pwnlib.qemu — QEMU Utilities

Run foreign-architecture binaries


So you want to exploit ARM binaries on your Intel PC?

Pwntools has a good level of integration with QEMU user-mode emulation, in order to run, debug, and pwn foreign architecture binaries.

In general, everything magic happens “behind the scenes”, and pwntools attempts to make your life easier.

When using process.process, pwntools will attempt to blindly execute the binary, in case your system is configured to use binfmt-misc.

If this fails, pwntools will attempt to manually launch the binary under qemu user-mode emulation. Preference is given to statically-linked variants, i.e. qemu-arm-static will be selected before qemu-arm.


When debugging binaries with gdb.debug(), pwntools automatically adds the appropriate command-line flags to QEMU to start its GDB stub, and automatically informs GDB of the correct architecture and sysroot.


You can override the default sysroot by setting the QEMU_LD_PREFIX environment variable. This affects where qemu will look for files when open() is called, e.g. when the linker is attempting to resolve

Required Setup

For Ubuntu 16.04 and newer, the setup is relatively straightforward for most architectures.

First, install the QEMU emulator itself. If your binary is statically-linked, thsi is sufficient.

$ sudo apt-get install qemu-user

If your binary is dynamically linked, you need to install libraries like libc. Generally, this package is named libc6-$ARCH-cross, e.g. libc-mips-cross. ARM comes in both soft-float and hard-float variants, e.g. armhf.

$ sudo apt-get install libc6-arm64-cross

If your binary relies on additional libraries, you can generally find them easily with apt-cache search. For example, if it’s a C++ binary it may require libstdc++.

$ apt-cache search ‘libstdc++’ | grep arm64

Any other libraries that you require you’ll have to find some other way.

Telling QEMU Where Libraries Are

The libraries are now installed on your system at e.g. /usr/aarch64-linux-gnu.

QEMU does not know where they are, and expects them to be at e.g. /etc/qemu-binfmt/aarch64. If you try to run your library now, you’ll probably see an error about missing.

Create the /etc/qemu-binfmt directory if it does not exist, and create a symlink to the appropriate path.

$ sudo mkdir /etc/qemu-binfmt $ sudo ln -s /usr/aarch64-linux-gnu /etc/qemu-binfmt/aarch64

Now QEMU should be able to run the libraries.

pwnlib.qemu.archname(*a, **kw)[source]

Returns the name which QEMU uses for the currently selected architecture.

>>> pwnlib.qemu.archname()
>>> pwnlib.qemu.archname(arch='powerpc')
pwnlib.qemu.ld_prefix(*a, **kw)[source]

Returns the linker prefix for the selected qemu-user binary

>>> pwnlib.qemu.ld_prefix(arch='arm')
pwnlib.qemu.user_path(*a, **kw)[source]

Returns the path to the QEMU-user binary for the currently selected architecture.

>>> pwnlib.qemu.user_path()
>>> pwnlib.qemu.user_path(arch='thumb')