Setting Up and Using the Symbols in Software

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Debugging an application break without proper symbols is difficult, and there are minimal chances to discover the problem in that application No wonder that determining the accuracy of the symbol information is the most important step in debugging Bad symbols can lead you in wrong directions and create unrealistic hypotheses In this section, we discuss how to use the symbol files and discover their importance in debugging
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2 INTRODUCTION TO THE DEBUGGERS
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When applications, libraries, drivers, or operating systems are built, the compile and link procedure that creates the exe, dll, sys, and other executable files (collectively known as binaries or images) also creates a number of additional files known as symbol files To effectively debug a target image, all that symbolic information generated at compile and link time must be available to the debugger For various reasons, ranging from compilation performance to IP protection, Microsoft has used several symbol formats, such as Common Object File Format (COFF), CodeView format (CV), and Program Database format (PDB) Table 21 presents some characteristics of those formats
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2
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Introduction to the Debuggers
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Table 21 Different Formats Used by Microsoft in the Past 10 Years
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Embedded in PE Image Extension When Non-embedded Supported by Windbg/ntsd
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Yes Yes No No
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dbg dbg pdb sym
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For example, early versions of Windows NT used symbol files with the extension dbg Windows 2000 and earlier versions of Windows NT keep their symbols in files with the extensions pdb and dbg Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 use pdb files exclusively Symbols for Windows drivers can follow either model, depending on the compiler and linker version used to build them Binary files generated by tools not conforming to either of the recognized formats cannot be debugged properly using the Windows debuggers Symbol files hold a variety of data not needed when executing the binaries but that is essential to the debugging process Typically, symbol files contain
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Names and addresses of global variables Function names, their addresses, and their signatures Frame Pointer Optimization (FPO) data to aid the debugger Names and locations of local variables Source file paths and line numbers associated with each symbol Type information for variables, structures, and so on
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The binaries are smaller due to keeping these symbol files separate However, this means that when debugging, you must make sure that the debugger can access the symbol files associated with the target you are debugging Both interactive debugging and debugging crash dump files benefit from using correct symbols You must obtain the proper symbols for the code you want to debug and load these symbols into the debugger Errors encountered in binary images running on the customer s site can be investigated without having all this information available on the customer s site To discourage reverse engineering, the generated symbol files, also known as private symbols, are usually kept private by the company owning the intellectual property for
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Basic Debugger Tasks
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those binary images However, the customer can always use another symbol file, containing a restricted set of symbols, called public symbols Public symbol files are sufficient for the module users, without disclosing the internal structures, function parameters, or local variables For example, public symbols are available for download as a whole package for every version of the operating system shipped by Microsoft In addition, each driver shipped with any version of Windows has public symbols available in the same download package The binary file contains just a pointer to the symbols files, and the debugger loads a public symbol or a private symbol, subject to availability If you like to see the debug information stored in the binary file, the linkexe utility, available from within WDK build windows, is the best tool for the task, as shown in Listing 28 The information about the symbol file is stored in the debug directory section of each executable module Listing 28 Using the linkexe utility to find debug information stored in the binary file
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C:\>link -dump -headers C:\WINDOWS\system32\ntdlldll Microsoft (R) COFF/PE Dumper Version 7102179 Copyright (C) Microsoft Corporation All rights reserved
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