Debugging The Linux Kernel Using Gdb

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Debugging the linux kernels using gdb

The majority of day to day kernel debugging is done by adding print statements to code by using the famous printk function. Using printk it as it is relatively simple and effective and cheap technique to use. There are many other linux grown techniques that take the debugging and profiling approach to a higher level. On this page we will discuss using the gnu debugger to do kernel debugging. Overall starting using gdb to do kernel debugging is relatively easy.

Most of the examples here will work in two (open source) situations. when using JTAG and when using qemu system emulation. As the second option does not require any hardware you could go on and try it right away!

The open source jtag debugging world is not that big. One project stands out in terms of debugging capabilities is OpenOCD and this is the tool used in this documentation.

vmlinuz v.s zImage

When you want to debug the kernel you need a little understanding of how the kernel is composed. Most important is the difference between your vmlinux and the zImage. What you need to understand at this point is that the zImage is a container. This container gets loaded by a bootloader and that execution is handed over to the zImage. This zImage unpacks the kernel to the same memory location and starts executing the kernel.(explain that vmlinux does not have to be the real kernel as it is possible to debug a "stripped" kernel using a non stripped vmlinux). overall if we look at a compiled kernel we will see that vmlinux is located at the root of the kernel tree whiles the zImage is located under arch/arm/boot

vmlinux
arch/arm/boot
`-- zImage

vmlinux is what we will be using during debugging of the linux kernel.

Loading a kernel in memory

Getting the kernel log buffer

Debugging a kernel module (.o and .ko )