Advanced Windows Debugging - PDF

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Advanced Windows Debugging by Mario Hewardt

Not long ago, we were reminiscing about a really tough problem we faced at work. The Quality Assurance team was running stress tests on our product, and every four or five days, a crash would rear its ugly head. Sure, we had debugged the crash as far as we thought possible, and we had done extensive code reviews to try to figure it out, but alas, not enough information could be gained to get to the bottom of it. After several weeks of unfruitful attempts, we started looking for alternative approaches. During a random hallway conversation, someone happened to casually mention a tool called gflags. Having never heard of this tool before, we set out to do some research to find out how it could help us get to the bottom of our crash. Unfortunately, the learning process proved to be somewhat difficult. First, finding information about the tool proved to be a real challenge. There was a ton of great information in the reference documentation that came with the tools, but it was hard to figure out how to actually get started. We quickly realized that without some basic guidance, there was little hope for us to be able to utilize the tool. Naturally, we decided to ask the person who had happened to mention the tool if he knew of any documentation or pointers. He gave us some brief descriptions of the tool and, perhaps more importantly, the names of other people who had worked with the tool extensively. What followed was a series of long and instructive conversations, and bit by bit the basic idea behind the tool started falling into place.


Did we ever get to the bottom of the crash? Yes—we did. As a matter of fact, enabling the correct tool while running our stress tests pinpointed the problem to such accuracy that it only took an hour of code reviewing to locate and fix the misbehaving code. Had we known about this tool and how to use it from the start, we would have saved several weeks of work. From that point on, we dedicated quite a lot of time to furthering our understanding of the tools and how they can help while trying to troubleshoot misbehaving code.


Over the years, the Windows debuggers and tools have matured and grown and become increasingly powerful. The amount of timesaving features now available is truly mind-boggling. What is equally mind-boggling is that after several years, the native debuggers and tools are still relatively unknown to developers. The few developers who do find out that these tools exist have to go through a similarly painful learning process as we did years ago. We were fortunate to have the luxury of working with engineers at Microsoft (some of whom wrote the tools), but without this luxury, many hopeful developers end up at a dead end and are never able to reap the benefits of the tools. This unfortunate problem of a lack of learning material also turned out to be a great opportunity for a solution, and thus the idea for this book was born. The key to enable developers to gain the knowledge required is to provide a central repository of concise information that fully explains the ins and outs of the debugging tools and processes. The book you are holding serves as that key and is the net result of three years of writing and over 15 years of collective debugging experience.


We hope that you will enjoy reading this book as much as we enjoyed authoring it and that it will open up the door to a truly amazing world of highly efficient software troubleshooting and debugging. Knowing how to use the tools and techniques described in this book is a critical part of a computer scientist’s work and can teach you how to very efficiently troubleshoot some of the toughest problems in software.


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