The PE library

libpe is a malware analysis library that allows you to decode a stream of bytes from a PE file (.exe, .dll, .fon etc), inspect various bits of information about them, and translate them to a human-friendly format. libpe is free software, distributed under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License.

Building and installing libpe

libpe is developed for unix-like environments, so the basic steps towards building and installing it are the usual:

make install

The installation routines copy the necessary library files to the appropriate locations in your system. Depending on your choice of installation location, though, you may need to have root privileges to run the second command on unix-like environments.

Using libpe within your program - a quick example

The following is an example of a program (exe-check.c) that incorporates libpe and uses its API to generate information about a Windows executable (suspicious.exe). It assumes you have all libpe’s headers in the same directory as the main source file.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include "pe.h"

int main(void) {
    // Open binary file for parsing
    pe_ctx_t ctx;
    pe_err_e err = pe_load_file(&ctx, "suspicious.exe");
    if (err != LIBPE_E_OK) {
        pe_error_print(stderr, err);
        return EXIT_FAILURE;

    // Parse binary file
    err = pe_parse(&ctx);
    if (err != LIBPE_E_OK) {
        pe_error_print(stderr, err);
        return EXIT_FAILURE;

    if (!pe_is_pe(&ctx)) {
        return EXIT_FAILURE;

    // Get COFF header information and output it
    IMAGE_COFF_HEADER *coff = pe_coff(&ctx);
    printf("Machine: %x\n", coff->Machine);

    return 0;

To compile the program with gcc:

gcc exe-check.c -o exe-check -std=c99 -L. -lpe

This example should give you an idea of how libpe can be used in your programs. You first load the executable (load here doesn’t mean load in memory, but simply open for reading), parse its contents and display some information contained in its COFF header (coff->machine represents the target machine suspicious.exe was compiled for). Note that error checks are performed for each of those steps.

The following sections describe libpe’s API in more detail.

libpe’s API

Context (pe_ctx_t)

As you saw in the previous example, you need to define a variable of type pe_ctx_t in order to use libpe’s API (pe_load_file, pe_parse etc.). Think of pe_ctx_t as a general-purpose placeholder that will contain the main information about the PE file to be analyzed. Here’s its declaration:

typedef struct {
    FILE *stream;
    char *path;
    void *map_addr;
    off_t map_size;
    uintptr_t map_end;
    pe_file_t pe;
} pe_ctx_t;

stream is a file descriptor that points to the PE file once it’s opened. path is a string representing the absolute path to the PE file in the filesystem. map_addr, map_size and map_end are used in the PE file’s address mapping (see mmap(2)). Finally, pe_file_t is another type internally declared by libpe (more on it below).

PE file (pe_file_t)

typedef struct {
        IMAGE_DOS_HEADER *dos_hdr;
        uint32_t signature;
        IMAGE_COFF_HEADER *coff_hdr;
        void *optional_hdr_ptr;
        IMAGE_OPTIONAL_HEADER optional_hdr;
        uint32_t num_directories;
        void *directories_ptr;
        IMAGE_DATA_DIRECTORY **directories;
        uint16_t num_sections;
        void *sections_ptr;
        IMAGE_SECTION_HEADER **sections;
        uint64_t entrypoint;
        uint64_t imagebase;
} pe_file_t;