Windows Kernel Drivers 101

Work In Progress This living document captures some of the Kernel Driver and OS related concepts that I encounter as I study Windows kernel driver development.

Driver Types

There are many different types of drivers, but I am mostly interested in Sofware Drivers.

Software Driver

  • Not associated with any device

  • Useful for running code in the kernel mode

  • Can also be a user mode driver

  • Drivers can be developed with Kernel-Mode Driver Framework (KMDF) and Windows Driver Model (WDM)


  • WDM is very closely tied to the OS and interacts with the it calling system service routines directly

  • KMDF is a framework that abstracts a lot of driver development and allows the developer to focus on his/her driver rather than focusing on OS programming intricacies

  • KMDF is recommended and a preferred driver development model over WDM in most cases

I/O Manager

  • Is an interface enabling communication between userland applications and kernel drivers

  • Creates a driver object (DRIVER_OBJECT) for each installed and loaded driver

  • Defines a set of standard mandatory driver routines that drivers must support such as DriverEntry

  • Calls driver's DriverEntry routine, which supplies the driver's DRIVER_OBJECT address

  • Accepts I/O requests, which usually originate from user-mode applications

  • Creates IRPs to represent the I/O requests

  • Transfers IRPs to the appropriate drivers

Uncategorized Notes

  • All drivers contain DriverEntry routine - similary to main routine of an executable and DllMain of a DLL. This routine gets called once the driver is loaded and started by the OS.

  • Memory allocated in paged pool can be paged out to a disk, whereas memory allocated from a nonpaged pool cannot

  • Requests sent to drivers are encapsulated in I/O Request Packets (IRP)

  • DRIVER_OBJECT represents the image of a loaded kernel-mode driver:

    • typedef struct _DRIVER_OBJECT {
        CSHORT             Type;
        CSHORT             Size;
        PDEVICE_OBJECT     DeviceObject;
        ULONG              Flags;
        PVOID              DriverStart;
        ULONG              DriverSize;
        PVOID              DriverSection;
        PDRIVER_EXTENSION  DriverExtension;
        UNICODE_STRING     DriverName;
        PUNICODE_STRING    HardwareDatabase;
        PFAST_IO_DISPATCH  FastIoDispatch;
        PDRIVER_INITIALIZE DriverInit;
        PDRIVER_STARTIO    DriverStartIo;
        PDRIVER_UNLOAD     DriverUnload;
  • DRIVER_OBJECT contains references to entry points of driver's standard routines (i.e Unload)

  • Driver standard routines receive IRPs as input as well as a pointer to the target device object

  • Drivers must create at least one device object (DEVICE_OBJECT) for each device

  • Device objects serve as a target of operations performed on a the device

  • Software only drivers that only handle I/O requests and do not pass them to hardware, still must create a device object to represent the target of its operations


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