Assembly Programming: A Beginners Guide |
Assembly Programming: A Beginners Guide
Author: Amit Malik 
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This article is specially designed to help beginners to understand and develop their first Assembly Program from scratch. Through step by step instructions it will help you to use tools, setup the environment and then build sample 'Hello World' program in Assembly language with detailed explaination.
This article is the part of our free "Reverse Engineering & Malware Analysis Course" [Reference 4]. It is written as pre-learning guide for our session on 'Part 4 - Assembly Programming Basics' where in we are going to cover Assembly Programming from the reverse engineering perspective.

Here along with programming assignment experts from AssignmentCore we will be demonstrating Assembly programming using MASM as it is the Microsoft assembler and provide much flexibility when it comes to development on Windows environment over various other assemblers like NASM etc.
Required Tools
  • MASM [Reference 2] - MASM is a Microsoft assembler.
  • WinAsm [Reference 3] - WinAsm is IDE. It provides a nice interface for coding and moreover you don't have to type different-2 command for assembler and linker to compile a binary, with one click it will generate EXE for you.
  • MASM - By default MASM tries to install itself in windows drive mostly c drive but you can install it in any Drive/directory. We need the full path of MASM installation to configure WinAsm so note down the drive/directory where you installed MASM.
  • WinAsm - Download and extract the WinAsm package. WinAsm comes with all files you require so you don't have to install it. Just copy the folder to "c:\program files\" and make a shortcut to desktop so that you can access directly from desktop.
Configuring WinAsm
Launch WinAsm by double clicking on the shortcut created on the desktop. In order to integrate it with MASM we need to setup the MASM path in WinAsm configurations. Here are the steps,
  1. Click on the tools tab
  2. In tools click on options
  3. In options click on file & path tab
  4. Change the all entries with path to MASM installation folder
  5. Click on Ok.
After this you should be able to write programs in WinAsm.
Programming in ASM using MASM & WinAsm
Launch the WinAsm window, click on the "file" tab. Then click on the new projects and it will show you couple of options as shown below.
  • Console Application - For creating console (command-line) applications
  • Standard EXE -  For creating GUI based applications
Here we willl use Standard EXE because we want to make a GUI Application. Now you will see the editor window in which you can write your programs.
My First ASM Program
Here is a typical assembly program structure,
  1. Architecture - Define the architecture because assembly is Hardware (processor) dependent language so you have to tell to assembler the architecture for which you are writing your program.
  2. Data Section - All your initialized and uninitialized variables reside in data section.
  3. Code Section - Entire code of your program reside in this section.
Now we will write a program that will display the message box saying "Hello World!"

;------------Block 1----------
.model flat,stdcall
option casemap:none

;------------Block 2----------
includelib user32.lib
includelib kernel32.lib

;------------block 3----------
szCaption db "Hello",0
szMsg db "Hello World!",0

;------------Block 4----------
retvalue dd ?

;------------Block 5----------
invoke MessageBox,NULL,addr szMsg,addr szCaption,MB_OK
mov retvalue,eax
xor eax,eax
invoke ExitProcess,eax
end start
I divided the above code in 5 blocks. Below I will explain the purpose and functionality of each block.
Block 1
2).model flat,stdcall
3)option casemap:none
#1 - This line defines the architecture for which we want to make this program. (.386) represent Intel architecture
#2 - This line defines the model and the calling convention that we want to use for this program. We will explain it in detail in our "Assembly Basics" session.
#3 - function names, variable names etc. are case sensitive

All these three lines are required in each program.
Block 2
3)includelib user32.lib
5)includelib kernel32.lib
include and includelib are two keywords. Include is used with .inc files while includelib is used with .lib files.

.inc files are header files. for eg: is windows.h, you can convert any .h file into .inc file using H2INC utility that comes with MASM.

.lib files are required by linker to link the used functions with the system dlls. In our program we used two .lib files (user32.lib & kernel32.lib). For each .lib file we have to include its corresponding .inc file.
Block 3
2)szCaption db "Hello",0
3)szMsg db "Hello World!",0
.data is the section for initialized variables. Every initialized variable should be initialized in this section. In our code we have two variables of char type <string>.
Syntax: <variable_name> <type> <value>
For eg: in #2 szCaption is the variable name, db is the type means char type, "Hello", 0 is the value.

Here important point to note is that every char or string value should be terminated with zero (0).
Block 4
2)retvalue dd ?
.data? is the section for uninitialized variables. Every uninitialized variable should be declared in this section.
Block 5
3)invoke MessageBox,NULL,addr szMsg,addr szCaption,MB_OK
4)mov retvalue,eax
5)xor eax,eax
6)invoke ExitProcess,eax
7)end start
.code represents the start of code. All your code should be written in this section

#2 start:  It is a label and it is like main function. You can name it anything but you have to use the same name in #7 otherwise linker will generate an error.

For e.g.:
end main

#3 invoke - is the keyword, its operation is similar to "call". But in call you have to manually push parameters on the stack while invoke will do everything for you.

Syntax: function_name parameter1, parameter2, parameter3, etc.
In our code MessageBox is the API from user32.dll and it requires 4 arguments.

Here important point to note is that we used "addr" with some of our variables. addr will give address of the variable instead of its value, it is like pointer in c.

#7 end start - it says the end of the code and file.
Build and Run the Program
Now paste the above code in WinAsm and click on "make" tab, in "make" click on "Assemble".  After that click on "link" which will be the executable for this program.

Finally run the EXE file by double clicking on it, it should display "Hello World!".
This is a basic program to help you to learn Assembly Language in most easier way. For more advanced details refer/attend our FREE Reversing/Malware Analysis course [Reference 4]
  1. Icezelion's Win32 Assembly Tutorials
  2. MASM -
  3. WinASM -
  4. Reverse Engineering & Malware Analysis Course
See Also