Links

macOS GCD - Grand Central Dispatch

Learn AWS hacking from zero to hero with htARTE (HackTricks AWS Red Team Expert)!
Other ways to support HackTricks:

Basic Information

Grand Central Dispatch (GCD), also known as libdispatch, is available in both macOS and iOS. It's a technology developed by Apple to optimize application support for concurrent (multithreaded) execution on multicore hardware.
GCD provides and manages FIFO queues to which your application can submit tasks in the form of block objects. Blocks submitted to dispatch queues are executed on a pool of threads fully managed by the system. GCD automatically creates threads for executing the tasks in the dispatch queues and schedules those tasks to run on the available cores.
In summary, to execute code in parallel, processes can send blocks of code to GCD, which will take care of their execution. Therefore, processes don't create new threads; GCD executes the given code with its own pool of threads.
This is very helpful to manage parallel execution successfully, greatly reducing the number of threads processes create and optimising the parallel execution. This is idea for tasks that require great parallelism (brute-forcing?) or for tasks that shouldn't block the main thread: For example, the main thread on iOS handles UI interactions, so any other functionality that could make the app hang (searching, accessing a web, reading a file...) is managed this way.

Objective-C

In Objetive-C there are different functions to send a block to be executed in parallel:
  • dispatch_async: Submits a block for asynchronous execution on a dispatch queue and returns immediately.
  • dispatch_sync: Submits a block object for execution and returns after that block finishes executing.
  • dispatch_once: Executes a block object only once for the lifetime of an application.
  • dispatch_async_and_wait: Submits a work item for execution and returns only after it finishes executing. Unlike dispatch_sync, this function respects all attributes of the queue when it executes the block.
These functions expect these parameters: dispatch_queue_t queue, dispatch_block_t block
This is the struct of a Block:
struct Block {
void *isa; // NSConcreteStackBlock,...
int flags;
int reserved;
void *invoke;
struct BlockDescriptor *descriptor;
// captured variables go here
};
And this is an example to use parallelism with dispatch_async:
#import <Foundation/Foundation.h>
// Define a block
void (^backgroundTask)(void) = ^{
// Code to be executed in the background
for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
NSLog(@"Background task %d", i);
sleep(1); // Simulate a long-running task
}
};
int main(int argc, const char * argv[]) {
@autoreleasepool {
// Create a dispatch queue
dispatch_queue_t backgroundQueue = dispatch_queue_create("com.example.backgroundQueue", NULL);
// Submit the block to the queue for asynchronous execution
dispatch_async(backgroundQueue, backgroundTask);
// Continue with other work on the main queue or thread
for (int i = 0; i < 10; i++) {
NSLog(@"Main task %d", i);
sleep(1); // Simulate a long-running task
}
}
return 0;
}

Swift

libswiftDispatch is a library that provides Swift bindings to the Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) framework which is originally written in C. The libswiftDispatch library wraps the C GCD APIs in a more Swift-friendly interface, making it easier and more intuitive for Swift developers to work with GCD.
  • DispatchQueue.global().sync{ ... }
  • DispatchQueue.global().async{ ... }
  • let onceToken = DispatchOnce(); onceToken.perform { ... }
  • async await
    • var (data, response) = await URLSession.shared.data(from: URL(string: "https://api.example.com/getData"))
Code example:
import Foundation
// Define a closure (the Swift equivalent of a block)
let backgroundTask: () -> Void = {
for i in 0..<10 {
print("Background task \(i)")
sleep(1) // Simulate a long-running task
}
}
// Entry point
autoreleasepool {
// Create a dispatch queue
let backgroundQueue = DispatchQueue(label: "com.example.backgroundQueue")
// Submit the closure to the queue for asynchronous execution
backgroundQueue.async(execute: backgroundTask)
// Continue with other work on the main queue
for i in 0..<10 {
print("Main task \(i)")
sleep(1) // Simulate a long-running task
}
}

Frida

The following Frida script can be used to hook into several dispatch functions and extract the queue name, the backtrace and the block: https://github.com/seemoo-lab/frida-scripts/blob/main/scripts/libdispatch.js
frida -U <prog_name> -l libdispatch.js
dispatch_sync
Calling queue: com.apple.UIKit._UIReusePool.reuseSetAccess
Callback function: 0x19e3a6488 UIKitCore!__26-[_UIReusePool addObject:]_block_invoke
Backtrace:
0x19e3a6460 UIKitCore!-[_UIReusePool addObject:]
0x19e3a5db8 UIKitCore!-[UIGraphicsRenderer _enqueueContextForReuse:]
0x19e3a57fc UIKitCore!+[UIGraphicsRenderer _destroyCGContext:withRenderer:]
[...]

Ghidra

Currently Ghidra doesn't understand neither the ObjectiveC dispatch_block_t structure, neither the swift_dispatch_block one.
So if you want it to understand them, you could just declare them:
Then, find a place in the code where they are used:
Note all of references made to "block" to understand how you could figure out that the struct is being used.
Right click on the variable -> Retype Variable and select in this case swift_dispatch_block:
Ghidra will automatically rewrite everything:
Learn AWS hacking from zero to hero with htARTE (HackTricks AWS Red Team Expert)!
Other ways to support HackTricks: