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12 64-BIT DEBUGGING
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C H A P T E R
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POSTMORTEM DEBUGGING
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Throughout the book, we have looked at quite a few powerful tools available to developers when troubleshooting problematic code The ultimate goal is to make sure that these tools become integrated into the development process to ensure high quality These tools are excellent automated ways to find bugs, but they make no absolute guarantees that the application will be bug free when it ships Inevitably, problems surface in the application after it has been shipped These issues turn up at the most inopportune moments mainly, while the customer uses it Depending on the severity of the bug, it can either have devastating effects on the customer or merely be a nuisance In either case, you can expect a phone call from an upset customer asking why the application is not working properly To remedy the situation and troubleshoot the problem, one option is to ask the customer for remote access to the computer in question While it might be feasible, at times, customers typically frown on this, and the answer is in many cases no The reasons for not granting remote access to a machine vary, but typically they can be because of the following
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The customer environment or policy does not allow inbound connections Remote debugging requires that a debugger be attached to one or more processes and implies downtime If the process is running on a critical server, customers will be reluctant to accept downtime Debugging a process via user mode or kernel mode means that developers have full access to the state of the machine, including memory contents For some customers, this might constitute a privacy issue
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If the customer refuses live access to the machine exhibiting the problem and reproducing the problem locally is not possible, can the problem even be debugged The answer is yes, and the process of doing so is called postmortem debugging At a high level, postmortem debugging involves the following steps 1 Trigger the failure to occur 2 Take a snapshot of the system state at the point of failure (or even before and after, depending of the type of failure) 3 Send the snapshot to engineers for further analysis 631
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Postmortem Debugging
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In this chapter, we take a look at the different ways in which snapshots (also known as dump files) can be generated, the different types of dumps available, and how to analyze them We also cover two very powerful dump file aggregation services known as Windows Error Reporting and Corporate Error Reporting Let s start by looking at some of the fundamental dump file topics
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Dump File Basics
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As we have mentioned, a dump file is an out-of-band representation of the state of a given process The main purpose behind generating a dump file is to analyze application failures without requiring live debugging access to the computer exhibiting the failures Once a dump file has been generated, it can be sent to the appropriate engineer, who can then analyze the failure without access to the faulting machine Instead, he simply loads the dump file on his own computer and analyzes the failure using the postmortem capabilities of the debuggers What information does a dump file contain Well, that depends entirely on how the dump file was generated There are two categories of dump files:
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Full dumps Mini dumps
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A full dump file contains the entire memory space of a process the executable image, the handle table, and other information used by the debugger There is no way of customizing the amount of data collected when using the full dump file A full dump file can, however, be converted to a mini dump file using the debuggers The contents of mini dump files are variable and can be customized by the dump file generator, depending on which generator is used The information contained within a mini dump file ranges from information on a particular thread to an exhaustive description of the process being dumped As strange as it might seem, the biggest mini dump file will actually contain more debug information than a full dump file To that extent, this chapter focuses on the mini dump file construct A number of tools are available that will generate dump files, as shown in Table 131 Table 131
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