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General Tips



Pysa is aware of inheritance, so you can add taint annotations to a base class, and Pysa will detect when the tainted attribute or function is accessed via a child class. For example, this flow will be detected during static analysis:

class Parent:
def some_source(self): # Annotated as a source
class Child(Parent):
child = Child()
some_sink(child.some_source()) # Detected as a tainted flow

Additionally, Pysa is aware that child classes can be used anywhere a parent classes's type is present. If you access a method on a parent class and the implementation on any child class returns taint, Pysa will detect that and treat the return from the parent class as tainted. For example, this will be detected as a tainted flow during static analysis:

class Parent:
def some_fn(self):
"""Benign function with no annotations"""
class Child(Parent):
def some_fn(self):
"""Function returning a tainted value"""
return get_some_tainted_value()
def fn(obj: Parent):
some_sink(obj.some_fn()) # Detected as a tainted flow

A huge caveat here is that Pysa needs to be aware of these inheritance relationships and function definitions for it to work. Code that lives outside the repo under analysis might not be visible to Pysa, so these inheritances/implementations may be missed. See the Stubs section below for more details.


The concept of stubs is covered in general here, but this section in particular will cover specific issues you may encounter with .pyi stubs. These stubs can be used to prevent pyre errors for types that live outside the codebase you are running Pysa on. The simplest stubs are just empty files in the root of the stubs directory (assuming you have a stubs directory specified in the search_path list in your .pyre_configuration file). An empty stub basically prevents all type checking errors within the namespace of that stub. So for uwsgi.pyi, in the stubs directory, the following code would not raise pyre errors (though it would obviously fail to run):

import uwsgi
from uwsgi import asdf, ZXCV
variable = ZXCV()

If you want to be able to create .pysa models (i.e. annotate sources, sinks, etc.) for something that is outside your codebase, such as Django's django.http.request.HttpRequest object, you need more than just an empty stub file. You need a directory structure and .pyi file that matches your import, such as stubs/django/http/request.pyi. Within that .pyi file, you then need a stub of the class:

class HttpRequest(BinaryIO):
def __init__(self) -> None: ...
COOKIES: Any = ...
GET: QueryDict = ...
# And a bunch more stuff...

Only at this point can you add .pysa files with annotations such as these:

django.http.request.HttpRequest.COOKIES: TaintSource[UserControlled]
django.http.request.HttpRequest.GET: TaintSource[UserControlled]

There is a huge gotcha here: If you had both an empty stubs/django.pyi file, and the stubs/django/http/request.pyi file shown above, pyre will see the django.pyi file first and ignore the request.pyi file. This would mean that your stub of HttpRequest would be missed, and your HttpRequest.COOKIES and HttpRequest.GET annotations would cause errors when running Pysa. The fix is simply to delete the django.pyi file. When deleting that file, you may all of a sudden see new typing errors for other types within Django, for which you'll need to add new .pyi files at the appropriate locations.

Helpful Python knowledge#

Pretty much all python operators are reduced down to double underbar functions. For example, constructing an object results in a call to __init__(self, ...) and an asterisk operator results in a call to __mul__(a, b). A full list of these operators can be found here. This is useful to know when you need to add annotations to the usage of operators, such as the use of square brackets to access a dictionary.

Debugging Tools#


You can insert a call to the (non-existent) pyre_dump() function in your code to trigger to pyre to output a ton of metadata about it's current state when it parses the that function call. This can be useful as a starting point to figure out why something is/isn't happening. This will produce very verbose output.


If you only want to check what pyre knows about the types of variables, inject a call to reveal_type(YOUR_VARIABLE) (no import needed) in your code. Running Pyre on your code will then give you compact output indicating what Pyre thinks the type of your variable is.


Similarly to reveal_type, if you only want to check what pyre knows about the taint on variables, inject a call to reveal_taint(YOUR_VARIABLE) (no import needed) in your code. Running Pysa on your code will then give you compact output indicating what taint Pysa has discovered. Note that each time Pysa analyzes the function (which could be many times) it will update it's understanding of the taint flowing into the function and output the current state. The final output will be the most complete.


Another strategy for getting a bit more metadata is adding a function into your code, which simply constructs and returns the type you want to examine. You can then run Pysa, and grep for the function's name in the results.json file located wherever you pointed --save-results-to= to when running Pysa. You should then be able to see if that function is detected as returning taint, plus a bit more metadata about it.


The Static Analysis Post Processor (SAPP) has access to the same information as results.json. While SAPP doesn't display all the information results.json contains, it can display the information in a more user-friendly gdb-style way. It's especially useful for exploring flows which pass through many frames.

Developer Quality-of-Life#

Iterating quickly with Pysa#

On large projects, Pysa can take a long time to run; it takes about an hour to run on Instagram, which contains millions of lines of Python code. A few tricks to iterate more quickly with Pysa are:

  1. Run in a sample project or test environment. Pysa runs much more quickly on smaller projects, so if you need to test something that isn't specific to your environment (eg. a model that corresponds to code in typeshed) then do your testing in a smaller codebase. Even if you are iterating on something specific to your codebase, it can sometimes be worthwhile to port the code snippet you're working on into a test project.
    1. The stub integration tests will validate any stubs in tools/pyre/taint, and this can be a fast shortcut for validating new stubs you want to write. These tests reside in stubs/integration_test and can be invoked by running make stubs_integration_test in the root of the repo.
    2. The interprocedural analysis tests dump information about models, issues, the call graph, and overrides. It can be very helpful to test code in this environment if you need a detailed understanding of Pysa's internal state to debug a false positive or negative. Note that these tests do not have access to typeshed or any other type stubs. These tests reside in interprocedural_analyses/taint/test/integration and can be invoked by running make test in the root of the repo.
  2. Skip analysis entirely if you only need to validate taint models. pyre validate-models can be used to validate taint models without having to run the entire analysis.
  3. Filter runs with --rule ####. This option will cause Pysa to ignore sources and sinks that are not involved in the given rule, saving on analysis time. Eg. pyre analyze --rule 5000
  4. Parallelize across machines. If working in a could hosted environment, reserving a second machine and working on two projects in parallel can be effective. As Pysa is running on one machine, you can switch to the other, make changes there, kick off a run, and then switch back to the first to look at results.
  5. Put in all debug statements up front. When using the debugging tools outlined above, put in way more debug statments than you think you need, dumping type info and taint for anything remotely related to the flow you're looking at. This will reduce the odds that you need to do a second run to figure out what's going wrong.
  6. Enable the --use-cache flag. All Pysa runs require some information from Pyre, such as the typechecking environment, dependencies, etc. Computing this information can be time-consuming on larger projects. However, if you're only editing taint models and not the project source, this information isn't expected to change between Pysa runs. By enabling this flag, you can tell Pysa to save this information to cache files (located in .pyre/.pysa_cache) and load from cache in subsequent runs, rather than computing it from scratch each time. The cache will be invalidated if any of the project source files change, in which case Pysa will fall back to doing a clean run and then saving the computed artifacts in new cache files.

File Types#

taint.config is a JSON file and .pysa files use Python syntax. If you update your editor to recognize those files as JSON and Python respectively, it'll make development easier.

Usage Examples#

Not all Pysa features will be covered in these docs, and provided examples won't always be complete. Every feature, however, will be covered in the tests located here. These tests can be a useful resource to discover how to use Pysa features.