Distribution of debug information

Note: The article will likely get frequent updates in the next few days.

This article describes some approaches to distribute debug information. Commands below will use two simple C files for demonstration.

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cat > a.c <<eof
void foo(int);
int main() { foo(42); }
eof
cat > b.c <<eof
#include <stdio.h>
void foo(int x) { printf("%d\n", x); }
eof

Debug information in the executable or shared object

This is the simplest model. Debug information resides in the executable or shared object.

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gcc -c -g a.c b.c
gcc a.o b.o -o a

The linker collects input debug sections, resolves relocations, does minimum merging (SHF_STRING merge for .debug_str and .debug_line_str), and combines them into output debug sections.

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 0                0       a7     1 .debug_abbrev
0 0 38 1 a.o:(.debug_abbrev)
38 38 6f 1 b.o:(.debug_abbrev)
0 0 94 1 .debug_info
0 0 37 1 a.o:(.debug_info)
37 37 5d 1 b.o:(.debug_info)
0 0 44 1 .debug_str_offsets
0 0 1c 1 a.o:(.debug_str_offsets)
1c 1c 28 1 b.o:(.debug_str_offsets)
0 0 c1 1 .debug_str
0 0 c1 1 <internal>:(.debug_str)
0 0 28 1 .debug_addr
0 0 10 1 a.o:(.debug_addr)
10 10 18 1 b.o:(.debug_addr)
0 0 bf 1 .debug_line
0 0 5e 1 a.o:(.debug_line)
5e 5e 61 1 b.o:(.debug_line)
0 0 f 1 .debug_line_str
0 0 f 1 <internal>:(.debug_line_str)

Separate debug files

Debug information is large and not needed by many people. As a general size optimization, many distributions don't provide debug information in main software packages. For debugging needs, distributions may provide debug information in separate packages, leveraging a debugger feature that debug information may reside in a separate file. See https://sourceware.org/gdb/onlinedocs/gdb/Separate-Debug-Files.html.

objcopy from binutils-gdb can create a separate debug file (since 2003).

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objcopy --only-keep-debug a a.debug
strip -S a -o a.stripped

eu-strip from elfutils can generate two output files in one invocation.

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eu-strip -f a.debug a -o a.stripped

The elfutils way is convenient for simple use cases and is adopted by rpm. But there is general ambiguity whether an operation applies to one output file or both. The --only-keep-debug way is orthogonal and integrates well with other features (e.g. --compress-debug-sections, --remove-section). I favor --only-keep-debug and implemented it in llvm-objcopy.

When debugging a.stripped in gdb, use add-symbol-file -o xxx a.debug to load the separate debug file.

Solaris 11 Update 1 introduced a similar feature called Ancillary Object. See Ancillary Objects: Separate Debug ELF Files For Solaris. They made a nice choice that ld -z ancilliary creates two output files, saving one objcopy command in the GNU linking model.

objcopy --add-gnu-debuglink=a.debug a.stripped adds a non-SHF_ALLOC section .gnu_debuglink to a.stripped. The section contains a filename (no directory information) and a four-byte CRC checksum.

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% objdump -g a.stripped
...
Contents of the .gnu_debuglink section (loaded from a.stripped):

Separate debug info file: a.debug
CRC value: 0x4d1e2a66

gdb has supported .gnu_debuglink since 2003. It finds a debug file in the same directory of the executable and .debug/ relative to the directory.

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% gdb -ex q a.stripped
Reading symbols from a.stripped...
Reading symbols from /tmp/c/a.debug...

Directories specified by debug-file-directory are used as well. This option needs to be set before loading the inferior.

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% pwd
/tmp/c
% install -D -t debug/tmp/c a.debug
% rm a.debug
% gdb -iex 'set debug-file-directory debug' -ex q a.stripped
Reading symbols from a.stripped...
Reading symbols from debug//tmp/c/a.debug...

A debug file can be found by build ID. A build ID resides in an ELF note section. Many Linux distributions configure GCC with --enable-linker-build-id to generate a build ID by default. See --build-id for the option.

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% readelf -Wn a.stripped
...
Displaying notes found in: .note.gnu.build-id
Owner Data size Description
GNU 0x00000008 NT_GNU_BUILD_ID (unique build ID bitstring) Build ID: a3b3f0788440fd94
% install -D -T debug/tmp/c/a.debug debug/.build-id/a3/b3f0788440fd94.debug
% rm debug/tmp/c/a.debug
% gdb -nx -iex 'set debug-file-directory debug' -ex q a.stripped
Reading symbols from a.stripped...
Reading symbols from /tmp/c/debug/.build-id/a3/b3f0788440fd94.debug...

lldb uses target.debug-file-search-paths to locate a separate debug file. (TODO)

On Debian, if we install hello-dbgsym, a debug file will be available in /usr/lib/debug.

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% gdb -batch -ex 'show debug-file-directory'
The directory where separate debug symbols are searched for is "/usr/lib/debug".
% gdb -ex q =hello
Reading symbols from /usr/bin/hello...
Reading symbols from /usr/lib/debug/.build-id/ff/29703f105c66821e9b10149db8cff3b2e4043a.debug...

Debian uses dh_strip for packaging commands. dh_strip uses objcopy --only-keep-debug --compress-debug-sections to compress debug sections.

MiniDebugInfo

See https://sourceware.org/gdb/onlinedocs/gdb/MiniDebugInfo.html (implemented in 2012). When a binary contains .gnu_debugdata, gdb decompresses it with xz and loads it.

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objcopy --only-keep-debug a a.debug
objcopy -S --add-section=.gnu_debugdata=a.debug.xz a a.stripped
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% gdb -ex q a.stripped
Reading symbols from a.stripped...
Reading symbols from .gnu_debugdata for /tmp/c/a.stripped...

Fedora uses the feature to improve symbolization of stack traces in the absence of debug information. A Fedora MiniDebugInfo file mostly just provides note sections and a .symtab with symbols not in .dynsym. Non-SHF_ALLOC SHT_PROGBITS/SHT_NOTE/SHT_NOBITS sections (e.g. .comment) are removed. Note sections are duplicated in the original binary and the MiniDebugInfo file due to a small missing optimization in eu-strip -f.

See Support MiniDebugInfo in rpm for the original implementation. The new implementation is in scripts/find-debuginfo.in in the debugedit repository. Support for mini-debuginfo in LLDB introduces the lldb implementation.

Here is a simplified demonstration of what scripts/find-debuginfo.in does:

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eu-strip --remove-comment -f a.mini a -o a.stripped
nm a -f sysv --defined-only | awk -F \| '$4 ~ "FUNC" {print $1}' | sort > a.symtab
nm a -f sysv --defined-only -D | sort > a.dynsym
comm -13 a.dynsym a.symtab > a.keepsyms
objcopy -S --keep-symbols=a.keepsyms a.mini
xz a.mini
objcopy -S --add-section=.gnu_debugdata=a.mini.xz a a.stripped

DWARF supplementary object files

A DWARF supplementary object file contains debug sections which can be referenced by multiple executable and shared object files. dwz provides -m file to extracts duplicate debug information into a supplementary object file and rewrite input files to reference the supplementary object file. The supplementary object file may contain debugging information entries, strings, and macro descriptions.

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print '#include <stdio.h>\nint main() { puts("hello"); }' | gcc -g -gdwarf-5 -xc - -o 1
cp 1 2
dwz --dwarf-5 -m 3 1 2

3 is a supplementary object file with a few .debug_* sections. Its .debug_sup uses is_supplementary=1.

1 gets a new section .debug_sup with is_supplementary=0. It may use DW_FORM_ref_sup4 (DW_FORM_GNU_ref_alt), DW_FORM_strp_sup (DW_FORM_GNU_strp_alt), DW_MACRO_define_sup, DW_MACRO_undef_sup, DW_MACRO_import_sup attributes to reference the supplementary object file. In this simple example only DW_FORM_ref_sup4 and DW_FORM_strp_sup attributes are used.

Before standardization in DWARF v5, the special section name .gnu_debugaltlink is used.

Split DWARF object files

This was originally proposed as GCC debug fission. Later in DWARF version 5 this feature was standardized as split DWARF object files, commonly abbreviated as "split DWARF". The idea is to move the bulk of .debug_* sections into a separate file (.dwo) and leave just a small amount in the relocatable object file (.o). .dwo files are not handled by the linker: this reduces the input section combining work and relocation work for the linker, leading to smaller link time and lower memory usage. The smaller input has advantages for a distributed build farm.

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% clang -c -g -gsplit-dwarf a.c b.c
% readelf -WS a.o | grep ' .debug_gnu_pub'
[12] .debug_gnu_pubnames PROGBITS 0000000000000000 0000be 00001c 00 0 0 1
[14] .debug_gnu_pubtypes PROGBITS 0000000000000000 0000da 00001b 00 0 0 1
% readelf -WS a.dwo | grep ']'
[Nr] Name Type Address Off Size ES Flg Lk Inf Al
[ 0] NULL 0000000000000000 000000 000000 00 0 0 0
[ 1] .strtab STRTAB 0000000000000000 000155 000051 00 0 0 1
[ 2] .debug_str_offsets.dwo PROGBITS 0000000000000000 000040 00001c 00 E 0 0 1
[ 3] .debug_str.dwo PROGBITS 0000000000000000 00005c 00009d 01 MSE 0 0 1
[ 4] .debug_info.dwo PROGBITS 0000000000000000 0000f9 00002e 00 E 0 0 1
[ 5] .debug_abbrev.dwo PROGBITS 0000000000000000 000127 00002e 00 E 0 0 1
% clang -fuse-ld=lld -Wl,--gdb-index a.o b.o -o a

(Note: don't perform compiling and linking in one action: the DWO files' location may be surprising.)

-ggnu-pubnames implied by -gsplit-dwarf generates .debug_gnu_pubnames and .debug_gnu_pubtypes sections which are used to build .gdb_index by a linker (gold, ld.lld, mold).

When gdb loads a symbol file, it constructs an internal symbol table. .gdb_index can improve startup time. With split DWARF, the .dwo files as referenced by the executable or shared object will be fully parsed on demand.

Clang supports -gsplit-dwarf=single to embed .dwo sections in the relocatable object file. The compilation will not produce a .dwo file. This mode is convenient for single-machine linking.

lldb uses target.debug-file-search-paths for .dwo searching but does not use a directory structure. (TODO)

Distributing a number of .dwo files can be inconvenient. A DWARF package file (typically given the extension .dwp) can be used in replace of .dwo files. (Note: currently DWP has incomplete DWARF64 support.) dwp from binutils-gdb/gold can build a DWARF package file. llvm-dwp is another implementation in llvm-project, but there are some memory usage scaling problems.

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dwp a.dwo b.dwo -o a.dwp

It is a TODO to integrate DWARF compressing (e.g. dwz) into dwp.

gold is under-maintained in recent years. dwp does not support DWARF v5 yet.

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# Note: older Bazel needs --features=per_object_debug_info
bazel -c dbg --fission=yes :a # bazel-bin/_objs/a/a.pic.dwo
bazel -c dbg --fission=yes :a.dwp # bazel-bin/a.dwp

debuginfod

While gdb can hint that debug information is missing (e.g. Missing separate debuginfos, use: dnf debuginfo-install xxx), the manual step of installing the relevant debug information package is considered by many as inconvenient. In 2019, elfutils introduced a new program debuginfod. Some distributions have hosted debug information in public servers. See https://www.redhat.com/en/blog/how-debuginfod-project-evolved-2021.

Here is an example demonstrating what debuginfod does:

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objcopy --only-keep-debug a a.debug
strip -S a -o a.stripped
tar cf a.tar.zst --zstd a.stripped a.debug
debuginfod -d debuginfod.sqlite -F -Z .tar.zst=zstdcat .

debuginfod listens on port 8002 by default. -F causes it to scan archives in the specified directory. -Z .tar.zst=zstdcat tells it to use zstdcat to handle a .tar.zst file (e.g. an Arch Linux package).

For every archive member, debuginfod classifies the file as an regular executable/shared object (with at least one SHF_ALLOC SHT_PROGBITS section) or a debug file (with a .debug_* section). By default debuginfod parses a .debug_line

debuginfod-find is a client.

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buildid=$(readelf -n a | awk '/Build ID:/ {print $3}')
DEBUGINFOD_URLS='http://localhost:8002/' debuginfod-find debuginfo $buildid
DEBUGINFOD_URLS='http://localhost:8002/' debuginfod-find executable $buildid
DEBUGINFOD_URLS='http://localhost:8002/' debuginfod-find source $buildid /tmp/c/a.c

We can query the server manually:

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curl -s localhost:8002/buildid/$buildid/debuginfo -o output && cmp a.debug output
curl -s localhost:8002/buildid/$buildid/executable -o output && cmp a.stripped output
curl -s localhost:8002/buildid/a3b3f0788440fd94/source/$(<<</tmp/c/a.c sed 's,/,%2F,g') | diff /tmp/c/a.c -

With set debuginfod enabled on, gdb can query a debuginfod server if a symbol file is not found. As of today, a few programs support debuginfod, e.g. valgrind.

Main change for Arch Linux: debuginfod: Implement role

In llvm-project, llvm-debuginfod is an alternative implementation. It requires LLVM_ENABLE_HTTPLIB=on.

Microsoft SymbolStore

This is similar to debuginfod. See https://github.com/dotnet/symstore/blob/main/docs/specs/SSQP_Key_Conventions.md.

Apple's "lazy" DWARF scheme

See http://wiki.dwarfstd.org/index.php?title=Apple%27s_%22Lazy%22_DWARF_Scheme.

Apple platforms use a model different from Linux distributions. Apple ld64 does not combine input __debug_* sections into output sections. Instead, unless -S is specified, debug map entries are emitted into the symbol table to record source files and relocatable object files. Among the entries, N_OS and N_OSO record source files and relocatable object files. N_FUN gives value/size for a function. N_GSYM/N_STSYM describe a global/static variable symbol.

When debugging a program with lldb, lldb parses DWARF from dSYM bundles and (for N_OSO entries) relocatable object files.

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clang -c -g a.c b.c
clang a.o b.o -o a
dsymutil a

dsymutil can create a dSYM bundle from relocatable object files. It takes an executable name or if -y is specified a YAML debug map. dsymutil finds two relocatable object files a.o and b.o, combines and optimizes their DWARF information into a dSYM file. In addition, dsymutil builds an accelerator table (.apple_* or .debug_names).

Windows PDB

TODO