23. gdb Support

If you experience low-level problems such as crashes or deadlocks (e.g. when tinkering with parts of CPython which are written in C), it can be convenient to use a low-level debugger such as gdb in order to diagnose and fix the issue. By default, however, gdb (or any of its front-ends) doesn’t know about high-level information specific to the CPython interpreter, such as which Python function is currently executing, or what type or value has a given Python object represented by a standard PyObject * pointer. We hereafter present two ways to overcome this limitation.

23.1. gdb 7 and later

In gdb 7, support for extending gdb with Python was added. When CPython is built you will notice a python-gdb.py file in the root directory of your checkout. Read the module docstring for details on how to use the file to enhance gdb for easier debugging of a CPython process.

This is what a backtrace looks like (truncated) when this extension is enabled:

#0  0x000000000041a6b1 in PyObject_Malloc (nbytes=Cannot access memory at address 0x7fffff7fefe8
) at Objects/obmalloc.c:748
#1  0x000000000041b7c0 in _PyObject_DebugMallocApi (id=111 'o', nbytes=24) at Objects/obmalloc.c:1445
#2  0x000000000041b717 in _PyObject_DebugMalloc (nbytes=24) at Objects/obmalloc.c:1412
#3  0x000000000044060a in _PyUnicode_New (length=11) at Objects/unicodeobject.c:346
#4  0x00000000004466aa in PyUnicodeUCS2_DecodeUTF8Stateful (s=0x5c2b8d "__lltrace__", size=11, errors=0x0, consumed=
    0x0) at Objects/unicodeobject.c:2531
#5  0x0000000000446647 in PyUnicodeUCS2_DecodeUTF8 (s=0x5c2b8d "__lltrace__", size=11, errors=0x0)
    at Objects/unicodeobject.c:2495
#6  0x0000000000440d1b in PyUnicodeUCS2_FromStringAndSize (u=0x5c2b8d "__lltrace__", size=11)
    at Objects/unicodeobject.c:551
#7  0x0000000000440d94 in PyUnicodeUCS2_FromString (u=0x5c2b8d "__lltrace__") at Objects/unicodeobject.c:569
#8  0x0000000000584abd in PyDict_GetItemString (v=
    {'Yuck': <type at remote 0xad4730>, '__builtins__': <module at remote 0x7ffff7fd5ee8>, '__file__': 'Lib/test/crashers/nasty_eq_vs_dict.py', '__package__': None, 'y': <Yuck(i=0) at remote 0xaacd80>, 'dict': {0: 0, 1: 1, 2: 2, 3: 3}, '__cached__': None, '__name__': '__main__', 'z': <Yuck(i=0) at remote 0xaace60>, '__doc__': None}, key=
    0x5c2b8d "__lltrace__") at Objects/dictobject.c:2171

(notice how the dictionary argument to PyDict_GetItemString is displayed as its repr(), rather than an opaque PyObject * pointer)

The extension works by supplying a custom printing routine for values of type PyObject *. If you need to access lower-level details of an object, then cast the value to a pointer of the appropriate type. For example:

(gdb) p globals
$1 = {'__builtins__': <module at remote 0x7ffff7fb1868>, '__name__':
'__main__', 'ctypes': <module at remote 0x7ffff7f14360>, '__doc__': None,
'__package__': None}

(gdb) p *(PyDictObject*)globals
$2 = {ob_refcnt = 3, ob_type = 0x3dbdf85820, ma_fill = 5, ma_used = 5,
ma_mask = 7, ma_table = 0x63d0f8, ma_lookup = 0x3dbdc7ea70
<lookdict_string>, ma_smalltable = {{me_hash = 7065186196740147912,
me_key = '__builtins__', me_value = <module at remote 0x7ffff7fb1868>},
{me_hash = -368181376027291943, me_key = '__name__',
me_value ='__main__'}, {me_hash = 0, me_key = 0x0, me_value = 0x0},
{me_hash = 0, me_key = 0x0, me_value = 0x0},
{me_hash = -9177857982131165996, me_key = 'ctypes',
me_value = <module at remote 0x7ffff7f14360>},
{me_hash = -8518757509529533123, me_key = '__doc__', me_value = None},
{me_hash = 0, me_key = 0x0, me_value = 0x0}, {
  me_hash = 6614918939584953775, me_key = '__package__', me_value = None}}}

The pretty-printers try to closely match the repr() implementation of the underlying implementation of Python, and thus vary somewhat between Python 2 and Python 3.

An area that can be confusing is that the custom printer for some types look a lot like gdb’s built-in printer for standard types. For example, the pretty-printer for a Python 3 int gives a repr() that is not distinguishable from a printing of a regular machine-level integer:

(gdb) p some_machine_integer
$3 = 42

(gdb) p some_python_integer
$4 = 42

(gdb) p *(PyLongObject*)some_python_integer
$5 = {ob_base = {ob_base = {ob_refcnt = 8, ob_type = 0x3dad39f5e0}, ob_size = 1},
ob_digit = {42}}

A similar confusion can arise with the str type, where the output looks a lot like gdb’s built-in printer for char *:

(gdb) p ptr_to_python_str
$6 = '__builtins__'

The pretty-printer for str instances defaults to using single-quotes (as does Python’s repr for strings) whereas the standard printer for char * values uses double-quotes and contains a hexadecimal address:

(gdb) p ptr_to_char_star
$7 = 0x6d72c0 "hello world"

Here’s how to see the implementation details of a str instance (for Python 3, where a str is a PyUnicodeObject *):

(gdb) p *(PyUnicodeObject*)$6
$8 = {ob_base = {ob_refcnt = 33, ob_type = 0x3dad3a95a0}, length = 12,
str = 0x7ffff2128500, hash = 7065186196740147912, state = 1, defenc = 0x0}

As well as adding pretty-printing support for PyObject *, the extension adds a number of commands to gdb

py-list

List the Python source code (if any) for the current frame in the selected thread. The current line is marked with a “>”:

(gdb) py-list
 901        if options.profile:
 902            options.profile = False
 903            profile_me()
 904            return
 905
>906        u = UI()
 907        if not u.quit:
 908            try:
 909                gtk.main()
 910            except KeyboardInterrupt:
 911                # properly quit on a keyboard interrupt...

Use py-list START to list at a different line number within the python source, and py-list START,END to list a specific range of lines within the python source.

py-up and py-down

The py-up and py-down commands are analogous to gdb’s regular up and down commands, but try to move at the level of CPython frames, rather than C frames.

gdb is not always able to read the relevant frame information, depending on the optimization level with which CPython was compiled. Internally, the commands look for C frames that are executing PyEval_EvalFrameEx (which implements the core bytecode interpreter loop within CPython) and look up the value of the related PyFrameObject *.

They emit the frame number (at the C level) within the thread.

For example:

(gdb) py-up
#37 Frame 0x9420b04, for file /usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/
gnome_sudoku/main.py, line 906, in start_game ()
    u = UI()
(gdb) py-up
#40 Frame 0x948e82c, for file /usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/
gnome_sudoku/gnome_sudoku.py, line 22, in start_game(main=<module at remote 0xb771b7f4>)
    main.start_game()
(gdb) py-up
Unable to find an older python frame

so we’re at the top of the python stack. Going back down:

(gdb) py-down
#37 Frame 0x9420b04, for file /usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/gnome_sudoku/main.py, line 906, in start_game ()
    u = UI()
(gdb) py-down
#34 (unable to read python frame information)
(gdb) py-down
#23 (unable to read python frame information)
(gdb) py-down
#19 (unable to read python frame information)
(gdb) py-down
#14 Frame 0x99262ac, for file /usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/gnome_sudoku/game_selector.py, line 201, in run_swallowed_dialog (self=<NewOrSavedGameSelector(new_game_model=<gtk.ListStore at remote 0x98fab44>, puzzle=None, saved_games=[{'gsd.auto_fills': 0, 'tracking': {}, 'trackers': {}, 'notes': [], 'saved_at': 1270084485, 'game': '7 8 0 0 0 0 0 5 6 0 0 9 0 8 0 1 0 0 0 4 6 0 0 0 0 7 0 6 5 0 0 0 4 7 9 2 0 0 0 9 0 1 0 0 0 3 9 7 6 0 0 0 1 8 0 6 0 0 0 0 2 8 0 0 0 5 0 4 0 6 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 5\n7 8 0 0 0 0 0 5 6 0 0 9 0 8 0 1 0 0 0 4 6 0 0 0 0 7 0 6 5 1 8 3 4 7 9 2 0 0 0 9 0 1 0 0 0 3 9 7 6 0 0 0 1 8 0 6 0 0 0 0 2 8 0 0 0 5 0 4 0 6 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 5', 'gsd.impossible_hints': 0, 'timer.__absolute_start_time__': <float at remote 0x984b474>, 'gsd.hints': 0, 'timer.active_time': <float at remote 0x984b494>, 'timer.total_time': <float at remote 0x984b464>}], dialog=<gtk.Dialog at remote 0x98faaa4>, saved_game_model=<gtk.ListStore at remote 0x98fad24>, sudoku_maker=<SudokuMaker(terminated=False, played=[], batch_siz...(truncated)
            swallower.run_dialog(self.dialog)
(gdb) py-down
#11 Frame 0x9aead74, for file /usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/gnome_sudoku/dialog_swallower.py, line 48, in run_dialog (self=<SwappableArea(running=<gtk.Dialog at remote 0x98faaa4>, main_page=0) at remote 0x98fa6e4>, d=<gtk.Dialog at remote 0x98faaa4>)
            gtk.main()
(gdb) py-down
#8 (unable to read python frame information)
(gdb) py-down
Unable to find a newer python frame

and we’re at the bottom of the python stack.

py-bt

The py-bt command attempts to display a Python-level backtrace of the current thread.

For example:

(gdb) py-bt
#8 (unable to read python frame information)
#11 Frame 0x9aead74, for file /usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/gnome_sudoku/dialog_swallower.py, line 48, in run_dialog (self=<SwappableArea(running=<gtk.Dialog at remote 0x98faaa4>, main_page=0) at remote 0x98fa6e4>, d=<gtk.Dialog at remote 0x98faaa4>)
            gtk.main()
#14 Frame 0x99262ac, for file /usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/gnome_sudoku/game_selector.py, line 201, in run_swallowed_dialog (self=<NewOrSavedGameSelector(new_game_model=<gtk.ListStore at remote 0x98fab44>, puzzle=None, saved_games=[{'gsd.auto_fills': 0, 'tracking': {}, 'trackers': {}, 'notes': [], 'saved_at': 1270084485, 'game': '7 8 0 0 0 0 0 5 6 0 0 9 0 8 0 1 0 0 0 4 6 0 0 0 0 7 0 6 5 0 0 0 4 7 9 2 0 0 0 9 0 1 0 0 0 3 9 7 6 0 0 0 1 8 0 6 0 0 0 0 2 8 0 0 0 5 0 4 0 6 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 5\n7 8 0 0 0 0 0 5 6 0 0 9 0 8 0 1 0 0 0 4 6 0 0 0 0 7 0 6 5 1 8 3 4 7 9 2 0 0 0 9 0 1 0 0 0 3 9 7 6 0 0 0 1 8 0 6 0 0 0 0 2 8 0 0 0 5 0 4 0 6 0 0 2 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 5', 'gsd.impossible_hints': 0, 'timer.__absolute_start_time__': <float at remote 0x984b474>, 'gsd.hints': 0, 'timer.active_time': <float at remote 0x984b494>, 'timer.total_time': <float at remote 0x984b464>}], dialog=<gtk.Dialog at remote 0x98faaa4>, saved_game_model=<gtk.ListStore at remote 0x98fad24>, sudoku_maker=<SudokuMaker(terminated=False, played=[], batch_siz...(truncated)
            swallower.run_dialog(self.dialog)
#19 (unable to read python frame information)
#23 (unable to read python frame information)
#34 (unable to read python frame information)
#37 Frame 0x9420b04, for file /usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/gnome_sudoku/main.py, line 906, in start_game ()
    u = UI()
#40 Frame 0x948e82c, for file /usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/gnome_sudoku/gnome_sudoku.py, line 22, in start_game (main=<module at remote 0xb771b7f4>)
    main.start_game()

The frame numbers correspond to those displayed by gdb’s standard backtrace command.

py-print

The py-print command looks up a Python name and tries to print it. It looks in locals within the current thread, then globals, then finally builtins:

(gdb) py-print self
local 'self' = <SwappableArea(running=<gtk.Dialog at remote 0x98faaa4>,
main_page=0) at remote 0x98fa6e4>
(gdb) py-print __name__
global '__name__' = 'gnome_sudoku.dialog_swallower'
(gdb) py-print len
builtin 'len' = <built-in function len>
(gdb) py-print scarlet_pimpernel
'scarlet_pimpernel' not found
py-locals

The py-locals command looks up all Python locals within the current Python frame in the selected thread, and prints their representations:

(gdb) py-locals
self = <SwappableArea(running=<gtk.Dialog at remote 0x98faaa4>,
main_page=0) at remote 0x98fa6e4>
d = <gtk.Dialog at remote 0x98faaa4>

You can of course use other gdb commands. For example, the frame command takes you directly to a particular frame within the selected thread. We can use it to go a specific frame shown by py-bt like this:

(gdb) py-bt
(output snipped)
#68 Frame 0xaa4560, for file Lib/test/regrtest.py, line 1548, in <module> ()
        main()
(gdb) frame 68
#68 0x00000000004cd1e6 in PyEval_EvalFrameEx (f=Frame 0xaa4560, for file Lib/test/regrtest.py, line 1548, in <module> (), throwflag=0) at Python/ceval.c:2665
2665                            x = call_function(&sp, oparg);
(gdb) py-list
1543        # Run the tests in a context manager that temporary changes the CWD to a
1544        # temporary and writable directory. If it's not possible to create or
1545        # change the CWD, the original CWD will be used. The original CWD is
1546        # available from test_support.SAVEDCWD.
1547        with test_support.temp_cwd(TESTCWD, quiet=True):
>1548            main()

The info threads command will give you a list of the threads within the process, and you can use the thread command to select a different one:

(gdb) info threads
  105 Thread 0x7fffefa18710 (LWP 10260)  sem_wait () at ../nptl/sysdeps/unix/sysv/linux/x86_64/sem_wait.S:86
  104 Thread 0x7fffdf5fe710 (LWP 10259)  sem_wait () at ../nptl/sysdeps/unix/sysv/linux/x86_64/sem_wait.S:86
* 1 Thread 0x7ffff7fe2700 (LWP 10145)  0x00000038e46d73e3 in select () at ../sysdeps/unix/syscall-template.S:82

You can use thread apply all COMMAND or (t a a COMMAND for short) to run a command on all threads. You can use this with py-bt to see what every thread is doing at the Python level:

(gdb) t a a py-bt

Thread 105 (Thread 0x7fffefa18710 (LWP 10260)):
#5 Frame 0x7fffd00019d0, for file /home/david/coding/python-svn/Lib/threading.py, line 155, in _acquire_restore (self=<_RLock(_Verbose__verbose=False, _RLock__owner=140737354016512, _RLock__block=<thread.lock at remote 0x858770>, _RLock__count=1) at remote 0xd7ff40>, count_owner=(1, 140737213728528), count=1, owner=140737213728528)
        self.__block.acquire()
#8 Frame 0x7fffac001640, for file /home/david/coding/python-svn/Lib/threading.py, line 269, in wait (self=<_Condition(_Condition__lock=<_RLock(_Verbose__verbose=False, _RLock__owner=140737354016512, _RLock__block=<thread.lock at remote 0x858770>, _RLock__count=1) at remote 0xd7ff40>, acquire=<instancemethod at remote 0xd80260>, _is_owned=<instancemethod at remote 0xd80160>, _release_save=<instancemethod at remote 0xd803e0>, release=<instancemethod at remote 0xd802e0>, _acquire_restore=<instancemethod at remote 0xd7ee60>, _Verbose__verbose=False, _Condition__waiters=[]) at remote 0xd7fd10>, timeout=None, waiter=<thread.lock at remote 0x858a90>, saved_state=(1, 140737213728528))
            self._acquire_restore(saved_state)
#12 Frame 0x7fffb8001a10, for file /home/david/coding/python-svn/Lib/test/lock_tests.py, line 348, in f ()
            cond.wait()
#16 Frame 0x7fffb8001c40, for file /home/david/coding/python-svn/Lib/test/lock_tests.py, line 37, in task (tid=140737213728528)
                f()

Thread 104 (Thread 0x7fffdf5fe710 (LWP 10259)):
#5 Frame 0x7fffe4001580, for file /home/david/coding/python-svn/Lib/threading.py, line 155, in _acquire_restore (self=<_RLock(_Verbose__verbose=False, _RLock__owner=140737354016512, _RLock__block=<thread.lock at remote 0x858770>, _RLock__count=1) at remote 0xd7ff40>, count_owner=(1, 140736940992272), count=1, owner=140736940992272)
        self.__block.acquire()
#8 Frame 0x7fffc8002090, for file /home/david/coding/python-svn/Lib/threading.py, line 269, in wait (self=<_Condition(_Condition__lock=<_RLock(_Verbose__verbose=False, _RLock__owner=140737354016512, _RLock__block=<thread.lock at remote 0x858770>, _RLock__count=1) at remote 0xd7ff40>, acquire=<instancemethod at remote 0xd80260>, _is_owned=<instancemethod at remote 0xd80160>, _release_save=<instancemethod at remote 0xd803e0>, release=<instancemethod at remote 0xd802e0>, _acquire_restore=<instancemethod at remote 0xd7ee60>, _Verbose__verbose=False, _Condition__waiters=[]) at remote 0xd7fd10>, timeout=None, waiter=<thread.lock at remote 0x858860>, saved_state=(1, 140736940992272))
            self._acquire_restore(saved_state)
#12 Frame 0x7fffac001c90, for file /home/david/coding/python-svn/Lib/test/lock_tests.py, line 348, in f ()
            cond.wait()
#16 Frame 0x7fffac0011c0, for file /home/david/coding/python-svn/Lib/test/lock_tests.py, line 37, in task (tid=140736940992272)
                f()

Thread 1 (Thread 0x7ffff7fe2700 (LWP 10145)):
#5 Frame 0xcb5380, for file /home/david/coding/python-svn/Lib/test/lock_tests.py, line 16, in _wait ()
    time.sleep(0.01)
#8 Frame 0x7fffd00024a0, for file /home/david/coding/python-svn/Lib/test/lock_tests.py, line 378, in _check_notify (self=<ConditionTests(_testMethodName='test_notify', _resultForDoCleanups=<TestResult(_original_stdout=<cStringIO.StringO at remote 0xc191e0>, skipped=[], _mirrorOutput=False, testsRun=39, buffer=False, _original_stderr=<file at remote 0x7ffff7fc6340>, _stdout_buffer=<cStringIO.StringO at remote 0xc9c7f8>, _stderr_buffer=<cStringIO.StringO at remote 0xc9c790>, _moduleSetUpFailed=False, expectedFailures=[], errors=[], _previousTestClass=<type at remote 0x928310>, unexpectedSuccesses=[], failures=[], shouldStop=False, failfast=False) at remote 0xc185a0>, _threads=(0,), _cleanups=[], _type_equality_funcs={<type at remote 0x7eba00>: <instancemethod at remote 0xd750e0>, <type at remote 0x7e7820>: <instancemethod at remote 0xd75160>, <type at remote 0x7e30e0>: <instancemethod at remote 0xd75060>, <type at remote 0x7e7d20>: <instancemethod at remote 0xd751e0>, <type at remote 0x7f19e0...(truncated)
        _wait()

Note

This is only available for Python 2.7, 3.2 and higher.

23.2. gdb 6 and earlier

The file at Misc/gdbinit contains a gdb configuration file which provides extra commands when working with a CPython process. To register these commands permanently, either copy the commands to your personal gdb configuration file or symlink ~/.gdbinit to Misc/gdbinit. To use these commands from a single gdb session without registering them, type source Misc/gdbinit from your gdb session.

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