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13. Tracepoints

In some applications, it is not feasible for the debugger to interrupt the program's execution long enough for the developer to learn anything helpful about its behavior. If the program's correctness depends on its real-time behavior, delays introduced by a debugger might cause the program to change its behavior drastically, or perhaps fail, even when the code itself is correct. It is useful to be able to observe the program's behavior without interrupting it.

Using GDB's trace and collect commands, you can specify locations in the program, called tracepoints, and arbitrary expressions to evaluate when those tracepoints are reached. Later, using the tfind command, you can examine the values those expressions had when the program hit the tracepoints. The expressions may also denote objects in memory--structures or arrays, for example--whose values GDB should record; while visiting a particular tracepoint, you may inspect those objects as if they were in memory at that moment. However, because GDB records these values without interacting with you, it can do so quickly and unobtrusively, hopefully not disturbing the program's behavior.

The tracepoint facility is currently available only for remote targets. See section Specifying a Debugging Target. In addition, your remote target must know how to collect trace data. This functionality is implemented in the remote stub; however, none of the stubs distributed with GDB support tracepoints as of this writing. The format of the remote packets used to implement tracepoints are described in Tracepoint Packets.

This chapter describes the tracepoint commands and features.

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13.1 Commands to Set Tracepoints

Before running such a trace experiment, an arbitrary number of tracepoints can be set. A tracepoint is actually a special type of breakpoint (see section Setting Breakpoints), so you can manipulate it using standard breakpoint commands. For instance, as with breakpoints, tracepoint numbers are successive integers starting from one, and many of the commands associated with tracepoints take the tracepoint number as their argument, to identify which tracepoint to work on.

For each tracepoint, you can specify, in advance, some arbitrary set of data that you want the target to collect in the trace buffer when it hits that tracepoint. The collected data can include registers, local variables, or global data. Later, you can use GDB commands to examine the values these data had at the time the tracepoint was hit.

Tracepoints do not support every breakpoint feature. Conditional expressions and ignore counts on tracepoints have no effect, and tracepoints cannot run GDB commands when they are hit. Tracepoints may not be thread-specific either.

This section describes commands to set tracepoints and associated conditions and actions.

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13.1.1 Create and Delete Tracepoints

trace location

The trace command is very similar to the break command. Its argument location can be a source line, a function name, or an address in the target program. See section Specifying a Location. The trace command defines a tracepoint, which is a point in the target program where the debugger will briefly stop, collect some data, and then allow the program to continue. Setting a tracepoint or changing its actions doesn't take effect until the next tstart command, and once a trace experiment is running, further changes will not have any effect until the next trace experiment starts.

Here are some examples of using the trace command:

(gdb) trace foo.c:121    // a source file and line number

(gdb) trace +2           // 2 lines forward

(gdb) trace my_function  // first source line of function

(gdb) trace *my_function // EXACT start address of function

(gdb) trace *0x2117c4    // an address

You can abbreviate trace as tr.

trace location if cond

Set a tracepoint with condition cond; evaluate the expression cond each time the tracepoint is reached, and collect data only if the value is nonzero--that is, if cond evaluates as true. See section Tracepoint Conditions, for more information on tracepoint conditions.

The convenience variable $tpnum records the tracepoint number of the most recently set tracepoint.

delete tracepoint [num]

Permanently delete one or more tracepoints. With no argument, the default is to delete all tracepoints. Note that the regular delete command can remove tracepoints also.


(gdb) delete trace 1 2 3 // remove three tracepoints

(gdb) delete trace       // remove all tracepoints

You can abbreviate this command as del tr.

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13.1.2 Enable and Disable Tracepoints

These commands are deprecated; they are equivalent to plain disable and enable.

disable tracepoint [num]

Disable tracepoint num, or all tracepoints if no argument num is given. A disabled tracepoint will have no effect during the next trace experiment, but it is not forgotten. You can re-enable a disabled tracepoint using the enable tracepoint command.

enable tracepoint [num]

Enable tracepoint num, or all tracepoints. The enabled tracepoints will become effective the next time a trace experiment is run.

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13.1.3 Tracepoint Passcounts

passcount [n [num]]

Set the passcount of a tracepoint. The passcount is a way to automatically stop a trace experiment. If a tracepoint's passcount is n, then the trace experiment will be automatically stopped on the n'th time that tracepoint is hit. If the tracepoint number num is not specified, the passcount command sets the passcount of the most recently defined tracepoint. If no passcount is given, the trace experiment will run until stopped explicitly by the user.


(gdb) passcount 5 2 // Stop on the 5th execution of
                                   // tracepoint 2

(gdb) passcount 12  // Stop on the 12th execution of the
                                   // most recently defined tracepoint.
(gdb) trace foo
(gdb) pass 3
(gdb) trace bar
(gdb) pass 2
(gdb) trace baz
(gdb) pass 1        // Stop tracing when foo has been
                                    // executed 3 times OR when bar has
                                    // been executed 2 times
                                    // OR when baz has been executed 1 time.

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13.1.4 Tracepoint Conditions

The simplest sort of tracepoint collects data every time your program reaches a specified place. You can also specify a condition for a tracepoint. A condition is just a Boolean expression in your programming language (see section Expressions). A tracepoint with a condition evaluates the expression each time your program reaches it, and data collection happens only if the condition is true.

Tracepoint conditions can be specified when a tracepoint is set, by using `if' in the arguments to the trace command. See section Setting Tracepoints. They can also be set or changed at any time with the condition command, just as with breakpoints.

Unlike breakpoint conditions, GDB does not actually evaluate the conditional expression itself. Instead, GDB encodes the expression into an agent expression (see section The GDB Agent Expression Mechanism suitable for execution on the target, independently of GDB. Global variables become raw memory locations, locals become stack accesses, and so forth.

For instance, suppose you have a function that is usually called frequently, but should not be called after an error has occurred. You could use the following tracepoint command to collect data about calls of that function that happen while the error code is propagating through the program; an unconditional tracepoint could end up collecting thousands of useless trace frames that you would have to search through.

(gdb) trace normal_operation if errcode > 0

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13.1.5 Tracepoint Action Lists

actions [num]

This command will prompt for a list of actions to be taken when the tracepoint is hit. If the tracepoint number num is not specified, this command sets the actions for the one that was most recently defined (so that you can define a tracepoint and then say actions without bothering about its number). You specify the actions themselves on the following lines, one action at a time, and terminate the actions list with a line containing just end. So far, the only defined actions are collect and while-stepping.

To remove all actions from a tracepoint, type `actions num' and follow it immediately with `end'.

(gdb) collect data // collect some data

(gdb) while-stepping 5 // single-step 5 times, collect data

(gdb) end              // signals the end of actions.

In the following example, the action list begins with collect commands indicating the things to be collected when the tracepoint is hit. Then, in order to single-step and collect additional data following the tracepoint, a while-stepping command is used, followed by the list of things to be collected while stepping. The while-stepping command is terminated by its own separate end command. Lastly, the action list is terminated by an end command.

(gdb) trace foo
(gdb) actions
Enter actions for tracepoint 1, one per line:
> collect bar,baz
> collect $regs
> while-stepping 12
  > collect $fp, $sp
  > end
collect expr1, expr2, …

Collect values of the given expressions when the tracepoint is hit. This command accepts a comma-separated list of any valid expressions. In addition to global, static, or local variables, the following special arguments are supported:


collect all registers


collect all function arguments


collect all local variables.

You can give several consecutive collect commands, each one with a single argument, or one collect command with several arguments separated by commas: the effect is the same.

The command info scope (see section info scope) is particularly useful for figuring out what data to collect.

while-stepping n

Perform n single-step traces after the tracepoint, collecting new data at each step. The while-stepping command is followed by the list of what to collect while stepping (followed by its own end command):

> while-stepping 12
  > collect $regs, myglobal
  > end

You may abbreviate while-stepping as ws or stepping.

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13.1.6 Listing Tracepoints

info tracepoints [num]

Display information about the tracepoint num. If you don't specify a tracepoint number, displays information about all the tracepoints defined so far. The format is similar to that used for info breakpoints; in fact, info tracepoints is the same command, simply restricting itself to tracepoints.

A tracepoint's listing may include additional information specific to tracing:

(gdb) info trace
Num     Type           Disp Enb Address    What
1       tracepoint     keep y   0x0804ab57 in foo() at main.cxx:7
        pass count 1200 
        step count 20 
      A while-stepping 20
      A collect globfoo, $regs
      A end
      A collect globfoo2
      A end

This command can be abbreviated info tp.

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13.1.7 Starting and Stopping Trace Experiments


This command takes no arguments. It starts the trace experiment, and begins collecting data. This has the side effect of discarding all the data collected in the trace buffer during the previous trace experiment.


This command takes no arguments. It ends the trace experiment, and stops collecting data.

Note: a trace experiment and data collection may stop automatically if any tracepoint's passcount is reached (see section Tracepoint Passcounts), or if the trace buffer becomes full.


This command displays the status of the current trace data collection.

Here is an example of the commands we described so far:

(gdb) trace gdb_c_test
(gdb) actions
Enter actions for tracepoint #1, one per line.
> collect $regs,$locals,$args
> while-stepping 11
  > collect $regs
  > end
> end
(gdb) tstart
	[time passes …]
(gdb) tstop

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13.2 Using the Collected Data

After the tracepoint experiment ends, you use GDB commands for examining the trace data. The basic idea is that each tracepoint collects a trace snapshot every time it is hit and another snapshot every time it single-steps. All these snapshots are consecutively numbered from zero and go into a buffer, and you can examine them later. The way you examine them is to focus on a specific trace snapshot. When the remote stub is focused on a trace snapshot, it will respond to all GDB requests for memory and registers by reading from the buffer which belongs to that snapshot, rather than from real memory or registers of the program being debugged. This means that all GDB commands (print, info registers, backtrace, etc.) will behave as if we were currently debugging the program state as it was when the tracepoint occurred. Any requests for data that are not in the buffer will fail.

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13.2.1 tfind n

The basic command for selecting a trace snapshot from the buffer is tfind n, which finds trace snapshot number n, counting from zero. If no argument n is given, the next snapshot is selected.

Here are the various forms of using the tfind command.

tfind start

Find the first snapshot in the buffer. This is a synonym for tfind 0 (since 0 is the number of the first snapshot).

tfind none

Stop debugging trace snapshots, resume live debugging.

tfind end

Same as `tfind none'.


No argument means find the next trace snapshot.

tfind -

Find the previous trace snapshot before the current one. This permits retracing earlier steps.

tfind tracepoint num

Find the next snapshot associated with tracepoint num. Search proceeds forward from the last examined trace snapshot. If no argument num is given, it means find the next snapshot collected for the same tracepoint as the current snapshot.

tfind pc addr

Find the next snapshot associated with the value addr of the program counter. Search proceeds forward from the last examined trace snapshot. If no argument addr is given, it means find the next snapshot with the same value of PC as the current snapshot.

tfind outside addr1, addr2

Find the next snapshot whose PC is outside the given range of addresses.

tfind range addr1, addr2

Find the next snapshot whose PC is between addr1 and addr2.

tfind line [file:]n

Find the next snapshot associated with the source line n. If the optional argument file is given, refer to line n in that source file. Search proceeds forward from the last examined trace snapshot. If no argument n is given, it means find the next line other than the one currently being examined; thus saying tfind line repeatedly can appear to have the same effect as stepping from line to line in a live debugging session.

The default arguments for the tfind commands are specifically designed to make it easy to scan through the trace buffer. For instance, tfind with no argument selects the next trace snapshot, and tfind - with no argument selects the previous trace snapshot. So, by giving one tfind command, and then simply hitting RET repeatedly you can examine all the trace snapshots in order. Or, by saying tfind - and then hitting RET repeatedly you can examine the snapshots in reverse order. The tfind line command with no argument selects the snapshot for the next source line executed. The tfind pc command with no argument selects the next snapshot with the same program counter (PC) as the current frame. The tfind tracepoint command with no argument selects the next trace snapshot collected by the same tracepoint as the current one.

In addition to letting you scan through the trace buffer manually, these commands make it easy to construct GDB scripts that scan through the trace buffer and print out whatever collected data you are interested in. Thus, if we want to examine the PC, FP, and SP registers from each trace frame in the buffer, we can say this:

(gdb) tfind start
(gdb) while ($trace_frame != -1)
> printf "Frame %d, PC = %08X, SP = %08X, FP = %08X\n", \
          $trace_frame, $pc, $sp, $fp
> tfind
> end

Frame 0, PC = 0020DC64, SP = 0030BF3C, FP = 0030BF44
Frame 1, PC = 0020DC6C, SP = 0030BF38, FP = 0030BF44
Frame 2, PC = 0020DC70, SP = 0030BF34, FP = 0030BF44
Frame 3, PC = 0020DC74, SP = 0030BF30, FP = 0030BF44
Frame 4, PC = 0020DC78, SP = 0030BF2C, FP = 0030BF44
Frame 5, PC = 0020DC7C, SP = 0030BF28, FP = 0030BF44
Frame 6, PC = 0020DC80, SP = 0030BF24, FP = 0030BF44
Frame 7, PC = 0020DC84, SP = 0030BF20, FP = 0030BF44
Frame 8, PC = 0020DC88, SP = 0030BF1C, FP = 0030BF44
Frame 9, PC = 0020DC8E, SP = 0030BF18, FP = 0030BF44
Frame 10, PC = 00203F6C, SP = 0030BE3C, FP = 0030BF14

Or, if we want to examine the variable X at each source line in the buffer:

(gdb) tfind start
(gdb) while ($trace_frame != -1)
> printf "Frame %d, X == %d\n", $trace_frame, X
> tfind line
> end

Frame 0, X = 1
Frame 7, X = 2
Frame 13, X = 255

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13.2.2 tdump

This command takes no arguments. It prints all the data collected at the current trace snapshot.

(gdb) trace 444
(gdb) actions
Enter actions for tracepoint #2, one per line:
> collect $regs, $locals, $args, gdb_long_test
> end

(gdb) tstart

(gdb) tfind line 444
#0  gdb_test (p1=0x11, p2=0x22, p3=0x33, p4=0x44, p5=0x55, p6=0x66)
at gdb_test.c:444
444        printp( "%s: arguments = 0x%X 0x%X 0x%X 0x%X 0x%X 0x%X\n", )

(gdb) tdump
Data collected at tracepoint 2, trace frame 1:
d0             0xc4aa0085       -995491707
d1             0x18     24
d2             0x80     128
d3             0x33     51
d4             0x71aea3d        119204413
d5             0x22     34
d6             0xe0     224
d7             0x380035 3670069
a0             0x19e24a 1696330
a1             0x3000668        50333288
a2             0x100    256
a3             0x322000 3284992
a4             0x3000698        50333336
a5             0x1ad3cc 1758156
fp             0x30bf3c 0x30bf3c
sp             0x30bf34 0x30bf34
ps             0x0      0
pc             0x20b2c8 0x20b2c8
fpcontrol      0x0      0
fpstatus       0x0      0
fpiaddr        0x0      0
p = 0x20e5b4 "gdb-test"
p1 = (void *) 0x11
p2 = (void *) 0x22
p3 = (void *) 0x33
p4 = (void *) 0x44
p5 = (void *) 0x55
p6 = (void *) 0x66
gdb_long_test = 17 '\021'


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13.2.3 save-tracepoints filename

This command saves all current tracepoint definitions together with their actions and passcounts, into a file `filename' suitable for use in a later debugging session. To read the saved tracepoint definitions, use the source command (see section Command Files).

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13.3 Convenience Variables for Tracepoints

(int) $trace_frame

The current trace snapshot (a.k.a. frame) number, or -1 if no snapshot is selected.

(int) $tracepoint

The tracepoint for the current trace snapshot.

(int) $trace_line

The line number for the current trace snapshot.

(char []) $trace_file

The source file for the current trace snapshot.

(char []) $trace_func

The name of the function containing $tracepoint.

Note: $trace_file is not suitable for use in printf, use output instead.

Here's a simple example of using these convenience variables for stepping through all the trace snapshots and printing some of their data.

(gdb) tfind start

(gdb) while $trace_frame != -1
> output $trace_file
> printf ", line %d (tracepoint #%d)\n", $trace_line, $tracepoint
> tfind
> end

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