This is not the current version of the class.

Problem set 2: Binary bomb


A coronavirus has planted roughly 250 “binary bombs” on our class server, and if we don’t defuse them, inflation will sextuple.

A binary bomb is a program that consists of a sequence of phases. Each phase reads a line from the standard input. If the line is correct, then the phase is defused and the bomb proceeds to the next phase. Otherwise, the bomb explodes by printing "BOOM!!!", deducting points from your problem set grade, and then terminating. The bomb is defused when every phase has been defused.

There are too many bombs for us to deal with, so we are giving each student a different bomb to defuse. Your mission, which you have no choice but to accept, is to defuse your bomb before the due date. Good luck!


Obtain your bomb by pointing your Web browser here:

Enter a username and your grading server email address and hit Submit. The server will return your bomb in a tar file called bombk.tar, where k is the unique number of your bomb.

Save the bombk.tar file to a 64-bit Linux host, such as Docker. Move the file to the directory you want to do your work. Then run tar -xvf bombk.tar. This will create a directory called ./bombk with the following files:

If you lose the bomb, no problem; just go back to and request it again.

If you are using a Mac with Apple silicon (an M1 processor), see below. Check your chip by running arch in a terminal window: if it says arm64, you are on Apple silicon.


Before running your bomb, read the entire assignment!

Your job is to defuse your bomb. This involves supplying it with just the right input. But though there is a file, it doesn’t actually contain the code for the various phases. You’re going to defuse the bomb by interpreting assembly language, lucky you.

The bombs are tamper-proofed in a couple ways. For one, they can only be defused when the computer is connected to the Internet. Running the bomb on a machine without Internet connectivity won’t do anything.

You can use many tools to help you defuse your bomb. Probably the best way is to use your favorite debugger to step through the disassembled binary.

Each time your bomb explodes you lose points (up to a max of 20 points) in the final score for the problem set. So there are consequences to exploding the bomb. Be careful!

The first four phases are worth 10 points each. Phases 5 through 7 are a little more difficult, so they are worth 15 points each. The maximum score you can get is 85 points.

The phases mostly get harder to defuse. The expertise you gain as you move from phase to phase should offset this difficulty, but please don’t wait until the last minute to start.

The bomb ignores blank input lines. If you run your bomb with a command line argument, for example,

./bomb sol.txt

then it will read the input lines from sol.txt until it reaches the end, and then switch over to stdin. Make sure to include a newline at the end of the file!

To avoid accidentally detonating the bomb, you will need to learn how to single-step through the assembly code and how to set breakpoints. You will also need to learn how to inspect both registers and memory state. (One of the intended effects of the lab is that you will get very good at using a debugger.)

Hint: The initialize_bomb function will never explode the bomb.


The bomb notifies us automatically of your progress as you work on it. You can keep track of how you are doing, and compare (anonymously) with everyone else, by looking at the class scoreboard at:

This web page is kept updated to show the progress for each bomb. It may take up to a minute for new explosions and defusings to show up on the scoreboard. Also, the scoreboard displays time in UTC, so do not be alarmed if it appears that your bomb is reporting status for the future!


There are many ways of defusing your bomb. Hypothetically, you could even figure out the bomb without ever running the program, just from the machine code. But it’s much easier to use tools. run the bomb under a debugger, watch what it does step by step, and reverse-engineer the input it wants. Examine the binary using objdump or strings. Here are some hints we have found useful in analyzing bombs.

Understanding assembly instructions

There are lots of ways to puzzle out instruction meanings: lecture, the book, even the examples distributed as part of our lectures. (For example, if you’re curious about the leaq instruction, go to the cs61-lectures repositories, and try “grep leaq */*.s”. Also try searching for the instruction name on Google: “movq instruction”. But be careful. There are two syntaxes used for x86-64 assembly language. We use “AT&T syntax” in class and in the book, but many online references use “Intel syntax,” which switches the order of arguments and is different in other annoying ways. For instance, Intel calls the %rax register rax (no percent). Read about the differences in syntaxes in the Aside on p177 of CS:APP3e, or here or here.


Our Docker setup comes with support for gdb, lldb, and objdump, and you can run your bomb there. Please check that you have the latest version of our Docker environment by typing cs61-docker-version at Docker shell prompt. It should say 16 or 16.arm64. If it does not, pull from a cs61-lectures or cs61-psets directory and build your Docker environment again (cd cs61-XXX/docker; ./cs61-build-docker).


If you are using a Mac with Apple silicon, or another ARM-based machine, see Apple silicon below.

The GNU debugger is a command line debugger tool available on virtually every platform. You can trace through a program line by line, examine memory and registers, look at both the source code and assembly code (we are not giving you the source code for most of your bomb), set breakpoints, set memory watch points, and write scripts. The CS:APP3e web site has a handy two-page gdb summary (TXT) that you can print out and use as a reference. Here are some other tips for using gdb:

objdump -d (or objdump -S)

Use this to disassemble all of the code in the bomb. You can also just look at individual functions.

objdump -t

This will print out the bomb’s symbol table. The symbol table includes the names of all functions and global variables in the bomb, the names of all the functions the bomb calls, and their addresses. You may learn something by looking at the function names!


This utility will display the printable strings in your bomb.

man ascii

A handy table of character encodings.

For more, don’t forget your friends the commands man and info, and the amazing Google and Wikipedia. In particular, info gas has more than you might ever want to know about assembler.

Apple silicon (ARM64 processors)

Newer Macs (and some other computers) ship with processors not compatible with Intel. You must use a special version of gdb to run the bomb on these machines. Our Docker setup comes with this version of gdb, but using it requires you to follow the steps below.

If you don’t like Docker, you can download a virtual machine emulator, such as UTM (free) or Parallels ($). VMware Fusion, our preferred emulator, has a preview edition available for Apple-silicon Macs; you can get it on a temporary education license.

Here’s how Docker works with a bomb on Apple Silicon. (Steps 5–9 are required every time you start a bomb defusing session.)

  1. Update your cs61-f22-psets-YOURNAME repository (cs61-psets for short) with git pull handout main. This should update several files, including a file pset2/bomb.gdb.

  2. Copy your bomb contents into cs61-psets/pset2. That directory should look like this:

    kohler@Eddies-MacBook-Pro:pset2$ ls
    bomb   bomb.gdb
  3. Create a file cs61-psets/pset2/sol.txt to contain your bomb solution. (You will not be able to type input directly into the bomb. All input will go in sol.txt.)

  4. Change to the cs61-psets/pset2 subdirectory and run ../cs61-run-docker. The cs61-docker-version command should report something ending in .arm64, such as:

    cs61-user@7e3ad29d8888:~/cs61-psets/pset2$ cs61-docker-version 
  5. Run gdb -ix bomb.gdb.

  6. At the prompt, type run-bomb or rb. This will start up the bomb, but pause it at an implicit breakpoint well before running any code. You should see something like this:

    cs61-user@65c7eeb7f370:~/cs61-psets/pset2$ gdb -ix bomb.gdb
    GNU gdb (Ubuntu 9.2-0ubuntu1~20.04) 9.2
    Copyright (C) 2020 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
    License GPLv3+: GNU GPL version 3 or later <>
    This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
    There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.
    Type "show copying" and "show warranty" for details.
    This GDB was configured as "aarch64-linux-gnu".
    Type "show configuration" for configuration details.
    For bug reporting instructions, please see:
    Find the GDB manual and other documentation resources online at:
    For help, type "help".
    Type "apropos word" to search for commands related to "word".
    The target architecture is assumed to be i386:x86-64
    (gdb) rb
    0x0000004000802100 in ?? ()

    The bomb has stopped well before its first instruction. It will do this every time you restart it with rb. (Note that the normal r (run) command is not available in this mode.)

  7. Type c to continue into the bomb’s actual contents (after setting some useful breakpoints first).

    (Note: If the bomb reaches the end of sol.txt before you pass all its phases, it will print Error: Premature EOF and exit. This is not an explosion and won’t take off points from your grade.)

  8. To try different solutions, edit sol.txt, save it, and type rb at the (gdb) prompt.

As you work, you may get tired of entering c after rb every time. Add the following line to your .gdbinit to automatically continue after rb:

set $run_bomb_continue = 1

Please report any problems with this Docker setup to us via Edboard.

This lab has been modified extensively from CMU’s CS:APP course version.