pool, MAX_BUFFER);
<fill in *buffer>
char *buffer;
foo_to_str(&buffer, ...
proto_tree_add_string(... *buffer ...
Use wmem_ allocated buffers. They are very fast and nice. These buffers are all
automatically free()d when the dissection of the current packet ends so you
don't have to worry about free()ing them explicitly in order to not leak memory.
Please read README.wmem.
Source files can use UTF-8 encoding, but characters outside the ASCII
range should be used sparingly. It should be safe to use non-ASCII
characters in comments and strings, but some compilers (such as GCC
versions prior to 10) may not support extended identifiers very well.
There is also no guarantee that a developer's text editor will interpret
the characters the way you intend them to be interpreted.
The majority of Wireshark encodes strings as UTF-8. The main exception
is the code that uses the Qt API, which uses UTF-16. Console output is
UTF-8, but as with the source code extended characters should be used
sparingly since some consoles (most notably Windows' cmd.exe) have
limited support for UTF-8.
3. Robustness.
Wireshark is not guaranteed to read only network traces that contain correctly-
formed packets. Wireshark is commonly used to track down networking
problems, and the problems might be due to a buggy protocol implementation
sending out bad packets.
Therefore, code does not only have to be able to handle
correctly-formed packets without, for example, crashing or looping
infinitely, they also have to be able to handle *incorrectly*-formed
packets without crashing or looping infinitely.
Here are some suggestions for making code more robust in the face
of incorrectly-formed packets:
Do *NOT* use "ws_assert()" or "ws_assert_not_reached()" with input data in dissectors.
*NO* value in a packet's data should be considered "wrong" in the sense
that it's a problem with the dissector if found; if it cannot do
anything else with a particular value from a packet's data, the
dissector should put into the protocol tree an indication that the
value is invalid, and should return. The "expert" mechanism should be
used for that purpose.
Use assertions to catch logic errors in your program. A failed assertion
indicates a bug in the code. Use ws_assert() instead of g_assert() to
test a logic condition. Note that ws_assert() can be removed at compile
time. Therefore assertions should not have any side-effects,
otherwise the program may behave inconsistently.
Use ws_assert_not_reached() instead of g_assert_not_reached() for
unreachable error conditions. For example if (and only if) you know
'myvar' can only have the values 1 and 2 do:
switch(myvar) {
case 1:
case 2:
instead, with the same caveats as above.
You should continue to use g_assert_true(), g_assert_cmpstr(), etc for
"test code", such as unit testing. These assertions are always active.
See the GLib Testing API documentation for the details on each of those
If there is a case where you are checking not for an invalid data item
in the packet, but for a bug in the dissector (for example, an
assumption being made at a particular point in the code about the
internal state of the dissector), use the DISSECTOR_ASSERT macro for
that purpose; this will put into the protocol tree an indication that
the dissector has a bug in it, and will not crash the application.
If you are allocating a chunk of memory to contain data from a packet,
or to contain information derived from data in a packet, and the size of
the chunk of memory is derived from a size field in the packet, make
sure all the data is present in the packet before allocating the buffer.
Doing so means that:
1) Wireshark won't leak that chunk of memory if an attempt to
fetch data not present in the packet throws an exception.
2) it won't crash trying to allocate an absurdly-large chunk of
memory if the size field has a bogus large value.
If you're fetching into such a chunk of memory a string from the buffer,
and the string has a specified size, you can use "tvb_get_*_string()",
which will check whether the entire string is present before allocating
a buffer for the string, and will also put a trailing '\0' at the end of
the buffer.
If you're fetching into such a chunk of memory a 2-byte Unicode string
from the buffer, and the string has a specified size, you can use
"tvb_get_faked_unicode()", which will check whether the entire string
is present before allocating a buffer for the string, and will also
put a trailing '\0' at the end of the buffer. The resulting string will be
a sequence of single-byte characters; the only Unicode characters that
will be handled correctly are those in the ASCII range. (Wireshark's
ability to handle non-ASCII strings is limited; it needs to be
If you're fetching into such a chunk of memory a sequence of bytes from
the buffer, and the sequence has a specified size, you can use
"tvb_memdup()", which will check whether the entire sequence is present
before allocating a buffer for it.
Otherwise, you can check whether the data is present by using
"tvb_ensure_bytes_exist()" although this frequently is not needed: the
TVB-accessor routines can handle requests to read data beyond the end of
the TVB (by throwing an exception which will either mark the frame as
truncated--not all the data was captured--or as malformed).
Note also that you should only fetch string data into a fixed-length
buffer if the code ensures that no more bytes than will fit into the
buffer are fetched ("the protocol ensures" isn't good enough, as
protocol specifications can't ensure only packets that conform to the
specification will be transmitted or that only packets for the protocol
in question will be interpreted as packets for that protocol by
Wireshark). If there's no maximum length of string data to be fetched,
routines such as "tvb_get_*_string()" are safer, as they allocate a buffer
large enough to hold the string. (Note that some variants of this call
require you to free the string once you're finished with it.)
If you have gotten a pointer using "tvb_get_ptr()" (which you should not
have: you should seriously consider a better alternative to this function),
you must make sure that you do not refer to any data past the length passed
as the last argument to "tvb_get_ptr()"; while the various "tvb_get"
routines perform bounds checking and throw an exception if you refer to data
not available in the tvbuff, direct references through a pointer gotten from
"tvb_get_ptr()" do not do any bounds checking.
If you have a loop that dissects a sequence of items, each of which has
a length field, with the offset in the tvbuff advanced by the length of
the item, then, if the length field is the total length of the item, and
thus can be zero, you *MUST* check for a zero-length item and abort the
loop if you see one. Otherwise, a zero-length item could cause the
dissector to loop infinitely. You should also check that the offset,
after having the length added to it, is greater than the offset before
the length was added to it, if the length field is greater than 24 bits
long, so that, if the length value is *very* large and adding it to the
offset causes an overflow, that overflow is detected.
If you have a
for (i = {start}; i < {end}; i++)
loop, make sure that the type of the loop index variable is large enough
to hold the maximum {end} value plus 1; otherwise, the loop index
variable can overflow before it ever reaches its maximum value. In
particular, be very careful when using gint8, guint8, gint16, or guint16
variables as loop indices; you almost always want to use an "int"/"gint"
or "unsigned int"/"guint" as the loop index rather than a shorter type.
If you are fetching a length field from the buffer, corresponding to the
length of a portion of the packet, and subtracting from that length a
value corresponding to the length of, for example, a header in the
packet portion in question, *ALWAYS* check that the value of the length
field is greater than or equal to the length you're subtracting from it,
and report an error in the packet and stop dissecting the packet if it's
less than the length you're subtracting from it. Otherwise, the
resulting length value will be negative, which will either cause errors
in the dissector or routines called by the dissector, or, if the value
is interpreted as an unsigned integer, will cause the value to be
interpreted as a very large positive value.
Any tvbuff offset that is added to as processing is done on a packet
should be stored in a 32-bit variable, such as an "int"; if you store it
in an 8-bit or 16-bit variable, you run the risk of the variable
sprintf() -> snprintf()
Prevent yourself from using the sprintf() function, as it does not test the
length of the given output buffer and might be writing into unintended memory
areas. This function is one of the main causes of security problems like buffer
exploits and many other bugs that are very hard to find. It's much better to
use the snprintf() function declared by <stdio.h> instead.
You should test your dissector against incorrectly-formed packets. This
can be done using the randpkt and editcap utilities that come with the
Wireshark distribution. Testing using randpkt can be done by generating
output at the same layer as your protocol, and forcing Wireshark/TShark
to decode it as your protocol, e.g. if your protocol sits on top of UDP:
randpkt -c 50000 -t dns randpkt.pcap
tshark -nVr randpkt.pcap -d udp.port==53,<myproto>
Testing using editcap can be done using preexisting capture files and the
"-E" flag, which introduces errors in a capture file. E.g.:
editcap -E 0.03 infile.pcap outfile.pcap
tshark -nVr outfile.pcap
The script is available to help automate these tests.
4. Name convention.
Wireshark uses the underscore_convention rather than the InterCapConvention for
function names, so new code should probably use underscores rather than
intercaps for functions and variable names. This is especially important if you
are writing code that will be called from outside your code. We are just
trying to keep things consistent for other developers.
C symbols exported from libraries shipped with Wireshark should start with a
prefix that helps avoiding name collision with public symbols from other shared
libraries. The current suggested prefixes for newly added symbols are
ws_, wslua_, wmem_ and wtap_.
5. White space convention.
Most of the C and C++ files in Wireshark use 4-space or 2-space indentation.
When creating new files you are you are strongly encouraged to use 4-space
indentation for source code in order to ensure consistency between files.
Please avoid using tab expansions different from 8 column widths, as not all
text editors in use by the developers support this. For a detailed discussion
of tabs, spaces, and indentation, see
We use EditorConfig ( files to provide formatting
hints. Most editors and IDEs support EditorConfig, either directly or via
a plugin. If yours requires a plugin we encourage you to install it. Our
default EditorConfig indentation style for C and C++ files is 4 spaces.
Many files also have a short comment (modelines) on the indentation logic at
the end of the file. This was required in the past but has been superseded by
EditorConfig. See
for more information.
Please do not leave trailing whitespace (spaces/tabs) on lines.
Quite a bit of our source code has varying indentation styles. When editing an
existing file, try following the existing indentation logic. If you wish to
convert a file to 4 space indentation, please do so in its own commit and be
sure to remove its .editorconfig entry so that the default setting takes
6. Compiler warnings
You should write code that is free of compiler warnings. Such warnings will
often indicate questionable code and sometimes even real bugs, so it's best
to avoid warnings at all.
The compiler flags in the Makefiles are set to "treat warnings as errors",
so your code won't even compile when warnings occur.
7. General observations about architecture
7.1 The global header "wireshark.h"
You should include the global header <wireshark.h> in your code. However
there are some things to keep in mind when using it and especially
if you are considering modifying it.
** wireshark.h needs to be minimal: for efficiency reasons, to reduce the
error surface and because every time this header changes everything must be
rebuilt. Consider carefully if another header/module should be included
globally with every project file and exported as public header.
** No configuration: configuration is specific to the build environment
and target machine. wireshark.h must not depend on that.
** Only wireshark system headers allowed: plugins use this header and
cannot depend on any header (even indirectly) that is not installed on the
target system.
** Only global definitions allowed: for example it is acceptable to include
'wsutil' headers in wireshark.h because every component of Wireshark is allowed
to depend on wsutil. wiretap is not acceptable because we cannot introduce
dependencies on wiretap globally (and wireshark.h must be usable everywhere).
7.2 Best practices using headers
C files can be categorized in three types: source files, private headers and
public headers.
A module "foobar" can have only a private header, only a public header, or
both. If it's only one it is named "foobar.h" in both cases. If it is both they
are named "foobar-int.h" and "foobar.h" respectively.
In general the order of #include's for a C module source files (foobar.c),
assuming foobar implements any kind of interface should be:
#include "config.h"
#define WS_LOG_DOMAIN "mydomain"
#include "foobar-int.h"
followed by <system headers>
followed by <wireshark public headers>
followed by <wireshark private headers>
For header files (private and public) config.h must NOT be included. A public
header file (foobar.h) looks like this:
#ifndef __FOOBAR_H__
#define __FOOBAR_H__
#include <wireshark.h>
followed by <system headers>
followed by <wireshark public headers>
#ifdef __cplusplus
extern "C" {
#ifdef __cplusplus
#endif /* FOOBAR_H */
A private header (foobar-int.h) is the public header plus the declarations
with private scope:
#ifndef __FOOBAR_INT_H__
#define __FOOBAR_INT_H__
#include "foobar.h"
followed by <system headers>
followed by <wireshark public headers>
followed by <wireshark private headers>
Again if there are only public or private declarations the name foobar-int.h
is not used. The macro symbol WS_LOG_DOMAIN can be defined in source files or
private headers as long as it comes before wireshark.h.
7.3 Wireshark internal and external API policy
Wireshark has several APIs. We need to distinguish between internal
Wireshark library APIs and external Wireshark APIs. Wireshark the project is
composed of many different programs and these executable binaries use a number
of internal libraries to share code efficiently. These internal shared
libraries need to be installed on the system to run the programs (wireshark,
tshark, etc).
A library's public API includes the symbols exported by the DSO (wsutil,
libwireshark, etc). The internal API is made available in the shared libraries
and exists to support the goals of the project. It is public from the point
of view of Wireshark programs (client users of the internal API). The
external API exists to support plugins (client users of the external API)
and is a loosely defined subset of the internal API plus any infrastructure
required to support a plugin system. Note that these two uses of shared
libraries coexist with a lot of overlap, but are nevertheless distinct.
The internal (public) API is not considered to be stable and will regularly
change as a normal part of development to support new features, remove cruft,
and whatever else is necessary to make the project sustainable and ease the
burden on developers. There is less freedom to change something that could
break a lot of plugins but this is also acceptable (with cause).
The plugin ABI policy is to be compatible only between micro releases (also
called patch releases). That means we try to make it unnecessary to recompile
plugins with each micro release (on a best-effort basis). For major.minor
releases it is explicitly required to recompile plugins. There is no stable
ABI contract of any kind in that case.
Keep in mind that APIs can exist in different scopes and levels of abstraction.
Don't get stuck thinking the words public/private have a very specific
meaning, like being decorated or not with WS_DLL_PUBLIC, although that is a
big part of it usually.
Also the Wireshark developers have historically tried to keep the Lua API
very stable and provide strong backward-compatibility guarantees. Under this
policy moving from Lua 5.2 is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.
7.4 libwireshark is not a single monolithic entity
One day we might conceivably wish to load dissectors on demand and do other
more sophisticated kinds of unit test. Plus other scenarios not immediately
obvious. For this to be possible it is important that the code in epan/ does
not depend on code in epan/dissectors, i.e it is possible to compile epan
without linking with dissector code. It helps to view dissectors as clients
of an API provided by epan (libwireshark being constituted by two distinct
components "epan" and "dissectors" bundled together, plus other bits and
pieces). The reverse is not* true; epan should not be the client of an API
provided by dissectors.
The main way this separation of concerns is achieved is by using runtime
registration interfaces in epan for dissectors, preferences, etc. that are
dynamic and do not have any dissector routines hard coded. Naturally this
is also an essential component of a plugin system (libwireshark has plugins
for taps, dissectors and an experimental interface to augment dissection with
new extension languages).
7.5 Unicode and string encoding best practices
Wireshark strings are always encoded in UTF-8 internally, regardless of the platform
where it is running. The C datatype used is "pointer to char" and this is assumed
to point to a valid UTF-8 string. Sometimes older code uses char to point to opaque
byte strings but this archaic usage should be avoided. A better data type
for that is uint8_t.
Every untrusted string needs to be validated for correct and error-free UTF-8
encoding, or converted from the source encoding to UTF-8. This should be done
at the periphery of the code. This means converting input during dissection or
when reading input generally. To reiterate: all the Wireshark APIs expect to
receive valid UTF-8 strings. These include proto_tree_add_string(),
proto_item_append_text() and col_append_fstr() just to name a few.
If a dissector uses standard API functions to handle strings, such as
proto_tree_add_item() with an FT_STRING header field type, the API will
transparently handle the conversion from the source encoding to UTF-8 and
nothing else needs to be done to ensure valid string input.
If your dissector does text manipulation, token parsing and such and generally
extracts text strings from the TVBuff or tries to do line oriented input from
TVBuffs it *must* make sure it passes only valid UTF-8 to libwireshark APIs.
This should be done using tvb_get_string_enc() to extract a string from a TVbuff
or get_utf_8_string() to validate a string after it has been constructed.
8. Miscellaneous notes
Each commit in your branch corresponds to a different VCSVERSION string
automatically defined in the header 'vcs_version.h' during the build. If you happen
to find it convenient to disable this feature it can be done using:
touch .git/wireshark-disable-versioning
i.e., the file 'wireshark-disable-versioning' must exist in the git repo dir.
* Editor modelines -
* Local variables:
* c-basic-offset: 4
* tab-width: 8
* indent-tabs-mode: nil
* End:
* vi: set shiftwidth=4 tabstop=8 expandtab:
* :indentSize=4:tabSize=8:noTabs=true: