Bad Google cookie kills Safari

03-10-2010: I believe this is fixed in latest Safari versions. The contents of this post remain for historical purposes only.

In a bizarre case of digital food poisoning, I experienced a series of mysterious, persistent, reproducible crashes with Safari 3.2.1 this morning, traceable to a bad Google cookie.

The symptoms

Google has a nifty query suggestion feature that is turned on by default on its homepage search box. Whenever I typed in a phrase query (e.g. +"query suggestion" +"Google features") with the suggestion feature turned on, the browser crashed with a SIGSEGV around 30% of the time.

Excerpt from the crash log:

Exception Type:  EXC_BAD_ACCESS (SIGSEGV)
Exception Codes: KERN_INVALID_ADDRESS at 0x000000001bdca240
Crashed Thread:  0

Thread 0 Crashed:
0   ???                            0x16619e75 0 + 375496309
1   com.apple.WebCore              0x94325ea0 WebCore::AutoTableLayout::fullRecalc() + 704
2   com.apple.WebCore              0x9432581a WebCore::AutoTableLayout::calcPrefWidths(int&, int&) + 26
3   com.apple.WebCore              0x943252b8 WebCore::RenderTable::calcPrefWidths() + 56
4   com.apple.WebCore              0x9431c04b WebCore::RenderBox::minPrefWidth() const + 27
5   com.apple.WebCore              0x9432507c WebCore::RenderTable::calcWidth() + 124
6   com.apple.WebCore              0x943241a8 WebCore::RenderTable::layout() + 392
...

In the remainder of the cases, when it does not crash immediately, a JavaScript error is logged to the browser error console (to access, go to Develop -> Show Error Console)
SyntaxError: Invalid regular expression: nothing to repeat
http://www.google.com/extern_js/f/CgJlbhICdXMrMAc4AiwrMAo4EywrMA44AywrMBg4Ayw/nMD0sKnpeG0.js (line 21)

for every letter that I type into the search box. During this time, no query suggestion is made.

Diagnostics

  • I have never used an InputManager or “plug-in” to Safari
  • The same crash does NOT happen under a fresh new user account created for diagnostic purposes
  • Clearing the browser cache, temp files, hidden cache files ( getconf DARWIN_USER_CACHE_DIR ), etc. did not help.
  • Deleting Safari preferences did not help.

Solution

After applying a divide-and-conquer strategy to the entire ~/Library directory (not made any easier by Finder’s obstinate resistance to my attempt to move subdirectories within the Library directory, despite having the appropriate permissions — had to drop to Terminal for this), I traced it to the ~/Library/Cookies directory. Moving away the Cookies.plist file contained within cured the crash, the lack of query suggestions, and the Javascript error. More specifically, deleting all Google-related cookies within the Cookies file also accomplished the same thing.

Remarks

Some combination of a bad cookie and bad regexes appears to have triggered a crash bug in this version of WebKit / WebCore. You wouldn’t think a bad cookie could take down a browser. But apparently it does.

I dearly hope this is not a potential buffer overflow or other security problem within WebKit.

One thought on “Bad Google cookie kills Safari

  1. Tim Macalton

    Thanks! Been trying to solve this problem for a couple of days. Clearing my cookies worked like a charm.

    Reply

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