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10.3 Using gcov with GCC Optimization

If you plan to use gcov to help optimize your code, you must first compile your program with two special GCC options: ‘-fprofile-arcs -ftest-coverage’. Aside from that, you can use any other GCC options; but if you want to prove that every single line in your program was executed, you should not compile with optimization at the same time. On some machines the optimizer can eliminate some simple code lines by combining them with other lines. For example, code like this:

if (a != b)
  c = 1;
  c = 0;

can be compiled into one instruction on some machines. In this case, there is no way for gcov to calculate separate execution counts for each line because there isn’t separate code for each line. Hence the gcov output looks like this if you compiled the program with optimization:

      100:   12:if (a != b)
      100:   13:  c = 1;
      100:   14:else
      100:   15:  c = 0;

The output shows that this block of code, combined by optimization, executed 100 times. In one sense this result is correct, because there was only one instruction representing all four of these lines. However, the output does not indicate how many times the result was 0 and how many times the result was 1.

Inlineable functions can create unexpected line counts. Line counts are shown for the source code of the inlineable function, but what is shown depends on where the function is inlined, or if it is not inlined at all.

If the function is not inlined, the compiler must emit an out of line copy of the function, in any object file that needs it. If fileA.o and fileB.o both contain out of line bodies of a particular inlineable function, they will also both contain coverage counts for that function. When fileA.o and fileB.o are linked together, the linker will, on many systems, select one of those out of line bodies for all calls to that function, and remove or ignore the other. Unfortunately, it will not remove the coverage counters for the unused function body. Hence when instrumented, all but one use of that function will show zero counts.

If the function is inlined in several places, the block structure in each location might not be the same. For instance, a condition might now be calculable at compile time in some instances. Because the coverage of all the uses of the inline function will be shown for the same source lines, the line counts themselves might seem inconsistent.

Long-running applications can use the __gcov_reset and __gcov_dump facilities to restrict profile collection to the program region of interest. Calling __gcov_reset(void) will clear all profile counters to zero, and calling __gcov_dump(void) will cause the profile information collected at that point to be dumped to .gcda output files. Instrumented applications use a static destructor with priority 99 to invoke the __gcov_dump function. Thus __gcov_dump is executed after all user defined static destructors, as well as handlers registered with atexit.

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