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On the other side of this are the stand-alone applications extensible through a pluggable architecture, such as Internet browsers supporting various add-ons In this situation, developers must understand the plug-in s availability and perhaps choose to ship their application in both architectures, until the transition to Windows x64 is complete This approach was taken by the Internet Explorer developers by providing a 32-bit and a 64-bit application As an alternative, the application can remain in a 32bit architecture until the whole market makes the transition to 64-bit computing This solution has been chosen for the Windows Media Player shipped with Windows XP Professional x64 Native x64 processes run side-by-side with other applications running inside WOW64 processes, and all processes share the same global resources When the application is a service, it can exist in a single form either as 64-bit or as 32-bit application For example, a server cannot run a 64-bit and a 32-bit Web service instance sharing the same port and returning the same Web pages When this service has a pluggable architecture, the service developers will define what plug-ins can be loaded in their systems, as well as create the mechanism to support the selected mode It is possible to have a service that can be extended with plug-ins targeted to both 32bit and 64-bit architecture by loading them in architecture-specific host processes Although all this might sound complicated, in reality it isn t that bad Most problems are encountered when backward compatibility is a must and the applications have multiple dependent components In the next section, we briefly analyze how the WOW64 system works to understand what the implications for debugging legacy applications are
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Each 32-bit application starts in Windows x64 as a normal 64-bit process Because all the pointers used in the application, as well as the structures declared by the operating system and used in the application, are restricted to 32-bit, the application cannot run directly The operating system first loads a few support dynamic link libraries that implement the WOW64 system, as follows:
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ntdlldll: 64-bit version library that interfaces any user mode process to kernel entry-point functions The library is the same as the one used natively by any application in Windows x64 WOW64dll: 64-bit library that performs the necessary conversion or thunking of the input parameters, the return values between the 32-bit modules, and the kernel APIs exposed by the 64-bit version ntdlldll
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WOW64Windll: 64-bit library that performs the thunking of the 32-bit modules calling into win2ksys functions as part of the Windows messaging APIs WOW64Cpudll: 64-bit library capable of emulating x86 instruction set In Windows x64, this library does nothing because the processor is capable of natively executing the x86 instruction stream
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At this point, the process is considered to be created from the operating system point of view; the process initial breakpoint event is sent to the debugger, even if the application is not yet prepared for execution As a next step, the WOW64 subsystem loads ntdll32dll, as well as the rest of the 32-bit dynamic link libraries the application depends on ntdll32dll is a 32-bit library providing functionality similar to the ntdlldll Unlike ntdlldll, which switches the processor execution from user mode to kernel mode, ntdll32dll only makes the transition between 32-bit code and the WOW64 system, while remaining in user mode Inside a WOW64 process, each thread can execute code in 64-bit mode, called long execution mode, or it can execute code in 32-bit mode, called compatibility mode The execution mode is determined by the L (long) flag stored in the segment descriptor associated with the current code selector, referred by the cs register To switch the execution mode, the thread must make a far call through a call gate targeted to a code segment having an opposite execution mode Applications targeted to 64-bit are referred to as native applications, whereas the applications targeted to 32bit are referred to as WOW64 applications In Listing 121, we have a stack for a thread owned by a 32-bit process that executes code in compatibility mode inside the CPU emulator library, WOW64cpudll The stack is taken from a native debugger running, in WOW64 emulation mode, the 32-bit application version of 02sampleexe used in 2, Introduction to the Debuggers Listing 121
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