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23.1 The GNAT Debugger GDB

GDB is a general purpose, platform-independent debugger that can be used to debug mixed-language programs compiled with GCC, and in particular is capable of debugging Ada programs compiled with GNAT. The latest versions of GDB are Ada-aware and can handle complex Ada data structures.

The manual Debugging with GDB contains full details on the usage of GDB, including a section on its usage on programs. This manual should be consulted for full details. The section that follows is a brief introduction to the philosophy and use of GDB.

When GNAT programs are compiled, the compiler optionally writes debugging information into the generated object file, including information on line numbers, and on declared types and variables. This information is separate from the generated code. It makes the object files considerably larger, but it does not add to the size of the actual executable that will be loaded into memory, and has no impact on run-time performance. The generation of debug information is triggered by the use of the -g switch in the gcc or gnatmake command used to carry out the compilations. It is important to emphasize that the use of these options does not change the generated code.

The debugging information is written in standard system formats that are used by many tools, including debuggers and profilers. The format of the information is typically designed to describe C types and semantics, but GNAT implements a translation scheme which allows full details about Ada types and variables to be encoded into these standard C formats. Details of this encoding scheme may be found in the file in the GNAT source distribution. However, the details of this encoding are, in general, of no interest to a user, since GDB automatically performs the necessary decoding.

When a program is bound and linked, the debugging information is collected from the object files, and stored in the executable image of the program. Again, this process significantly increases the size of the generated executable file, but it does not increase the size of the executable program itself. Furthermore, if this program is run in the normal manner, it runs exactly as if the debug information were not present, and takes no more actual memory.

However, if the program is run under control of GDB, the debugger is activated. The image of the program is loaded, at which point it is ready to run. If a run command is given, then the program will run exactly as it would have if GDB were not present. This is a crucial part of the GDB design philosophy. GDB is entirely non-intrusive until a breakpoint is encountered. If no breakpoint is ever hit, the program will run exactly as it would if no debugger were present. When a breakpoint is hit, GDB accesses the debugging information and can respond to user commands to inspect variables, and more generally to report on the state of execution.