Program Structure in .NET

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When I was a kid, my first programming attempts were usually long chunks of BASIC code that just ran sequentially and contained the occasional goto commands that would go back and forth between different sections of the program. That was before I had discovered the miracle of program structure. Program structure is the thing that makes software, an inherently large and complex thing, manageable by humans. We break the monster into small chunks where each chunk represents a unit in the program in order to conveniently create a mental image of the program in our minds. The same process takes place during reverse engineering. Reversers must try and reconstruct this map of the various components that together make up a program. Unfortunately, that is not always easy. The problem is that machines don t really need program structure as much as we do. We humans can t deal with the concept of working on and understanding one big complicated thing objects or concepts need to be broken up into manageable chunks. These chunks are good for dividing the work among various people and also for creating a mental division of the work within one s mind. This is really a generic concept about human thinking when faced with large tasks we re naturally inclined to try to break them down into a bunch of smaller tasks that together make up the whole. Machines on the other hand often have a conflicting need for eliminating some of these structural elements. For example, think of how the process of compiling and linking a program eliminates program structure: individual
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source files and libraries are all linked into a single executable, many function boundaries are eliminated through inlining and are simply pasted into the code that calls them. The machine is eliminating redundant structural details that are not needed for efficiently running the code. All of these transformations affect the reversing process and make it somewhat more challenging. I will be dealing with the process of reconstructing the structure of a program in the reversing projects throughout this book. How do software developers break down software into manageable chunks The general idea is to view the program as a set of separate black boxes that are responsible for very specific and (hopefully) accurately defined tasks. The idea is that someone designs and implements a black box, tests it and confirms that it works, and then integrates it with other components in the system. A program can therefore be seen as a large collection of black boxes that interact with one another. Different programming languages and development platforms approach these concepts differently, but the general idea is almost always the same. Likewise, when an application is being designed it is usually broken down into mental black boxes that are each responsible for a chunk of the application. For instance, in a word processor you could view the text-editing component as one box and the spell checker component as another box. This process is called encapsulation because each component box encapsulates certain functionality and simply makes it available to whoever needs it, without exposing unnecessary details about the internal implementation of the component. Component boxes are frequently developed by different people or even by different groups, but they still must be able to interact. Boxes vary in size: Some boxes implement entire application features (like the earlier spell checker example), while others represent far smaller and more primitive functionality such as sorting functions and other low-level data management functions. These smaller boxes are usually made to be generic, meaning that they can be used anywhere in the program where the specific functionality they provide is required. Developing a robust and reliable product rests primarily on two factors: that each component box is well implemented and reliably performs its duties, and that each box has a well defined interface for communicating with the outside world. In most reversing scenarios, the first step is to determine the component structure of the application and the exact responsibilities of each component. From there, one usually picks a component of interest and delves into the details of its implementation. The following sections describe the various technical tools available to software developers for implementing this type of component-level encapsulation in the code. We start with large components, such as static and dynamic modules, and proceed to smaller units such as procedures and objects.
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