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Re: [cdt-dev] Hooking into GDB/MI

I find it telling that we seem to always pull back and try and make our debuggers MI compliant rather than deal with the complex parts of DSF. I've long been a doubter of DSF since Pavel first presented it to us at the CDT summit back in 2006. And nothing I've heard people say has done anything other than confirm my fears about it's complexity.

One of my mantras is that if it takes longer to implement my feature with a framework than without, then that's not a very good framework. I'm not saying DSF is one of those but I am curious to find out whether building a debugger integration directly to the platform debug APIs, as TCF has done, would give better results. That way you can leverage the good things about your debugger instead of trying to make it fit the MI mould.

We still have two debuggers out there that we need integrations for, cdb for Windows, and I still think there would be benefit to support lldb directly (though out-of-process, but with a protocol that maps one-to-one with it's API). Once I get through my pile of things on my table for the next year or so, maybe I'll give it a go. Would be an interesting exercise.


On Thu, Mar 24, 2016 at 7:39 AM, Jesper Eskilson <jesper.eskilson@xxxxxxx> wrote:
Thanks for your input, Martin. TCF is still on my radar as possible options. One thing I found difficult with TCF when I did some early experiments on it was that the existing code (e.g. the reference agent) was very much focused on embedded linux, something which is not really relevant for us. But in the end I abandoned by experiments partly due to lack of time and partly due to the fact that we had a system which was working "well enough".

I like the services-based architecture of TCF and even if we probably will not use TCF itself we will (and in fact already are) using many of its ideas.


On 2016-03-24 12:01, Oberhuber, Martin wrote:

Hi Jesper,


We had been in a similar situation as yourself, so I’ll share what we have done:


For many years, we’ve been maintaining our own debugger, and the API for communicating with it was gdb/mi (although it wasn’t genuine GDB).

In fact, we even implemented the initial DSF in order to drive our debugger (though it was not GDB J) in a way that supported multicore well.


But over the years, we found that implementing new features for our debugger was too hard since any changes had to be done on many levels:

The debug agent on the target, the target-side protocol, the debug engine, then gdb/mi, and finally the UI talking gdb/mi.

This made us very inefficient implementing innovations. Also, the DSF, while designed to simplify Eclipse Platform/Debug APIs,

turned out to be quite complex in itself and hard to understand and maintain. Finally, although our debugger had been

designed around gdb/mi from the get-go, we always suffered from “not being 100% GDB compatible”. We’ve found subtle

differences of behavior that cost us a lot of time to investigate and fix over the years.


So what we did in the end was, we completely moved to TCF [1] as the debugger infrastructure. There’s two key design principles

In TCF, (a) API-first design with 100% reliable, extensible public APIs, and (b) avoid adding too many layers between target and UI.

It’s been a long journey until we’ve reached full production quality, but as of today I can say that having TCF made us

extremely fast implementing new features across a wide range of target operating environments.


Actually a very well-known and renowned debugger vendor, who used to offer a GDB API for their hardware debuggers,

has implemented a TCF API just recently and they were extremely happy about the design of TCF protocol and its APIs.

See page 7 on their 2016 newsletter if you are interested.



I’m not sure which benefits you expect from changing a “direct DSF” debug adapter to using gdb/mi

as an additional layer in-between. I’m sure you’ll make the right design decisions for whatever problems

you’re trying to solve. I just wanted to make you aware of the experiences we’ve made and what others have done.









Martin Oberhuber, SMTS / Product Owner – Development Tools, Wind River

direct +43.662.457915.85  fax +43.662.457915.6


From: cdt-dev-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:cdt-dev-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Jesper Eskilson
Sent: Thursday, March 17, 2016 9:28 PM
To: cdt-dev@xxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [cdt-dev] Hooking into GDB/MI




As some of you know, we have a debugger (C-SPY) for which we have a DSF-implementation which does not use GDB. We have implemented our own set of DSF services, and this has worked fairly well over the last few years.


Inspired by the CDT hackathon, I wanted to take a stab at an idea I've had for a while, namely to "disguise" our debugger as GDB. The purpose would be to avoid having our own implementation of some rather hairy DSF service logic and also to be able to be in a better position to contribute code to DSF/GDB as well as leverage from new features being implemented in DSF/GDB.


After doing some research on GDB/MI I realized that it would be nice if we could avoid having to reimplement the GDB/MI wire protocol. Since the MI commands are nicely queued by the GdbControl service, I thought that one might be able to intercept them in e.g. queueCommand(). Each MI command would then need to be "interpreted" to interact with our debugger.


Before really digging any deeper into the intricacies of the DSF/GDB/MI internals, I thought I'd post an open question here about this. Does this seem like a reasonable idea? Or should we stay with our own DSF implementation?






Jesper Eskilson Developer

IAR Systems AB


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Jesper Eskilson Development Engineer
IAR Systems AB

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