Automate debugging using GDB scripting

Posted on November 13, 2021
Tags: linux, gdb, gdb scripting, gstreamer
by Sanchayan Maity

For a while, have had the pleasure of working on a GStreamer plugin in Rust at work. The plugin basically rounds the corners of an incoming video, something akin to the border-radius property in CSS. Below is how it looks like when running on a video.

The GStreamer pipeline for the same.

gst-launch-1.0 filesrc location=~/Downloads/bunny.mp4 ! decodebin ! videoconvert ! roundedcorners border-radius-px=100 ! videoconvert ! gtksink

This was the first time working on a video plugin in GStreamer. Had a lot to learn on how to use the BaseTransform class from GStreamer, among other things. Without getting into the GStreamer specific details here, basically ran into a problem for which needed some debugging for figuring out what was going on in the internals of GStreamer.

Now, while using GDB from the command line has never been a problem, but, the straight forward regular approach is time-consuming. Start the pipeline, then attach gdb to a running process, place breakpoints by manually typing out the whole thing and then start. For one off debugging sessions, where perhaps you just want to inspect the backtrace from a crash or may be look into a deadlock condition where your code hung, this could be fine. However, when you have to repeat this multiple times do a source code change compile and then select again it becomes frustrating.

GDB Dashboard

Looking for a better way, gdb-dashboard is what first came up as an option. This is quite useful since it can give the needed information without having to type anything. Using gdb hooks, the dashboard can be triggered when appropriate. See the rest of the gdb configuration to get an idea. This is useful in scenarios like where code is stuck due to a deadlock and one needs to look at the backtrace of a crash or any such one off simple investigation.

Construct breakpoint command in neovim & copy to clipboard

The next small improvement is more specific to neovim. Navigating source code with neovim opened in one kitty tab and gdb running in terminal in next tab or a split is a preferred workflow personally. Being able to place a breakpoint without having to type anything out on the gdb prompt would be convenient. The vimscript code below generates the gdb command, considering the current line and file on which the cursor is at in the source when opened in neovim.

function! CopyBpLocToClipboard() abort
  let linenumber = line(".")
  let filepath = expand("%")
  let breakpoint = "break " . filepath . ":" . linenumber
  silent execute "!wl-copy " . breakpoint
endfunction

nnoremap <silent> <Leader>yb :<C-U>call CopyBpLocToClipboard()<CR> 

By using the preceding key binding, a command like below gets copied to the clipboard which can be just pasted on gdb prompt.

break subprojects/gst-plugins-base/gst-libs/gst/video/video-frame.c:104

Nifty!!!

GDB scripting

Now imagine a scenario where perhaps one wants to look at multiple places in the source code and when the program is running, inspect certain variables or just print out a back trace each time a specific code point is reached.

The manual way to do this is to load the executable in gdb or attach to a running process, place a break point, run, inspect the local variables or print stack trace, place the next break point and repeat this whole process. Just time-consuming.

GDB can completely automate the preceding process like below.

Below is the .gdbinit file applicable for the problem facing encountered at work. This is what’s called a command file by gdb.

set confirm off
set breakpoint pending on
set logging on
set logging overwrite on
set print pretty on
set pagination off
break subprojects/gst-plugins-base/gst-libs/gst/video/video-frame.c:104 if meta->n_planes == 4
break subprojects/gst-plugins-base/gst-libs/gst/video/gstvideometa.c:228
break subprojects/gstreamer/gst/gstbuffer.c:1410
break subprojects/gst-plugins-base/gst-libs/gst/video/gstvideometa.c:231
break subprojects/gst-plugins-base/gst-libs/gst/video/gstvideometa.c:237
break subprojects/gst-plugins-base/gst-libs/gst/video/video-frame.c:136

commands 1
    print i
    print *frame
    enable 2
    enable 3
    enable 4
    enable 5
    enable 6
    continue
end
commands 2
    print offset
    continue
end
commands 3
    print offset
    print size
    continue
end
commands 4
    print *(GstBufferImpl *)buffer
    print idx
    print length 
    print skip
    continue
end
commands 5
    disable 2
    disable 3
    disable 4
    print *(GstBufferImpl *)buffer
    print info->data
    print skip
    print *data
    continue
end
commands 6
    print *frame
    quit
end

disable 2
disable 3
disable 4
disable 5
disable 6
run

Below is the command to debug the GStreamer plugin in this pipeline with gdb.

gdb --nx -x .gdbinit --args env RUST_BACKTRACE=1 GST_DEBUG=3,basetransform:6 GST_PLUGIN_PATH=$GST_PLUGIN_PATH:~/GitSources/gst-plugins-rs/target/debug gst-launch-1.0 filesrc location=~/Downloads/bunny.mp4 ! decodebin ! videoconvert ! video/x-raw,format=I420 ! roundedcorners border-radius-px=100 ! video/x-raw,format=A420 ! videoconvert ! gtksink

In the preceding command, the -x parameter tells gdb to use the command file. The --nx flag tells gdb to not read any .gdbinit files in any directory, as gdb-dashboard isn’t intended to be used for this. --args is how one tells gdb what to run, which is the GStreamer pipeline in this case. See gdb --help for details on the flags.

Now, consider what the command file does. The ones below are just some settings for gdb to use. Note that logging and pretty printing are enabled.

set confirm off
set breakpoint pending on
set logging on
set logging overwrite on
set print pretty on
set pagination off

Next, specify the breakpoints. There are six breakpoints. These are the source code locations of interest.

break subprojects/gst-plugins-base/gst-libs/gst/video/video-frame.c:104 if meta->n_planes == 4
break subprojects/gst-plugins-base/gst-libs/gst/video/gstvideometa.c:228
break subprojects/gstreamer/gst/gstbuffer.c:1410
break subprojects/gst-plugins-base/gst-libs/gst/video/gstvideometa.c:231
break subprojects/gst-plugins-base/gst-libs/gst/video/gstvideometa.c:237
break subprojects/gst-plugins-base/gst-libs/gst/video/video-frame.c:136

Breakpoints can be enabled conditionally. The if meta->n_planes == 4 implies to consider this breakpoint only when a video frame with 4 planes is received.

Next gdb has to be told what should be done when each of the preceding breakpoints is hit.

commands 1
    print i
    print *frame
    enable 2
    enable 3
    enable 4
    enable 5
    enable 6
    continue
end

commands 1 implies these are the commands for gdb to execute when breakpoint 1 is hit. When breakpoint 1 is hit, the value of i and frame gets printed. The other breakpoints get enabled only after the first one is hit. This is because at the end of command file, the following commands

disable 2
disable 3
disable 4
disable 5
disable 6

instruct gdb to start with these breakpoints off. These get enabled only when breakpoint 1 is hit. The continue just tells gdb to continue, as gdb shouldn’t stop on hitting a breakpoint and logs can be inspected in the end using gdb log.

Other breakpoints are specified similarly.

The run at the end tells gdb to start executing immediately. In normal usage one would have to explicitly type run on the gdb prompt to make gdb start debugging.

If it’s not clear so far, basically whatever gdb commands would have been used for debugging at the gdb prompt, is what gets specified in the command file as well.

After running the below on the terminal

gdb --nx -x .gdbinit --args env RUST_BACKTRACE=1 GST_DEBUG=3,basetransform:6 GST_PLUGIN_PATH=$GST_PLUGIN_PATH:~/GitSources/gst-plugins-rs/target/debug gst-launch-1.0 filesrc location=~/Downloads/bunny.mp4 ! decodebin ! videoconvert ! video/x-raw,format=I420 ! roundedcorners border-radius-px=100 ! video/x-raw,format=A420 ! videoconvert ! gtksink

The pipeline gets executed by gdb, considering the command file it was passed and log whatever it was asked to log when each breakpoint is encountered. Since logging and pretty printing were enabled earlier, gdb logs everything in default gdb.txt file. The exact log text file can be seen here, with gdbinit and the other two log files attached.

Now, one can comfortably look at this log and see what’s going on. Once the command file is written, the whole debugging process is completely automated. Run, sit back and then look at the logs.

Using gdb is now a breeze and hassle-free experience. Being able to automate and log the debugging process like this, also means you could share your command file and someone else can replicate this.