Volatility Plugin Tutorial

Development guide for Volatility Plugins
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Volatility Plugin Tutorial


Developing a plugin for Volatility is way easier that it might appear. The biggest obstacle, in my opinion, is knowing how or where to start. There're plenty of sources where you can learn about Volatility (The Art of Memory Forensics book, /r/memoryforensics, Volatility Labs blog, etc.) but very few - almost none - where you can learn how to develop a plugin. Also, this tutorial inspired me to make a more complex one, and here we are!

I'll be working on a x64 Ubuntu 16.04 machine.


In this guide you will learn the following:

  • Download and run Volatility from source.
  • Get a memory dump from Oracle's VirtualBox VM.
  • Understand what exactly a Volatility plugin is.
  • Write a working Volatility plugin.

Before we begin

Be sure to have Oracle's VirtualBox installed. You won't need the Extension Pack but it's advisable to have it. Also, If you don't have a licensed Windows copy go get a Microsoft Edge and IE test free copy. Yes, for real.


Download Volatility

The latest Volatility stable version cat be found at The Volatility Foundation GitHub. You can just clone the repository via:

$ git clone https://github.com/volatilityfoundation/volatility.git

Now cd to volatility's folder and execute a couple or two... wait! We don't have a memory dump to analyze yet. Let's fix that!

Get a memory dump

You can get a memory dump in multiple ways, we'll leverage virtualization and use VirtualBox to easily get a VM's memory dump. A more extensive version of this process can be found here, but, long story short:

  • Boot up a virtual machine in VirtualBox and note it's name.
  • $ vboxmanage debugvm <VM-NAME> dumpvmcore --filename vm.elf
  • That's it.

Well, this is not a memory dump per se. It's a .elf that also contains other data from VirtualBox we don't need. Guess what? Volatility doesn't care. If you really want a raw memory dump go check out the more extensive version.

Analyze memory dump

Now we get to look into the memory dump. We have all we need so cd to volatility's folder and execute pslist command like this:

$ python vol.py -f <vm-dump> --profile=<vm-profile> pslist

Let's elaborate.

  • vm-dump: This is the .elf - or .raw - file that contains the VM's memory dump. It's imperative that you provide this argument, otherwise, volatility won't run.
  • vm-profile: The profile tells volatility from which machine the memory dump came from. If you don't provide this information, volatility will try to guess - not a good idea btw. A list of valid profiles can be found here or you can run $ python vol.py --info. I recommend the latter.
  • pslist: This is the command we invoke.

Since I extracted a Windows 7 SP1 x64 memory dump, I would run:

$ python vol.py -f /home/user/vmcore.elf --profile=Win7SP1x64 pslist
Volatility Foundation Volatility Framework 2.6
Offset(V)          Name                    PID   PPID   Thds     Hnds   Sess  Wow64 Start                          Exit                          
------------------ -------------------- ------ ------ ------ -------- ------ ------ ------------------------------ ------------------------------
0xffffc480b4258040 System                    4      0    107        0 ------      0 2017-07-13 18:18:39 UTC+0000                                 
0xffffc480b45a6040 smss.exe                296      4      4        0 ------      0 2017-07-13 18:18:39 UTC+0000                                 
0xffffc480b5b1e7c0 csrss.exe               384    368     11        0      0      0 2017-07-13 18:18:42 UTC+0000                                 
0xffffc480b62d3080 smss.exe                448    296      0 --------      1      0 2017-07-13 18:18:42 UTC+0000   2017-07-13 18:18:42 UTC+0000  
0xffffc480b62d6080 wininit.exe             456    368      4        0      0      0 2017-07-13 18:18:42 UTC+0000                                 
0xffffc480b62d9580 csrss.exe               464    448     12        0      1      0 2017-07-13 18:18:42 UTC+0000                                 
0xffffc480b630d080 winlogon.exe            516    448      5        0      1      0 2017-07-13 18:18:42 UTC+0000

pslist is such a trivial command, it simply lists all running processes. But don't be fooled, volatility has quite a set of useful commands which can be found here.

What's a Volatility plugin?

You want to develop a plugin for volatility, but, do you know what a plugin is? The first thing to know here is: EVERYTHING IS A PLUGIN. Yes, there're plugins developed by regular people - you and me - and the ones developed by The Volatility Foundation, that are included in Volatility. The so-called volatility commands are nothing more than plugins, pslist is a plugin. The plugin you'll create will be invoked almost the same way we used pslist.

Create the plugin

Now that we know what we're going to do, time to learn how to make it. We'll start by creating a folder for our plugin:

cd ~
mkdir myPlugin
cd myPlugin

Now we create a file for the plugin. Note that the name you give this file will be the name of the command you'll have to give volatility later to run your plugin. I'll call it myplugin.

vim myplugin.py

Ok, I was kidding, I'm not using vim for this. Any text editor will do: gedit, ATOM, VS Code, Sublime Text, etc.

The basics

We're going to do this the right way: Write the minimum for the plugin to run and build up from it. This would be the simplest working plugin:

import volatility.plugins.common as common
class MyPlugin(common.AbstractWindowsCommand):
    def render_text(self, outfd, data):
        print "Hello world!"

Let me elaborate:

  • class MyPlugin(common.AbstractWindowsCommand): This is the class that Volatility instantiates when you run the plugin. It must inherit from one of the common.Command subclases, I've chosen common.AbstractWindowsCommand because my plugin will be Windows-oriented.
  • def render_text(self, outfd, data): This is the called function for presenting the results in plain text format. outfd is the file descriptor to which Volatility will write, by default it's stdout but you can give it with --output-file. We didn't do any work so, after (not) doing all the things my plugin does, it's called and prints Hello world! to stdout. You can tell the plugin to present the results in plain text, dot, JSON or even a formated HTML document but we'll get to that later.

Now we can run it with:

$ python vol.py --plugins=<myplugin-dir> -f <vm-dump> --profile=<vm-profile> myplugin

Note that the --plugins argument must be passed right after vol.py, doing it elsewhere wont' work. Also, the path provided must be absolute:

  • This is good: python vol.py --plugins=/home/user/volpydev/myplugin -f <vmcore> myplugin
  • This is not: python vol.py -f <vmcore> --plugins=/home/user/volpydev/myplugin myplugin
  • This isn't either: python vol.py --plugins=volpydev/myplugin -f <vmcore> myplugin

The not-so-basics

Now we're going to make something with that memory dump and output something more useful than Hello world!. Take this code:

import volatility.plugins.common as common
import volatility.utils as utils
import volatility.win32 as win32

class MyPlugin(common.AbstractWindowsCommand):
    ''' My plugin '''

    def calculate(self):
        addr_space = utils.load_as(self._config)
        tasks = win32.tasks.pslist(addr_space)
        return tasks

    def render_text(self, outfd, data):
        for task in data:

Important things here:

  • ''' My plugin''': This docstring will be written when calling your plugin with -h (or --help)
  • def calculate(self): Here is where we do the real work, the returned data will be passed as data to render_text. What we are doing is getting a list with all the running processes in the given memory dump's address space and return it. render_text will iterate over that list and print whatever str(task) returns (It happens to be the virtual offset of the process' _EPROCESS internal structure, but that's not important right now).
  • self._config: This is the configuration object built for a single specific run of Volatility, it identifies the given memory dump's address space. It also contains other data such as passed arguments.

Now you can run it and see what it prints:

$ python vol.py --plugins=<myplugin-dir> -f <vmcore> --profile=<vmcore-profile> myplugin
Volatility Foundation Volatility Framework 2.6

This looks good, but we can do better! Let's print something that we can understand, take this render_text function:

def render_text(self, outfd, data):
    for task in data:
        outfd.write("{0} {1}\n".format(task.UniqueProcessId, task.ImageFileName))

This will print every process's PID next to it's name. Go check it!

$ python vol.py --plugins=<myplugin-dir> -f <vmcore> --profile=<vmcore-profile> myplugin
Volatility Foundation Volatility Framework 2.6
4 System
276 smss.exe
352 csrss.exe
388 wininit.exe
396 csrss.exe
436 winlogon.exe
480 services.exe
488 lsass.exe
496 lsm.exe
604 svchost.exe

Now we're talking! This is great but, what if you want the results in greptext for an easier processing? Or even an sqlite3 database? We'll need the unified output for that, let's find out how!

Unified Output

Here we learn how to print the right way. render_text() works for a quick fix but, if we want our plugin to offer the best we need unifed_output(). This will centralize all the presenting results stuff into one function - actually two. However, if you want to do something "special" when printing on any specific format you can always define render_x() - where x is any of the available formats - and do it as you like. Defining render_x() actually overrides the default printing function. We've already done that, remember?

As I said, it's not just one function, but two: unified_output() and generator(). The latter will provide unified_output() a generator with the data and unified_output() will return a TreeGrid object with that data and it's structure. An example is worth a thousand words, so:

def generator(self, data):
    for task in data:
		yield (0, [

def unified_output(self, data):
    tree = [
        ("PID", int),
        ("Name", str)
    return TreeGrid(tree, self.generator(data))

As you can see, TreeGrid takes a tuple array and the generator returned by generator(). This tuple contains the name and data type of each column. generator() will return a generator with the process's PID and name. Note that the types of the data given to yield in generator() and the types in the tuple list must coincide. Let's see the result:

import volatility.plugins.common as common
import volatility.utils as utils
import volatility.win32 as win32

from volatility.renderers import TreeGrid

class MyPlugin(common.AbstractWindowsCommand):
    ''' My plugin '''

    def calculate(self):
        addr_space = utils.load_as(self._config)
        tasks = win32.tasks.pslist(addr_space)
        return tasks

    def generator(self, data):
        for task in data:
            yield (0, [

    def unified_output(self, data):
        tree = [
            ("PID", int),
            ("Name", str)
        return TreeGrid(tree, self.generator(data))

Now execute it and check that the results... are exactly the same as before. But hey! now we can get the results in other formats too. Try json for example (It'll output a minified JSON, I've beautified it):

$ python vol.py --plugins=<myplugin-dir> -f <vmcore> --profile=<vmcore-profile> myplugin --output=json
Volatility Foundation Volatility Framework 2.6

Other interesting things

Now we're doing useful work and using unified output, what else can we do? I'll teach you a couple interesting things but the best way to learn is by doing!


A nice way to give your plugin some life is by taking parameters. We're gonna use the __init__() function for this. For example, we want to give our plugin a prefix for all processes' names. Why? Why not! Here's how we do it:

def __init__(self, config, *args, **kwargs):
    common.AbstractWindowsCommand.__init__(self, config, *args, **kwargs)
    self._config.add_option('PREFIX', short_option = 'P', default = None, help = 'Prefix all names.', 
        action = 'store')

def calculate(self):
    addr_space = utils.load_as(self._config)
    tasks = win32.tasks.pslist(addr_space)

    prefix = self._config.PREFIX
    if prefix:
        for task in tasks:
            task.ImageFileName = str(prefix) + task.ImageFileName
    return tasks

This how we define a new parameter:

  • 'PREFIX': This is the parameter name, this way we'll be able to give the prefix via --prefix <prefix>.
  • short_option = 'P': Why write --prefix <prefix> when we can do it shorter: -P <prefix>.
  • default = None: If no PREFIX parameter given, self._config.PREFIX will be whatever we put here. In this case: None
  • help = 'Prefix all names': This is what will be written about this parameter when running the plugin with -h - or --help -.
  • action = 'store': This indicates that the parameter takes a value behind, the prefix in this case. Instead of store you can use store_true (giving the parameter will make it store True, or False) or append (multiple parameters will stack: -P hehe -P you ) too.
Use other plugins from inside yours

Please, don't reinvent the wheel. Volatility comes with a lot of plugins that might do part of the work your plugin needs, you simply need to call that other plugin from yours. Let's say you need a the Portable Executable that's in a process' address space, procdump can do it for you:

def build_conf(self):
    # Create conf obj
    procdump_conf = conf.ConfObject()

    # Define conf
    procdump_conf.readonly = {}
    procdump_conf.PROFILE = self._config.PROFILE
    procdump_conf.LOCATION = self._config.LOCATION
    procdump_conf.DUMP_DIR = tempfile.mkdtemp()

    return procdump_conf

def calculate(self):
    procdump_conf = self.build_dump_conf()
    # Run ProcDump
    p = procdump.ProcDump(procdump_conf)
    # It's done, get rid of it
    del p

You need to build a ConfObject, just like the one that Volatility gives you in self._config. Give that configuration object to the plugin you want to run, execute it and remember to delete it afterwards - you no longer need it.

Other community plugins

A nice way to learn and see what others can come up with wile developing a plugin is navigation through the Community Plugins GitHub.

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