Debugging Support

There are numerous things that can be done to improve the ease with which C++ binaries are debugged when using the GNU tool chain. Here are some of them.

Using g++

Compiler flags determine how debug information is transmitted between compilation and debug or analysis tools.

The default optimizations and debug flags for a libstdc++ build are -g -O2. However, both debug and optimization flags can be varied to change debugging characteristics. For instance, turning off all optimization via the -g -O0 -fno-inline flags will disable inlining and optimizations, and add debugging information, so that stepping through all functions, (including inlined constructors and destructors) is possible. In addition, -fno-eliminate-unused-debug-types can be used when additional debug information, such as nested class info, is desired.

Or, the debug format that the compiler and debugger use to communicate information about source constructs can be changed via -gdwarf-2 or -gstabs flags: some debugging formats permit more expressive type and scope information to be shown in GDB. Expressiveness can be enhanced by flags like -g3. The default debug information for a particular platform can be identified via the value set by the PREFERRED_DEBUGGING_TYPE macro in the GCC sources.

Many other options are available: please see "Options for Debugging Your Program" in Using the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) for a complete list.

Debug Versions of Library Binary Files

If you would like debug symbols in libstdc++, there are two ways to build libstdc++ with debug flags. The first is to create a separate debug build by running make from the top-level of a tree freshly-configured with


and perhaps


Both the normal build and the debug build will persist, without having to specify CXXFLAGS, and the debug library will be installed in a separate directory tree, in (prefix)/lib/debug. For more information, look at the configuration section.

A second approach is to use the configuration flags

     make CXXFLAGS='-g3 -fno-inline -O0' all

This quick and dirty approach is often sufficient for quick debugging tasks, when you cannot or don't want to recompile your application to use the debug mode.

Memory Leak Hunting

There are various third party memory tracing and debug utilities that can be used to provide detailed memory allocation information about C++ code. An exhaustive list of tools is not going to be attempted, but includes mtrace, valgrind, mudflap, and the non-free commercial product purify. In addition, libcwd has a replacement for the global new and delete operators that can track memory allocation and deallocation and provide useful memory statistics.

Regardless of the memory debugging tool being used, there is one thing of great importance to keep in mind when debugging C++ code that uses new and delete: there are different kinds of allocation schemes that can be used by std::allocator. For implementation details, see the mt allocator documentation and look specifically for GLIBCXX_FORCE_NEW.

In a nutshell, the optional mt_allocator is a high-performance pool allocator, and can give the mistaken impression that in a suspect executable, memory is being leaked, when in reality the memory "leak" is a pool being used by the library's allocator and is reclaimed after program termination.

For valgrind, there are some specific items to keep in mind. First of all, use a version of valgrind that will work with current GNU C++ tools: the first that can do this is valgrind 1.0.4, but later versions should work at least as well. Second of all, use a completely unoptimized build to avoid confusing valgrind. Third, use GLIBCXX_FORCE_NEW to keep extraneous pool allocation noise from cluttering debug information.

Fourth, it may be necessary to force deallocation in other libraries as well, namely the "C" library. On linux, this can be accomplished with the appropriate use of the __cxa_atexit or atexit functions.

   #include <cstdlib>

   extern "C" void __libc_freeres(void);

   void do_something() { }

   int main()
     return 0;

or, using __cxa_atexit:

   extern "C" void __libc_freeres(void);
   extern "C" int __cxa_atexit(void (*func) (void *), void *arg, void *d);

   void do_something() { }

   int main()
      extern void* __dso_handle __attribute__ ((__weak__));
      __cxa_atexit((void (*) (void *)) __libc_freeres, NULL,
		   &__dso_handle ? __dso_handle : NULL);
      return 0;

Suggested valgrind flags, given the suggestions above about setting up the runtime environment, library, and test file, might be:

   valgrind -v --num-callers=20 --leak-check=yes --leak-resolution=high --show-reachable=yes a.out

Data Race Hunting

All synchronization primitives used in the library internals need to be understood by race detectors so that they do not produce false reports.

Two annotation macros are used to explain low-level synchronization to race detectors: _GLIBCXX_SYNCHRONIZATION_HAPPENS_BEFORE() and _GLIBCXX_SYNCHRONIZATION_HAPPENS_AFTER(). By default, these macros are defined empty -- anyone who wants to use a race detector needs to redefine them to call an appropriate API. Since these macros are empty by default when the library is built, redefining them will only affect inline functions and template instantiations which are compiled in user code. This allows annotation of templates such as shared_ptr, but not code which is only instantiated in the library. Code which is only instantiated in the library needs to be recompiled with the annotation macros defined. That can be done by rebuilding the entire file but a simpler alternative exists for ELF platforms such as GNU/Linux, because ELF symbol interposition allows symbols defined in the shared library to be overridden by symbols with the same name that appear earlier in the runtime search path. This means you only need to recompile the functions that are affected by the annotation macros, which can be done by recompiling individual files. Annotating std::string and std::wstring reference counting can be done by disabling extern templates (by defining _GLIBCXX_EXTERN_TEMPLATE=-1) or by rebuilding the src/ file. Annotating the remaining atomic operations (at the time of writing these are in ios_base::Init::~Init, locale::_Impl, locale::facet and thread::_M_start_thread) requires rebuilding the relevant source files.

The approach described above is known to work with the following race detection tools: DRD, Helgrind, and ThreadSanitizer (this refers to ThreadSanitizer v1, not the new "tsan" feature built-in to GCC itself).

With DRD, Helgrind and ThreadSanitizer you will need to define the macros like this:


Refer to the documentation of each particular tool for details.

Using gdb

Many options are available for GDB itself: please see "GDB features for C++" in the GDB documentation. Also recommended: the other parts of this manual.

These settings can either be switched on in at the GDB command line, or put into a .gdbinit file to establish default debugging characteristics, like so:

   set print pretty on
   set print object on
   set print static-members on
   set print vtbl on
   set print demangle on
   set demangle-style gnu-v3

Starting with version 7.0, GDB includes support for writing pretty-printers in Python. Pretty printers for containers and other classes are distributed with GCC from version 4.5.0 and should be installed alongside the libstdc++ shared library files and found automatically by GDB.

Depending where libstdc++ is installed, GDB might refuse to auto-load the python printers and print a warning instead. If this happens the python printers can be enabled by following the instructions GDB gives for setting your auto-load safe-path in your .gdbinit configuration file.

Once loaded, standard library classes that the printers support should print in a more human-readable format. To print the classes in the old style, use the /r (raw) switch in the print command (i.e., print /r foo). This will print the classes as if the Python pretty-printers were not loaded.

For additional information on STL support and GDB please visit: "GDB Support for STL" in the GDB wiki. Additionally, in-depth documentation and discussion of the pretty printing feature can be found in "Pretty Printing" node in the GDB manual. You can find on-line versions of the GDB user manual in GDB's homepage, at "GDB: The GNU Project Debugger" .

Tracking uncaught exceptions

The verbose termination handler gives information about uncaught exceptions which kill the program.

Debug Mode

The Debug Mode has compile and run-time checks for many containers.

Compile Time Checking

The Compile-Time Checks extension has compile-time checks for many algorithms.

Profile-based Performance Analysis

The Profile-based Performance Analysis extension has performance checks for many algorithms.