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Possible issues with debugging and inspecting compiler-optimized binaries

Possible issues with debugging and inspecting compiler-optimized binaries

Developers think of their programs as a serial sequence of operations running as written in the original source code. However, program source code is just a specification for computations. The compiler analyzes the source code and determines if changes to the specified operations will yield the same visible results but be more efficient. It will eliminate operations that are ultimately not visible, and rearrange operations to extract more parallelism and hide latency. These differences between the original program’s source code and the optimized binary that actually runs might be visible when inspecting the execution of the optimized binary via tools like GDB and SystemTap.

To aid with the debugging and instrumentation of binaries the compiler generates debug information to map between the source code and executable binary. The debug information includes which line of source code each machine instruction is associated with, where the variables are located, and how to unwind the stack to get a backtrace of function calls. However, even with the compiler generating this information, a number of non-intuitive effects might be observed when instrumenting a compiler-optimized binary:

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