Documentation #4662


Add documentation section covering Suricata rule grammar

Added by Juliana Fajardini Reichow over 1 year ago. Updated 28 days ago.

Target version:
Affected Versions:


As asked in our forum ( Suggestion to add EBNF or PEG notation.

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Related issues 1 (1 open0 closed)

Related to Documentation #4706: Guide for rulewritingNewActions
Actions #1

Updated by Juliana Fajardini Reichow about 1 year ago

Actions #2

Updated by Kirill Krotov 10 months ago

Hello, I want to discuss defining grammar for Suricata rules.

Currently I'm writing a grammar for Suricata rules by reversing its parser.
Unfortunately Suricata rules parser is very loose about syntax of rules I will provide example to show what I mean.

You first expectation about rule's syntax is probably can be summarized in following (incomplete and maybe wrong I just want to concentrate on what parser does):

File = { (Rule, WS, Newline) | (Rule, WS, Comment) | Comment } ;

Comment = NewLine | ( '#', { ASCII - NewLine }, NewLine  ) ;

Rule = Action, WS, Header, WS, Options ;

Action = 'alert' | 'drop' | ... ;

Header = Protocol, WS, IPList, WS, PortList, WS, Direction, WS, IPList, WS, PortList ;

Protocol = 'tcp' | 'udp' | ... ;

Options = '(', { Option }, ')' ;
Option = OptionName | OptionName, ':', OptionValue, ';' ;

WS = { ' ' | '\t' } ;
Newline = '\n' | EOF ;

So something like this: alert tcp any any -> any any (sid: 123;) is totally correct rule, but let's discus it in more details


Actually comment can appear only at the beginning of line and line entirely considered to be commented if first symbol is: '\t', ' ', '#', '\n'.

So the next rule is just incorrect:

alert tcp any any -> any any (sid:123;) # comment

Next will not emit any error, but will not be parsed

 alert tcp any any -> any any (sid:123;)

Line breaks

Suricata rules has useful feature: it is able to continue rule on next line.

I think it's intended to work like this:

alert tcp any any -> any any (\
    sid: 123; \

But it's actually too powerful. It is working only on rule lines by removing whitespaces (isspace) at the end of line to '\'. Next line is not altered in any way, so it is possible to break rule at any place!

t tcp any any -\
> any any (sid:123;)

Also there is related problem with whitespaces.


Whitespaces is something like ' ', '\t' newlines and also '\v', '\r'. They are handled by parser very inconsistent.

For example the first symbol after Action can be: , \t, \r, but first symbol after Protocol is only (but after it can also be , \t).

Some example with escaped characters:

# valid
alert tcp any any -> any any (sid:123;)

# valid
alert\ttcp any any -> any any (sid:123;)

# invalid
alert tcp\tany any -> any any (sid:123;)

# invalid
alert tcp\t any any -> any any (sid:123;)

# valid
alert tcp \tany any -> any any (sid:123;)

Also imagine you used line break after Protocol and started next line with tab:

alert tcp\
\tany any -> any any (sid:123;)

This will be considered incorrect rule.

The more strange situation with white spaces before Options: first should be ' ' but then can be varieties of spaces: \v, \r, , \t, \f.


I will not elaborate how options are parsed, because there are many different options and each can have some not obvious behavior, I just point that round brackets around options is totally optional:

# valid rule
alert tcp any any -> any any sid:123;

IP/Port lists

There a different elements that can be discussed separately.


Negation can be placed anywhere and can be duplicated. Also it can be placed after comma and the end of list. Valid rule that feature negation peculiarities:

# valid
alert tcp any !!10!!,!! -> any any (sid:123;)

# valid (negated variable "HELLO")
alert tcp any $HELL!O -> any any (sid:123;)

List brackets

Square brackets can be used to hide subtle bugs:

# valid (10 and 11 accepted correctly)
alert tcp any [10]11 -> any any (sid:123;)

# invalid (because how end of 11 if found)
alert tcp any [10]11[12] -> any any (sid:123;)

# valid (11 ignored)
alert tcp any 11[10] -> any any (sid:123;)

# valid
alert tcp any 11[10]! -> any any (sid:123;)

# valid (try to guess what does it mean)
alert tcp any 11![999] -> any any (sid:123;)

Comma (separator)

Minor issue with comma is that can be leaved at the end of sequence. It's not a big deal, but can possibly be combined with other quirks of parser. Examples:

# valid
alert tcp any 10, -> any any (sid:123;)

# valid
alert tcp any 10,! -> any any (sid:123;)

# valid
alert tcp any 10,![] -> any any (sid:123;)

Acceptable character ranges

There is possibility to abuse list parsing to allow variable include characters that are not allowed in non list context.

# invalid
alert tcp any $HELLO WORLD -> any any (sid:123;)

# valid (variable "HELLO WORLD" recognized)
alert tcp any [$HELLO WORLD] -> any any (sid:123;)


There are many weird way to write rules. But I think that we can ask three questions:

1. Can we write formal grammar for current rules?
2. Is there something wrong with current rule format?
3. What about backward compatibility if something will be changed (format will be restricted)?

I think that current loose parser implementation is not something very desirable, because user can not be sure what they wrote (see examples with list brackets as separators) and they can write rules that very difficult to read.

Also writing grammar for current parser is not easy task, it's certainly should be possible (except line breaks, they can be implemented as part of tokenizer, but should be more restricted to be incorporated in grammar), but grammar will be bloated with special cases and not very useful in my opinion.

But if Suricata rules will be changed, that can break old user rules. It's certainly possible, but this can be alleviated. For example we can write tool that rewrite rules in more strict format.

Actions #3

Updated by Philippe Antoine 28 days ago

1. Can we write formal grammar for current rules?

Looks hard to me when digging into details of keyword values
(and the addresses/ports in the rule header can be complex as well)

Actions #4

Updated by Philippe Antoine 28 days ago

2. Is there something wrong with current rule format?

One wrong thing I see is that there is no formal grammar for it...


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