HOWTO use gdb to debug program errors

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The GNU Debugger (gdb) can be used with ns-3 and Waf to debug program errors. There are several tutorials online (search for 'gdb tutorial' in a search engine) that explain how to use gdb in general.

This HOWTO is related to another HOWTO that explains how to use the insight tool (a graphical front-end for gdb) to debug segmentation faults.

This HOWTO is also related to another HOWTO that describes how to invoke the valgrind tool to find memory leaks.

running gdb directly

gdb can be invoked on a program executable in the normal way (gdb <program-name>), and to do this with ns-3, it is easiest to use the Waf shell (to set the library paths correctly). We demonstrate with an example of the third tutorial example.

 ./waf shell
 cd build/examples/tutorial
 gdb ns3-dev-third-debug
 Reading symbols from ns3-dev-third-debug...done.
 (gdb) 

At this point, one can set breakpoints in the ns-3 libraries, or run the program. We can run it with the --help argument to print out the program usage:

 (gdb) r --help

Or we can deliberately cause a program error by running with an illegal argument

 (gdb) r --nWifi=0 
 Program received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.
 0x0000000000413ac9 in ns3::PeekPointer<ns3::Node> (p=...) at ./ns3/ptr.h:282
 282	  return p.m_ptr;
 (gdb) 
 

To run a test-suite through gdb, use the test-runner program, such as:

 ./waf shell
 cd build/utils/
 gdb ns3-dev-test-runner-debug
 (gdb) r --suite=csma-system
 (gdb) quit

running gdb with Waf

Waf supports a --command-template argument that allows users to launch gdb and run the programs from there.

 ./waf --command-template="gdb %s" --run <program-name>

An example using the third tutorial example, running it first to ask that the help message be printed out, and then running it with an illegal argument:

 ./waf --command-template="gdb %s" --run third
 (gdb) r --help
 (gdb) run --nWifi=0
 ...
 Program received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.
 0x0000000000413ac9 in ns3::PeekPointer<ns3::Node> (p=...) at ./ns3/ptr.h:282
 282	  return p.m_ptr;
 (gdb) 

To debug an individual test suite, use the test-runner program:

 ./waf --command-template="gdb %s" --run test-runner
 (gdb) run --suite=csma-system

running gdb with Waf, redirecting all output to a file

Sometimes a program will generate a lot of output to stdout and stderr, which may get in the way of interactively using the gdb prompt. It is possible to redirect program output to a file, while interacting with the gdb prompt. Here is a trivial example.

 ./waf --command-template="gdb %s" --run third
 (gdb) run --help > output.txt 2>&1

An example of how to run an individual test suite this way, launching gdb from the command line:

 ./waf --run test-runner --command-template="gdb -ex 'run --suite=csma-system > csma-output.txt 2>&1' --args %s"

saving breakpoints across sessions

As of gdb 7.2, breakpoints can be saved to a file and reloaded for a separate session.

For example:

 (gdb) info break
 Num     Type           Disp Enb Address    What
 1       breakpoint     keep y   <PENDING>  random-variable-stream.cc:175
 2       breakpoint     keep y   <PENDING>  random-variable-stream.cc:186

to save them to a file called 'breaks':

 (gdb) save breakpoints breaks

Later, one can retrieve them as follows.

 (gdb) source breaks

In ns-3 with shared libraries, one may get this error:

 (gdb) source breaks
 No source file named random-variable-stream.cc.
 Make breakpoint pending on future shared library load? (y or [n]) [answered N; input not from terminal]
 No source file named random-variable-stream.cc.
 Make breakpoint pending on future shared library load? (y or [n]) [answered N; input not from terminal]

to work around this, use the command 'set breakpoints pending on' before sourcing the file:

 (gdb) set breakpoint pending on
 (gdb) source breaks
 No source file named random-variable-stream.cc.
 Breakpoint 1 (random-variable-stream.cc:175) pending.
 No source file named random-variable-stream.cc.
 Breakpoint 2 (random-variable-stream.cc:186) pending.
 (gdb) info break
 Num     Type           Disp Enb Address    What
 1       breakpoint     keep y   <PENDING>  random-variable-stream.cc:175
 2       breakpoint     keep y   <PENDING>  random-variable-stream.cc:186