Remote Debugging EMAC OE SDK Projects with gdbserver DEBUG 2019

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TODO: {{#todo:SEOKWREV (11.07.13-15:25->MD:reassigned to KY)(11.18.13-14:20->KY+);(11.19.13-20:05->MD+);(03.04.14-16:20->BS-);(03.20.14-15:55->BS+);(04.14.14-14:45->BS+)|Klint Youngmeyer|oe 4,oe 5,ky,md,bs,SEOKWREV}}

Table 1: Conventions
/download/directory/ The directory to which the SDK archive will be downloaded.
/path/to/sdk/ The directory to which the SDK will be extracted.
XX - the SDK major version
YY - the SDK minor version
ZZ - the SDK current revision
target_program The program executable created to run on the target device.
Prompt and commands to be run on a development machine that will run compliation tasks.
Prompt and commands to be run on a target machine.

Sometimes a program has no technical errors that cause the compile to fail, but fails to meet the developer's expectations when run. This is typically due to algorithm or data structure design errors which can be difficult to find with just visual inspection of the code. Because of this, it can be beneficial to run a debugger targeting the executable process. Debugging is the process of watching what is going on inside of another program while it is running. When a program is compiled with debug symbols included in the binary, it is possible to observe the source code and corresponding assembly code while running the debugger.

When working with embedded systems the binary is usually compiled on a development machine with a different CPU architecture than what is on the target machine. This can be a problem when, as is typically the case, the target machine lacks the system resources to run a debugger. In these cases, it is possible to use the GNU debugger, or GDB, on the development machine to remotely debug the target machine provided it has a program called gdbserver. All EMAC OE builds are packaged with gdbserver to simplify the setup process for developers.

This guide is intended to build a basic understanding of how to use gdbserver with EMAC products. It is not intended as a general guide to debugging computer programs. For help with that, see the GDB man pages on the development system or read this manual on debugging with GDB.


Using gdbserver involves setting up both the target machine and the development machine. This requires that the binary application be present on both development and target machines. The development machine copy of the application must be compiled with debug flags whereas this is not strictly necessary for the target machine. See the Optional Modifications Section on the New EMAC OE SDK Project Guide for more information. See the Serial Connections or Network Connections page for more information on how to connect to the target EMAC product using a serial port or Ethernet connection.

Building a Debug-friendly Executable for the Target Device

A debug-friendly executable must be constructed, before remote debugging can occur.

  1. This section demonstrates how to use the EMAC CMake tool to generate CMake files automatically for a project. When using the EMAC SDK there are currently two options for cross compiling:

    • arm
    • x86

    For the purposes of this guide, the arm option will be used for the listed examples.

    Navigate to the directory where the project will be located. Then run the CMake new project script.

    developer@ldc:~# cd projects
    developer@ldc:~/projects# export PATH=/opt/emac/5.1/bin:$PATH
    developer@ldc:~/projects# oe_init_project -n hello.c

    If desired, please enter a name for this project, otherwise press Enter to use the default: hello_emac

    -- Creating new project directory...
    -- Creating new source file...
    -- Building custom CMakeLists.txt file...
    -- Done.

    Do you want to create a build directory for this project? (y/n) y

    -- Creating build directory...

    Do you want to run cmake for this project? (y/n) y

    -- Using system compiler
    -- The C compiler identification is GNU 4.8.2
    -- The CXX compiler identification is GNU 4.8.2
    -- Check for working C compiler: /usr/bin/cc
    -- Check for working C compiler: /usr/bin/cc -- works
    -- Detecting C compiler ABI info
    -- Detecting C compiler ABI info - done
    -- Check for working CXX compiler: /usr/bin/c++
    -- Check for working CXX compiler: /usr/bin/c++ -- works
    -- Detecting CXX compiler ABI info
    -- Detecting CXX compiler ABI info - done
    -- Configuring done
    -- Generating done
    -- Build files have been written to: /home/developer/projects/hello_emac/hello_emac-build

    Do you want to compile this project? (y/n) y

    Scanning dependencies of target hello_emac
    [100%] Building C object CMakeFiles/hello_emac.dir/hello.c.o
    Linking C executable hello_emac
    [100%] Built target hello_emac

    The executable, in this case, is now inside the hello_emac/hello_emac-build directory.

  2. In the terminal navigate to the base directory of the project

    If the target board being used is x86, then change all occurrences of arm in the following sections below to x86.

  3. Create a build directory for cross compiling

    developer@ldc:~/projects/hello_emac# mkdir hello_emac-build-arm
  4. Change directories into the newly created directory

    developer@ldc:~/projects/hello_emac# cd hello_emac-build-arm
  5. Run cmake using the target achitecture

    developer@ldc:~/projects/hello_emac/hello_emac-build-arm# cmake .. -DARCH:STRING=arm -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=Debug
  6. Compile the code using make

    developer@ldc:~/projects/hello_emac/hello_emac-build-arm# make

    Using cmake without specifying the build-type results in the project being built with the last build-type specified. For this reason it is recommended to always specify the build-type, -DCMAKE_BUILD_TYPE=build-type when using cmake. Build-type options are Release, Debug, RelWithDebInfo, and MinSizeRel.
  7. If the target device's IP address is unknown, it can be found by using the following command on the target terminal

    root@ipac9x25:~# ifconfig
  8. If required, set the target device's file system to read write (Required when transferring the executable to any directory other than the tmp or home directories)

    root@ipac9x25:~# oemntrw
  9. Assuming an IP address of, from the development machine transfer the executable (More transfer options are given here)

    developer@ldc:~/projects/hello_emac/hello_emac-build-arm# scp hello_emac root@

Target Machine

Because EMAC OE builds are distributed with gdbserver, installation is not a concern. The only setup necessary is to run gdbserver with target_program:

If the target application is not already running, the name of the binary may be included as an argument to the gdbserver program call.

root@emac-oe:~# gdbserver :2159 target_program [ARGS]

Where 2159 is the registered TCP port number for remote GDB

This establishes a gdbserver port on the target machine that listens for incoming connections from GDB on the development machine. In debug terminology, gdbserver is “attached” to the process ID of the program being debugged. In reality, though, GDB is attached to the process ID of a proxy which passes the messages to and from the remote device under test.

  1. Continuing with our example target build, cd to the directory where the target executable is stored. In our example this is the home directory (~)

  2. input the following

    root@ipac9x25:~# gdbserver :2159 hello_emac

    The next step is to run GDB on the development machine using the target_program/

Development Machine

  1. First, cd to the directory where the target executable is stored.


    developer@ldc:~/projects/hello_emac/hello_emac-build-arm# /opt/emac/5.1/sysroots/x86_64-emacsdk-linux/usr/bin/arm-emac-linux-gnueabi/arm-emac-linux-gnueabi-gdb hello_emac

  3. Assuming an IP address of, run the following commands in GDB to connect to the target device and establish a debug session:

    (gdb) target remote

The gdb debug session is now established.

Sample GDB Session

This example GDB session uses the EMAC OE SDK example project named pthread_demo. It consists of the single source file pthread_demo.c. The program is called with a single integer argument indicating how many reader threads the user wishes to create. The following describes the tasks of the main thread:

  1. The main thread performs user input validation. It prints a usage message according to the argument passed to it on the command line. The function expects the user to pass a number indicating how many threads should be spawned.

  2. The main thread initiates a new thread which uses the generator() function to perform the following tasks:

    1. Checks to see if the number of reader threads matches the number of times a reader thread has acquired the mutex lock and performed its task. If the two values do match, then the generator thread unlocks the mutex, breaks out of the while loop and moves on to line 167 to gracefully exit. If the two values do not match, then the generator thread continues through the rest of the while loop described in steps 2.2 and 2.3.

    2. Generates random data to be stored in the data struct shared by all the threads. To do this, it protects the data struct with the use of a mutex variable.

    3. Sleeps after giving up its lock on the mutex so that another thread might have a chance to acquire the lock.

  3. After creating the generator thread the main thread iteratively creates as many reader threads as indicated by the single integer argument. Each reader thread performs the following tasks:

    1. Waits for a chance to acquire the mutex lock. Once the mutex lock is acquired, it prints the value of the random number generated by the generator thread in its last run.

    2. Increments an integer in the data struct to indicate that it has completed its task.

    3. Gives up its lock on the mutex and exits.

  4. After creating the prescribed number of reader threads, the main thread then waits for each thread created to exit gracefully.

  5. The main thread exists.

The SDK version of pthread_demo.c works according to the description above with a MAX_THREAD value of 100. However, for the purpose of this example debug session it is instructive to use a faulty version of the same program. Replace lines 75-80 in pthread_demo.c with the code snippet shown in Listing 1 below.

if ((data.num_threads < 1) || (data.num_threads < MAX_THREAD)) {
                "The number of thread should between 1 and %d\n",

Useful GDB Commands

The following is a brief description of some essential GDB commands. Each description is followed by a link to the official GDB documentation page that has more specific information about what the command does and how to use it. Please note that the official GDB documentation is targeted for the latest GDB release which at the time of writing this documentation is 7.6.1. The version of GDB that EMAC distributes with the OE products, however, is version 6.8. Because of this, the links to documentation below may provide slightly different information. The biggest difference between the two version of GDB, however, is in the support for debugging programs with multiple threads. This is reflected in the documentation as well. Because of this, EMAC has set up ftp access to GDB 6.8 documentation on its web server. It is highly recommended that the GDB 6.8 documentation be referenced in cases where the program does not seem to support commands or options specified in the current official documentation.

Command Description
start/run These commands are used to start the debugged program with the only difference being that start automatically pauses execution at the beginning of the program's main function whereas run must be told explicitly where to pause using the breakpoint command listed below.

See also [Debugging with GDB, Section 4.2: Starting your Program]

kill Used to kill the currently-running instance of target_program.

See also [Debugging with GDB, Section 4.9: Killing the Child Process]

print Used to print the value of an expression.

See also [Debugging with GDB, Section 10: Examining Data]

list List contents of function or specified line.

See also [Debugging with GDB, Section 9: Examining Source Files]

layout This is a TUI (Text User Interface) command that enables the programmer to view multiple debug views at once including source code, assembly, and registers.

See also [Debugging with GDB, Section 25.4: TUI Commands]

disassemble This command allows the programmer to see assembler instructions.

See also [Debugging with GDB, Section 9.6: Source and Machine Code]

break This command specifies a function name, line number, or instruction at which GDB is to pause execution.

See also [Debugging with GDB, Section 5.1: Breakpoints]

next/nexti, step/stepi Allow the programmer to step through a program without specifying breakpoints. The next/nexti commands step over function calls, stopping on the next line of the same stack frame; step/stepi, step into function calls, stopping on the first line in the next stack frame. The difference between step/next and stepi/nexti is that the i indicates instruction-by-instruction stepping at the assembly language level.

See also [Debugging with GDB, Section 5.2: Continuing and Stepping]

continue Used to continue program execution from the address where it was last stopped.

See the Debugging with GDB link for next/step for more information about the continue command.

bt Short for "backtrace," which displays to the programmer a brief summary of execution up to the current point in the program. This is useful because it shows a nested list of stack frames starting with the current one.

See also [Debugging with GDB, Section 8.2: Backtrace]

quit This will quit the debugging session, and return you to the shell. The Control-D key combination is another way to accomplish this.

Session Walk-through

This debug session walk-through assumes that the program has been compiled using the modified source code above and that both the target machine and the development machine have been set up according to the above Setup section. The walk-through is divided into multiple “lessons” with the intent of first introducing the use of the commands described above and then actually running GDB to debug a known programming problem. Each lesson may be run independently of the others, but it is recommended that each be run in order starting from Lesson 1 for the first time through.

Lesson 1: Navigation and Code Display

This lesson assumes that gdbserver has been run as in the Target Machine Setup section above with an ARG value of 3. Other values are fine so long as they fall within the range of 1 to 100. The number '3' was arbitrarily chosen to avoid having to use a symbolic variable in the explanations below.

  1. Type b main to set a breakpoint at the main function in the source code.

  2. Type continue. This will cause the program to continue from the breakpoint set by GDB at startup. The program was passed an argument of 3, indicating that three threads should be created.

  3. Type b 73 to set a breakpoint at line 73 in the source code, which should be the line containing data.num_threads = atoi(argv[1]);

  4. Type continue. The program will continue execution up until line 73 in the source code. At this point, type layout split to view a split screen containing both the source code and the assembly-level machine instructions. Both screens show the program's current location in execution. The assembly-level display shows what the target's processor is actually executing at that point in the source code as shown in the source-level display. To view either of these without the other type layout asm for just assembly-level and layout src for just source-level.

  5. Type nexti. This will cause the program to execute the next instruction in the current stack frame, which is a mov instruction that starts preparations on the current stack for a call to the library function atoi(). The details of this process are beyond the scope of this tutorial; essentially, the program needs to store information about the current execution location in the stack for when the atoi() function finishes. Type ni (alias for nexti) three more times. You should end up on a bl instruction in the assembly view as shown in Listing 2 below. The source layout should still show the program on line 73.

    B+ |0x887c <main+112>       ldr    r3, [r11, #-84]                   │
       |0x8880 <main+116>       add    r3, r3, #4      ; 0x4             │
       |0x8884 <main+120>       ldr    r3, [r3]                          
       |0x8888 <main+124>       mov    r0, r3                            
      >|0x888c <main+128>       bl     0x86e0 <atoi>                     

    Listing 2. GDB Assembly Layout - Note that the assembly may look different depending on the target architecture.

  6. Type stepi. This will cause the program to move into the next stack frame and GDB to show the assembly-level instructions of the atoi() call. Since the library containing atoi() was likely not compiled with debug symbols, the source-level layout will show the message [ No Source Available ].

  7. Type bt. This will cause the program to display a human-readable version of the current stack. Each stack “frame” is represented by the name of the function call it represents with that function's location in memory. Type bt full to get a list of the variables local to each stack frame.

  8. Type finish. This will cause the current stack frame to return and execution to pause on the next instruction of the previous stack frame.

  9. Type kill. This will cause the current process to be killed by gdbserver at the target machine. gdbserver will also terminate at this point. In order to start a new remote debug session, start gdbserver as described in the Target Machine Setup section and re-run step 3 of the Development Machine Setup section.

Lesson 2: Finding the Bug

Though this sample is contrived, it is still useful to demonstrate how to find a design mistake in an otherwise well-written (no errors or warnings) program. These types of mistakes typically have to do with the array boundary miscalculations, logic and comparison operator mistakes, or other simple mistakes. For the sake of demonstration, assume that the actual mistake is unknown. This lesson assumes that gdbserver has just been started as in the Target Machine Setup above with an ARG value of 5.

  1. Before starting the program in the debugger again, run it by itself on the target machine to see what the actual program output is:

    root@emac-oe:~# /tmp/pthread_demo 5
    The number of threads should be between 1 and 100

    The program was given an input of '5' yet the output message seems to indicate that this is out of range which is obviously not true.

  2. Start the debugger again and connect to the target machine as described in the Setup section.

  3. Type b main to set a breakpoint at the main function in the source code.

  4. Type continue. This will cause the program to continue from the breakpoint set by GDB at startup.

  5. Type n. This will cause the program to step over the next line of source code. The reason for using n rather than s or one of the instruction stepping commands is because the erroneous output indicates that the coding mistake is in the programmer's source code rather than the c library functions atoi() or fprintf(). Stepping over the function will save all the time required to step through every detail of what the library functions are doing. Later passes through the code can be used to step into functions called from within that stack frame if the first pass proves unsuccessful.

  6. Continue to type n until one of the program's exit() calls is reached, but do not actually step into that exit() call. Judging by the program's output above, this should bring you to the conditional block that checks the value of the local variable n used to store the output of atoi() as shown in Listing 3. Note that once execution reaches line 79 of the source code, GDB will display the output of the fprintf() function from line 76. This may cause display problems within the text-based UI library that GDB uses which will require the command refresh to fix.

    B+ |75              if ((data.num_threads < 1) || (data.num_threads < MAX_THREAD)) {       |
       |76                      fprintf(stderr,                                                |
       |77                              "The number of thread should between 1 and %d\n",      |
       |78                              MAX_THREAD);                                           |
      >|79                      exit(EXIT_FAILURE);                                            |
       |80              }                                                                      |
  7. Type p/d data->num_threads. The letter p is an alias for print, the switch /d tells GDB to treat the expression requested as an integer in signed decimal, and data->num_threads refers to the element num_threads within struct thread_data, as would be expected. This should provide the following output:

    (gdb) p/d data->num_threads
    $6 = 5

    Note that the integer part of $6 will increment with each call to the gdb command print. The above output confirms that the argument '5' was successfully passed to the program and read into a variable to be tested, indicating that one of the logical tests for the current conditional block contains a mistake. This merits a closer look at line 75:

    B+ |75              if ((data.num_threads < 1) || (data.num_threads < MAX_THREAD)) {       |

    Line 75 consists of a conditional test which is the logical OR of two arithmetic tests involving the values of data.num_threads, '1', and MAX_THREAD. The first test is true the input integer is less than 1–(data.num_threads < 1). The second tests whether the input integer is less than the symbolic constant, MAX_THREAD–(data.num_threads < MAX_THREAD). Judging by the name of this constant and the result of the test (we know it resolves to true because the value of data.num_threads in this case is not less than one), we can see that the comparison operator used is the culprit. The correct interpretation is that it should be '>' rather than '<'.

  8. Type kill.

This was a simple problem to solve but the method used above could apply in any situation where source code compiles and runs without errors yet provides varied or unexpected output.

Lesson 3: Debugging With Threads

Do not fix the programming mistake found in Lesson 2. This lesson will cover the use of the jump command to skip blocks of code and commands specific to debugging multi-threaded programs. Before getting started, see Debugging with GDB: 5. Stopping and Starting Multi-thread Programs.

This lesson assumes that gdbserver has just been started as in the Target Machine Setup above with an ARG value of 7.

  1. Start the debugger again and connect to the target machine as described in the Setup section.

  2. Type set scheduler-locking on. This command enables GDB to lock all threads save for the currently-selected thread from running when the step/stepi or next/nexti commands are given.

  3. Set all the breakpoints that you will need for this session:

    1. Type b main to set a breakpoint at the main function in the source code.

    2. Type b 75. This will set a break point at the conditional block that checks the value of the program's single integer argument. If you recall from Lesson 2, this is the conditional which evaluates incorrectly in the modified version of the application.

    3. Type b 143. This will set a breakpoint in the variable assignment in the generator function. Careful examination of the source code will show that this function is called from a thread created by the main thread of execution but never from the main thread itself.

    4. Type b 129. This will set a breakpoint in the variable assignment of the reader function. As with the generator function, any time the reader function is called it will be inside a thread that is not the main thread.

    5. Type b 135. This will set a breakpoint just after the fflush(stdout) statement in the reader function.

    6. Type b 97. This will set a breakpoint in the main thread after the generator thread has been created but before the main thread begins creating reader threads.

    7. Type b 119. This will set a breakpoint after the main thread iteratively creates the reader threads.

  4. Optional: You may want to run the layout split command so that you can see both the assembly and the source code during the debug session.

  5. Type continue then hit 'Enter' once. This will bring you to line 75 in the source code.

  6. Type j 81. This is an alias for jump 81 that tells GDB to have the program jump to line 81 of the source code and resume execution at the first assembly instruction represented by line 81 of the source code. This line is labeled <main.c+196>. Note that the program effectively no longer checks the input it receives.

  7. Type i th. This will cause GDB to display a list of the application's threads currently in memory. Take a moment to consider what is happening in the program. We know that in Step 2 of this lesson we used set scheduler-locking to tell GDB to effectively only allow the currently-selected thread of execution to be affected by the GDB step and next commands. Others will wait at their respective breakpoints until explicitly told by the programmer to execute the next line of source code or instruction. The next breakpoint that main reaches occurs after the generator thread is created. This means that there are currently two threads of execution, the main thread paused at line 97 and the generator thread paused at line 143.

  8. Type thread 2. This will select the generator thread.

  9. Type thread apply 2 n. This will tell the generator thread to execute the next line of source code and pause again on the line following that. Without typing any other commands into the GDB prompt, hit 'Enter' seven more times. This should bring you to line 165 of the source code:


    Notice the output of the program on the remote terminal on which gdbserver was run. Standard output on that terminal should show the output from the printf() call on line 154.

  10. Type thread 1. This will select the main thread.

  11. Type continue. This will cause the main thread to continue execution while generator remains paused at line 165. main pauses again at line 119, once the 7 reader threads have been created. Recall from step 3.4 that b 129 set a breakpoint in the reader function so that the reader threads would pause at line 129.

  12. Type i th. This is an alias for info threads. This causes GDB to print out all the threads currently in memory. Notice that there are three types of threads, main, generator, and reader. The info threads command also shows that the reader threads are all paused at line 129, the generator thread is paused at line 165, and the main thread is paused at line 119.

  13. Type thread 5. This will select the third reader thread.

  14. Type thread apply 5 n. Then press 'enter' seven times. This will cause the third reader thread to complete its task and exit gracefully using the pthread_exit() function.

  15. Type thread 1. This will select the main thread.

  16. Type p data. This will show the current state of the data structure that was passed to each thread. Note that each thread contains a pointer to the same data structure. This requires the use of what is known as a mutex (MUTual EXclusion) variable which is used to protect the data structure from concurrent modifications. In other words, any time the data structure is read or written to by one of the threads, they must first call the function pthread_mutex_lock() to ensure that no other thread currently “has” the lock. When a thread is done with the shared data structure, it calls the function pthread_mutex_unlock() to make the lock available to other threads. Notice that nothing about the mutex's inclusion in the data structure requires it to be used in order to read or write to the data structure. This means that any programmer who wishes to use threads to implement concurrent programming must pay close attention to code that accesses shared data structures to ensure concurrent modifications do not occur.

  17. Perform the previous four steps for as many of the reader threads as you want. Notice that each one prints a message to standard out providing information about the state of the shared data variable at the time that it has the lock. By switching to the generator thread once the mutex variable is unlocked, that code can be stepped through to generate a new random number for the data structure. IMPORTANT: Do not execute a line of source code containing a call to pthread_mutex_lock() without first ensuring that the mutex variable is unlocked. To do this, carefully perform the following steps:

    1. Type p data->lock. This will show the values of the mutex variable in the data structure variable. Make note of the value of the owner field.

    2. Type i th. This will show the current list of threads in the program. What follows is a possible output from these two commands:

    (gdb) p data->lock
    $3 = {__data = {__lock = 1, __count = 0, __owner = 1288, __kind = 0, __nusers = 1, {__spins = 0, __list = {__next = 0x0}}},
      __size = "\001\000\000\000\000\000\000\000\b\005\000\000\000\000\000\000\001\000\000\000\000\000\000", __align = 1}
    (gdb) i th
      9 Thread 1289  reader (arg=0xbeddec8c) at pthread_demo.c:129
      8 Thread 1288  reader (arg=0xbeddec8c) at pthread_demo.c:134
      7 Thread 1287  reader (arg=0xbeddec8c) at pthread_demo.c:129
      6 Thread 1286  0x00008b04 in reader (arg=0xbeddec8c) at pthread_demo.c:129
      3 Thread 1283  0x00008b04 in reader (arg=0xbeddec8c) at pthread_demo.c:129
    * 2 Thread 1282  generator (arg=0xbeddec8c) at pthread_demo.c:165
      1 Thread 1281  0x00008a64 in main (argc=2, argv=0xbeddee24) at pthread_demo.c:119

    Analysis of this output requires the understanding that the third column of the i th output indicates that particular thread's process ID. The important part of the p data->lock output is the owner field, whose value will always either be zero or correspond to the process ID of one of the currently-running threads. In this case, the lock->__owner field clearly indicates that thread 8 currently owns the data->lock mutex variable. This would indicate that thread 8 should be stepped through until it has called the pthread_mutex_unlock() function before stepping into a call to pthread_mutex_lock() in any other function. To summarize, always ensure that the owner field of the mutex variable is equal to zero before using pthread_mutex_lock() while debugging. If the lock is currently owned by another thread, GDB will hang until sent an interrupt signal which will require that the entire debug process be started over.

  18. The walktrhough is complete. There are two ways to end the debug session gracefully:

    • Type monitor exit, kill (confirm with 'y'), then quit.

    • Type set scheduler-locking off, delete, thread 1, continue, then monitor exit, kill (confirm with 'y'), quit. This will allow the program to finish executing before ending the session.

GNU GDB Documentation

Again, for more information on how to debug with GDB, refer to the GDB Manual. This is a valuable resource for anyone just learning to debug software and will go into much greater detail than is possible in this guide.

Next Steps

If you have not done so already, be sure to check out the EMAC OE SDK Example Projects or learn to create your own New Project.