Symbion: Interleaving symbolic and concrete execution#

Let’s suppose you want to symbolically analyze a specific function of a program, but there is a huge initialization step that you want to skip because it is not necessary for your analysis, or cannot properly be emulated by angr. For example, maybe your program is running on an embedded system and you have access to a debug interface, but you can’t easily replicate the hardware in a simulated environment.

This is the perfect scenario for Symbion, our interleaved execution technique!

We implemented a built-in system that let users define a ConcreteTarget that is used to “import” a concrete state of the target program from an external source into angr. Once the state is imported you can make parts of the state symbolic, use symbolic execution on this state, run your analyses, and finally concretize the symbolic parts and resume concrete execution in the external environment. By iterating this process it is possible to implement run-time and interactive advanced symbolic analyses that are backed up by the real program’s execution!

Isn’t that cool?

How to install#

To use this technique you’ll need an implementation of a ConcreteTarget (effectively, an object that is going to be the “glue” between angr and the external process.) We ship a default one (the AvatarGDBConcreteTarget, which control an instance of a program being debugged under GDB) in the following repo

Assuming you installed angr-dev, activate the virtualenv and run:

git clone
cd angr-targets
pip install .

Now you’re ready to go!


Once you have created an entry state, instantiated a SimulationManager, and specified a list of stop_points using the Symbion interface we are going to resume the concrete process execution.

# Instantiating the ConcreteTarget
avatar_gdb = AvatarGDBConcreteTarget(avatar2.archs.x86.X86_64,
                                     GDB_SERVER_IP, GDB_SERVER_PORT)

# Creating the Project
p = angr.Project(binary_x64, concrete_target=avatar_gdb,

# Getting an entry_state
entry_state = p.factory.entry_state()

# Forget about these options as for now, will explain later.

# Use Symbion!

When one of your stop_points (effectively a breakpoint) is hit, we give control to angr. A new plugin called concrete is in charge of synchronizing the concrete state of the program inside a new SimState.

Roughly, synchronization does the following:

  • All the registers’ values (NOT marked with concrete=False in the respective arch file in archinfo) are copied inside the new SimState.

  • The underlying memory backend is hooked in a way that all the further memory accesses triggered during symbolic execution are redirected to the concrete process.

  • If the project is initialized with SimProcedure (use_sim_procedures=True) we are going to re-hook the external functions’ addresses with a SimProcedure if we happen to have it, otherwise with a SimProcedure stub (you can control this decision by using the Options SYMBION_KEEP_STUBS_ON_SYNC). Conversely, the real code of the function is executed inside angr (Warning: do that at your own risk!)

Once this process is completed, you can play with your new SimState backed by the concrete process stopped at that particular stop_point.


The way we synchronize the concrete process inside angr is customizable by 2 state options:

  • SYMBION_SYNC_CLE: this option controls the synchronization of the memory mapping of the program inside angr. When the project is created, the memory mapping inside angr is different from the one inside the concrete process (this will change as soon as Symbion will be fully compatible with archr). If you want the process mapping to be fully synchronized with the one of the concrete process, set this option to the SimState before initializing the SimulationManager (Note that this is going to happen at the first synchronization of the concrete process inside angr, NOT before)

    simgr = project.factory.simgr(state)
  • SYMBION_KEEP_STUBS_ON_SYNC: this option controls how we re-hook external functions with SimProcedures. If the project has been initialized to use SimProcedures (use_sim_procedures=True), we are going to re-hook external functions with SimProcedures (if we have that particular implementation) or with a generic stub. If you want to execute SimProcedures for functions for which we have an available implementation and a generic stub SimProcedure for the ones we have not, set this option to the SimState before initializing the SimulationManager. In the other case, we are going to execute the real code for the external functions that miss a SimProcedure (no generic stub is going to be used).

    simgr = project.factory.simgr(state)


You can find more information about this technique and a complete example in our blog post: For more technical details a public paper will be available soon, or, ping @degrigis on our angr Slack channel.