Unit Testing eBPF Programs


Unit Testing eBPF

Love it or hate it, writing unit tests is all but mandatory for your code.

They provide a safety net when making changes, and give you that nice, warm feeling when you see them all pass after a change.

While working on a Kernel patch I had to investigate writing unit tests for eBPF programs.

Turns out, the Kernel developers have thought about this already and infrastructure exists to accomplish it.

I’m going to provide a hands on example of unit testing a TC eBPF program.

In this test we want to confirm that looking up the route for a packet destined for an external IP address results in selecting the default gateway.

We will have complete control over the network namespace which the test is ran in.

If you have no idea what any of that means, don’t worry, the concepts I will cover carry over to testing other types of eBPF programs.

Testing environment

In this post I’m assuming you know how to compile your eBPF program utilizing clang, bpftool and how to generate a vmlinux.h file.

If you don’t check out my other post here

With that said, we do need to level-set on your coding environment and the tools we need in your coding environment to follow along.

You must have:

You must also have CAP_SYS_ADMIN privileges on your machine, if you don’t know what that means, 99% of the time running as root will fill this requirement.

I will also assume you’re on Linux, which you may think is obvious statement, but it’s a dwindling assumption

Okay, one last assumption, you have libbpf installed correctly and clang/gcc can locate it and compile your eBPF programs.

Introducing the BPF_PROG_RUN command

The core functionality we want to focus on for unit testing eBPF program is a eBPF command called “BPF_PROG_RUN”.

This command was renamed from “BPF_PROG_TEST_RUN” and this identifier maybe used interchangeable.

A “command” is an enum value which can be passed to the bpf sys-call exposed by Linux.

However, libbpf usually wraps the bpf sys-call usage for convenience and sanity checking.

Therefore, we’ll focus on using libbpf’s wrapper around the “BPF_PROG_RUN” command, bpf_test_run_opts

Let’s take a look at it’s forward declaration: https://elixir.bootlin.com/linux/v6.2.11/source/tools/lib/bpf/bpf.h#L454

struct bpf_test_run_opts {
	size_t sz; /* size of this struct for forward/backward compatibility */
	const void *data_in; /* optional */
	void *data_out;      /* optional */
	__u32 data_size_in;
	__u32 data_size_out; /* in: max length of data_out
			      * out: length of data_out
	const void *ctx_in; /* optional */
	void *ctx_out;      /* optional */
	__u32 ctx_size_in;
	__u32 ctx_size_out; /* in: max length of ctx_out
			     * out: length of cxt_out
	__u32 retval;        /* out: return code of the BPF program */
	int repeat;
	__u32 duration;      /* out: average per repetition in ns */
	__u32 flags;
	__u32 cpu;
	__u32 batch_size;
#define bpf_test_run_opts__last_field batch_size

LIBBPF_API int bpf_prog_test_run_opts(int prog_fd,
				      struct bpf_test_run_opts *opts);

If we were to look at the implementation, we’d find that bpf_prog_test_run_opts simply copies the provided opts to its a structure the Kernel will own, does some sanity checking on the opts structure, and then calls the bpf sys-call directly.

The arguments to the libbpf function takes an eBPF program file descriptor and a opts structure.

The eBPF program file descriptor represents an eBPF program which is loaded into the Kernel, we’ll demonstrate a convenient way of obtaining this file descriptor later in this post.

The opts structure provides both mock data and options to the function. While some fields say ‘optional’ we will learn that it really depends on the eBPF program type you are testing, whether these fields are optional or not.

The important fields we’ll utilize in this post are:

sz is always required, and its simply set to sizeof(bpf_test_run_opts).

data_in, data_size_in allows you to provide mock data to the ctx that is passed into your eBPF program, in the case of a “TC” program, a mock IPv4 packet.

ctx_in, ctx_size_in allows you to pass in a mock ctx, in the case of a “TC” program, a mock __sk_buff structure, which is eBPF’s representation of the Kernel’s socket buffer.

Test Case and Skeleton Loader

With the introduction of bpf_test_run_opts out of the way, lets start writing our eBPF test case.

We will also use bpftool to generate a skeleton loader, which is a header file with functions for loading our compiled eBPF program into the Kernel and giving us a handle to the loaded program.

This handle can be used to obtain the file descriptor to the loaded eBPF program, and interact with it during the Kernel’s runtime.

Our test case’s goal is to ensure that a packet sourced from the host, destined for an external node, selects the default route, and is forwarded to the correct interface.

To test this we will be utilizing the eBPF helper bpf_fib_lookup.

We don’t need to understand how this helper works in details, suffice it to say that we provide in the source and destination of a incoming packet, and it returns to us an interface, if any, that the packet would be forwarded to.

In our test case, we want to see the aforementioned interface be the default gateway for the network namespace.

Our test packet will be sourced from and its destination will be

Since we are running a unit test, no data will actually be sent, and no side effects outside of the host will occur.

Keep in mind, this test a bit contrived to show off a few features of the testing infrastructure, and we lean more towards “demonstration” then “practicality”.

Okay, so lets examine our test eBPF program:


#include "../vmlinux.h"
#include <bpf/bpf_helpers.h>

#define TC_ACT_OK		0
#define TC_ACT_SHOT		2
#define TC_ACT_REDIRECT		7

#define AF_INET		        2	/* Internet IP Protocol 	*/

struct bpf_fib_lookup fib_params = {0};

int fib_lookup_ret = 0;

int fib_lookup(struct __sk_buff *skb)
        struct iphdr *ip = 0;

        bpf_printk("performing FIB lookup\n");

        bpf_printk("fib lookup original ret: %d\n", fib_lookup_ret);

	    fib_lookup_ret = bpf_fib_lookup(skb, &fib_params, sizeof(fib_params),

        bpf_printk("fib lookup ret: %d\n", fib_lookup_ret);

	return TC_ACT_OK;

char _license[] SEC("license") = "GPL";

As you can see the test is very simple.

We import the necessary headers and then we define two global variables, setting them both to zero.

By defining these variables as global and setting them to zero, they actually become available to userspace via our skeleton.

Let’s use the following Makefile to compile and generate a skeleton for this eBPF program.


CFLAGS += -g3 \

LIBS = bpf

all: fib_lookup.bpf.o fib_lookup.skel.h

fib_lookup.bpf.o: fib_lookup.bpf.c
	clang -target bpf -Wall -O2 -g -c $<

fib_lookup.skel.h: fib_lookup.bpf.o
	bpftool gen skeleton $< > $@

test: test.c
	gcc $(CFLAGS) -l$(LIBS) -o $@ $<

	rm -rf fib_lookup.bpf.o
	rm -rf fib_lookup.skel.h
	rm -rf test

Ignore the test binary for now, we’ll write our test runner in the next section.

If we inspect the file “fib_lookup.skel.h” we come across the interesting structure.


struct fib_lookup_bpf {
	struct bpf_object_skeleton *skeleton;
	struct bpf_object *obj;
	struct {
		struct bpf_map *bss;
		struct bpf_map *rodata;
	} maps;
	struct {
		struct bpf_program *fib_lookup;
	} progs;
	struct {
		struct bpf_link *fib_lookup;
	} links;
	struct fib_lookup_bpf__bss {
		struct bpf_fib_lookup fib_params;
		int fib_lookup_ret;
	} *bss;
	struct fib_lookup_bpf__rodata {
	} *rodata;

#ifdef __cplusplus
	static inline struct fib_lookup_bpf *open(const struct bpf_object_open_opts *opts = nullptr);
	static inline struct fib_lookup_bpf *open_and_load();
	static inline int load(struct fib_lookup_bpf *skel);
	static inline int attach(struct fib_lookup_bpf *skel);
	static inline void detach(struct fib_lookup_bpf *skel);
	static inline void destroy(struct fib_lookup_bpf *skel);
	static inline const void *elf_bytes(size_t *sz);
#endif /* __cplusplus */

This is the handle to our loaded eBPF program which the skeleton loader returns to us when we call:

static inline struct fib_lookup_bpf *

In the same file.

The interesting bit here is:

struct fib_lookup_bpf__bss {
    struct bpf_fib_lookup fib_params;
    int fib_lookup_ret;
} *bss;

Notice, we get access to our global zero initialized variables in the bss field.

This allows a userspace program to load the eBPF program, retrieve the handle to it, and then both “inject” and “read” values from globals before and after bpf_test_run_opts is called.

This is exactly what our test runner is going to do.

Writing the test runner

As eluded to above, we want our test runner to do the following:

We have control of the network namespace the test runs in, so we can hard-code the interface ID (ifindex) which represents the default gateway, making our test runner a bit simpler.

Let’s take a look at the test runner:


#include <bpf/bpf.h>
#include <bpf/libbpf.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <bpf/bpf_endian.h>
#include "fib_lookup.skel.h"
#include "net/ethernet.h"
#include "linux/ip.h"
#include "netinet/tcp.h"


// in our test, we only care that the packet is the correct size,
// since our test does not touch any packet data.
char v4_pkt[(sizeof(struct ethhdr) + sizeof(struct iphdr) + sizeof(struct tcphdr))];

// create an empty skb as mock data, our tests do not touch any skb fields.
struct __sk_buff skb = {0};

int main (int argc, char *argv[]) {
        struct fib_lookup_bpf *skel;
        int prog_fd, err = 0;

        // define our BPF_PROG_RUN options with our mock data.
        struct bpf_test_run_opts opts = {
                // required, or else bpf_prog_test_run_opts will fail
                .sz = sizeof(struct bpf_test_run_opts),
                // data_in will wind up being ctx.data
                .data_in = &v4_pkt,
                .data_size_in = sizeof(v4_pkt),
                // ctx is an skb in this case
                .ctx_in = &skb,
                .ctx_size_in = sizeof(skb)

        // load our fib lookup test program into the Kernel and return our
        // skeleton handle to it.
        skel = fib_lookup_bpf__open_and_load();
        if (!skel) {
                printf("[error]: failed to open and load skeleton: %d\n", err);
                return -1;

        // inject our test parameters into the fib lookup parameter, this primes
        // our test.
        skel->bss->fib_lookup_ret = -1;
        skel->bss->fib_params.family = AF_INET;
        skel->bss->fib_params.ipv4_src = 0x100007f;
        skel->bss->fib_params.ipv4_dst = 0x8080808;
        skel->bss->fib_params.ifindex = 1;

        // get the prog_fd from the skeleton, and run our test.
        prog_fd = bpf_program__fd(skel->progs.fib_lookup);
        err = bpf_prog_test_run_opts(prog_fd, &opts);
        if (err != 0) {
                printf("[error]: bpf test run failed: %d\n", err);
                return -2;

        // check global variables for response
        if (skel->bss->fib_lookup_ret != 0) {
                printf("[FAIL]: fib lookup returned: %d", skel->bss->fib_lookup_ret);
                return -1;

        if (skel->bss->fib_params.ifindex != TARGET_IFINDEX) {
                printf("[FAIL]: fib lookup did not choose default gw interface: %d", skel->bss->fib_params.ifindex);
                return -1;

        printf("[PASS]: ifindex %d\n", skel->bss->fib_params.ifindex);
        return 0;

Let’s update our Makefile to build our test runner as well.

CFLAGS += -g3 \

LIBS = bpf

all: fib_lookup.bpf.o fib_lookup.skel.h test

fib_lookup.bpf.o: fib_lookup.bpf.c
	clang -target bpf -Wall -O2 -g -c $<

fib_lookup.skel.h: fib_lookup.bpf.o
	bpftool gen skeleton $< > $@

test: test.c
	gcc $(CFLAGS) -l$(LIBS) -o $@ $<

	rm -rf fib_lookup.bpf.o
	rm -rf fib_lookup.skel.h
	rm -rf test

And finally lets provide a script which sets up a network namespace for this test runner to work inside, and runs the test.

n='sudo ip netns'
nexec="sudo ip netns exec $NETNS_NAME"

function setup_netns() {
    # add 'netns-1' network namespace where we'll
    # run our test.
    $n add $NETNS_NAME

    # setup loopback
    $nexec ip addr add dev lo

    # setup a dummy interface which can route to the default gw, and 
    # setup a route to the default gw.
    $nexec ip link add name eth0 type dummy
    $nexec ip link set up eth0
    $nexec ip addr add dev eth0
    $nexec ip route add default via

    # since doesn't actually exist, create a perm arp-table entry 
    # for it, allowing fib lookup to succeed.
    $nexec ip neigh add dev eth0 lladdr "0F:0F:0F:0F:0F:0F" nud permanent

function teardown_netns() {
    $n del $NETNS_NAME

$nexec ./test

Now when we run this script we get the following output:

[PASS]: ifindex 2

Summing it up

Lets summarize the major points in this post.

A eBPF program can define global variables which can be modified, both before and after, a userspace test run of the program.

The BPF_PROG_RUN command can be used run your eBPF program in user space, which is wrapped by the bpf_prog_test_run_opts() function in libbpf.

Once the eBPF program is compiled into an object file, you can generate a skeleton loader with bpftool, this skeleton loader will load your eBPF program into the Kernel, and also provide your userspace program access to the global variables mentioned above.

Finally, you can write a userspace test runner which sets the global variables of the loaded eBPF program before the test, and reads them after, allowing you to determine if the eBPF program performed the actions you intended.