GDB - Introduction

GDB (GNU Debugger) is a debugger that, like many others, allows you to watch in depth what a program is doing while in execution. According to GDB's documentation, it can do four main kinds of things to help you catch bugs in the act:

  • Start your program, specifying anything that might affect its behaviour.
  • Make your program stop on specified conditions.
  • Examine what has happened, when your program has stopped.
  • Change things in your program, so you can experiment with correcting the effects of one bug and go on to learn about another.

Let's start using GDB with a very simple program:


#include <stdio.h>

int main() {
    int a = 1;
    a = a + 2;  
    printf("a: %d\n", a);
    return 0;

Compile and run:

To compile we will use GCC, but to debug using GDB we need to add the flag "-g". This flag enables the use of extra debugging information that GDB will use.

$ gcc -g hello.c
$ ./a.out
a: 3


$ gdb ./a.out

Running the program

Now that we have GDB open we can start running the program using the "run" command.

(gdb) run
a: 3


Breakpoints are places in code, for example, a line in the code, that you can specify and whenever the computer reaches a breakpoint, it pauses before executing the specified line and shows the debugger prompt. To create a breakpoint we use the "break" command.

(gdb) break hello.c:5

Analyse Data

Now that we have a breakpoint we can run the program again and start analysing the data.

(gdb) run
Breakpoint 1, main () at hello.c:5
5               a = a + 2;

To see the current value stored at the variable "a" we use the "print" command.

(gdb) print a
$1 = 1;

Remember that the current line has not executed yet. So if we want to execute the current line and stop at the next one we run the "next" command.

(gdb) next
6    printf("a: %d\n", a);

If we print the variable "a" again we should see a different value.

(gdb) print a
$2 = 3

Everything worked as expected, now we can continue the execution using the "continue" command, which will resume the execution of the program until a breakpoint is hit.

(gdb) continue
a: 3
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