Using a non-system glibc

- (3 min read)

When developing exploits, especially heap exploits, the glibc version the binary is linked against will affect the specific offsets that is used in the exploit code. Efforts like the libc-database help by making it easy to look up memory addresses from a specific libc. However, it is still useful to be able to test out an exploit against an older libc, especially since the older libc might not have specific heap mitigations that can make writing an exploit easier.

The most common approach is probably to build an isolated environment with the specific version of glibc with a tool like QEMU or Docker. This approach can be annoying since it takes time and effort to install all your tooling in the QEMU or Docker environment.

An alternative approach can be to rewrite the binary to link to a non-system libc on your host machine. This is not as easy as simply setting something like LD_LIBRARY_PATH. With glibc, the path of the interpreter, is hardcoded into the binary at build time. The version of MUST match or there will be errors when the binary is ran.

To use a non-system libc with a ELF binary, we must do two things:

  1. Modify the interpreter path to point to a that matches the version of the that we want to link with.
  2. Modify the RUNPATH of the binary to point to the directory where our is.

While there are various tools, such as patchelf, that can used for this, I found it simple to write a short script with LIEF that does the job.

#!/usr/bin/env python3

import click
import lief
import pathlib

    help="Change the linked glibc of an ELF binary."
@click.argument("bin", type=click.Path(exists=True))
@click.argument("libc", type=click.Path(exists=True, resolve_path=True))
@click.argument("ld", type=click.Path(exists=True, resolve_path=True))
@click.argument("out", type=click.Path())
def cli(bin, libc, ld, out):
    binary = lief.parse(bin)

    libc_name = None
    for i in binary.libraries:
        if "" in i:
            libc_name = i

    if libc_name is None:
        click.echo("No libc linked. Exiting.")

    click.echo("Path: {}".format(binary.interpreter))

    libc_path = str(pathlib.Path(str(libc)).parent)

    binary.interpreter = str(ld)
    click.echo("Path: {}".format(binary.interpreter))

    binary += lief.ELF.DynamicEntryRunPath(libc_path)
    click.echo("Adding RUNPATH:")
    click.echo("Path: {}".format(libc_path))

    click.echo("Writing new binary {}".format(out))
    click.echo("Please rename {} to {}/".format(
        libc, libc_path

if __name__ == "__main__":

The canonical version of the script can be found on GitHub. With this approach, you can also place specific versions of any other libraries the binary is linked against in the libc directory and it will be picked up by the dynamic linker.