11-09-11 - Weird shite about Exceptions in Windows

What happens when an exception is thrown in Windows ? (please fill in any gaps, I haven't researched this in great detail).

1. The VectoredExceptionHandlers are called. One of these you may not be aware of is the "first chance" exception handler that the MSVC debugger installs. If you have the flags set in a certain way, this will cause you to breakpoint at the spot of the throw without passing the exception on to the SEH chain.

2. The list of __except() handlers is walked and those filters are invoked; if the filter takes the exception then they handle it.

* of note here is the change from x86 to x64. Under x86 SEH handlers were made on the stack and then tacked onto the list as you descended (basically the __try corresponds to tacking on the handler); under x64 that is all removed and the SEH filter walk relies on being able to trace back up the function call stack. Normally there's no difference, however under x64 if your function call stack can't be walked for some reason, then your SEH filters won't get called! This can happen for a few reasons; it can happen due to the 32-64 thunk layer, it can happen if you manually create some ASM or "naked" functions and don't maintain the stack trace info correctly, and it can happen of course if you stomp the return addresses in the stack. See for example : The case of the disappearing OnLoad exception � user-mode callback exceptions in x64 at Thursday Night . (stomping the stack can of course ruin SEH on x86 as well since the exception registration structures are on the stack).

More info on the x64 SEH trace : at osronline and at nynaeve .

3. If no filter wanted the exception, it goes up to the UnhandledExceptionFilter. In MSVC's CRT this is normally set to __CxxUnhandledExceptionFilter, that function itself will check if a debugger is present and do different things (eg. breakpoint).

4. If UnhandledExceptionFilter still didn't handle the exception and passes it on, the OS gets it and you get the application critical error popup box. Depending on your registry settings this may invoke automatic debugging. However as noted here : SetUnhandledExceptionFilter and VC8 - Jochen Kalmbach's WebLog there is a funny bypass where the OS will pass the exception directly to the OS handler and not call your filter.

Automatic debugging is controlled by

[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\AeDebug].  
when it was first introduced it defaulted to Dr Watson. At some point (Vista?) that was changed to point it to the Windows Troubleshooting engine instead. I believe that when you install DevStudio this registry key is changed to point to vsjitdebugger. The key "Auto" is set to 0 by default which means ask before popping into the debugger.

To clarify a bit about what happens with unhandled exceptions : your unhandled exception callback is not called first, and is not necessarily called at all. After all the SEH filters get their chance, the OS calls its own internal "UnhandledExceptionFilter" - not your callback. This OS function checks if you are in a debugger and might just pass off the exception to the debugger (this is *not* the "first chance" check which is done based on your MSVC check boxes). This function also might just decide that the exception is a security risk and pass it straight to the AeDebug. If none of those things happen, then your filter may get called. (this is where the CRT CxxUnhandledExceptionFilter would get called if you didn't install anything).

Another note : the standard application error popup box just comes from UnhandledExceptionFilter. One of the ways you can get a silent application exit with no popup is if the OS detects that your SEH chain is corrupted, it will just TerminateProcess on your ass and drop you out. Similarly if you do something bad from inside one of your exception handlers. (another way you can get a silent TerminateProcess is if you touch things during thread or process destruction; eg. from a DLL_THREAD_DETACH or something like that, if you try to enter crit secs that are being destroyed you can get a sudden silent process exit).

Some links :

DebugInfo.com - Unexpected user breakpoint in NTDLL.DLL
Under the Hood New Vectored Exception Handling in Windows XP
SetUnhandledExceptionFilter Anti Debug Trick � Evilcodecave�s Weblog
SetUnhandledExceptionFilter and VC8 - Jochen Kalmbach's WebLog
SetErrorMode function
C++ tips AddVectoredExceptionHandler, AddVectoredContinueHandler and SetUnhandledExceptionFilter - Zhanli's tech notes - Sit
A Crash Course on theDepths of Win32 Structured Exception Handling, MSJ January 1997

A bit of interesting stuff about how the /RTC run time checks are implemented :

Visual C++ Debug Builds��Fast Checks� Cause 5x Slowdowns Random ASCII

A bit about stack sizes on windows, in particular there are *two* thread stack sizes (the reserved and initial commit) and people don't usually think about that carefully when they pass a StackSize to CreateThread :

Thread Stack Size

Not directly related but interesting :

Pushing the Limits of Windows Processes and Threads - Mark's Blog - Site Home - TechNet Blogs
Postmortem Debugging Dr Dobb's
John Robbins' Blog How to Capture a Minidump Let Me Count the Ways
Collecting User-Mode Dumps
Automatically Capturing a Dump When a Process Crashes - .NET Blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs

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