Debugging the kernel

Kernels can be difficult to debug - this page tries to collect useful techniques for debugging kernels in general, and also any Poplar specific things that might be useful.

Using GDB

Firstly, start GDB with (this is just an example, alter e.g. paths as needed):

tools/rust_gdb -q "build/Poplar/fat/kernel.elf" -ex "target remote :1234"

Note that the rust_gdb script is used instead of invoking GDB directly - this installs various plugins to make life easier.

A few tips for using GDB specific/helpful for kernel debugging:

  • QEMU will not run any code (even the firmware) until you run continue in GDB. This allows you to place breakpoints before any code runs.
  • By default, the make gdb recipe will use KVM acceleration. This means that software breakpoints (created by break) will not work. Use hardware-assisted breakpoints (created with hbreak) instead.
  • To step through assembly, you must use si instead of s
  • Use tui enable to move to the TUI, and then layout regs to show both general registers and source

Emulate with a custom build of QEMU

For particularly tricky issues, it can sometimes be useful to insert printfs in QEMU and see if they trigger when emulating Poplar. The Makefile makes this easy - run something like:

QEMU_DIR='~/qemu/build/x86_64-softmmu/' make qemu-no-kvm

where the location pointed to by QEMU_DIR is the build destination of the correct QEMU executable. A lot of the time, the printfs you've inserted will only trigger with TCG, so it's usually best to use qemu-no-kvm.

Poplar specific: the breakpoint exception

The breakpoint exception is useful for inspecting the contents of registers at specific points, such as in sections of assembly (where it's inconvenient to call into Rust, or to use a debugger because getting global_asm! to play nicely with GDB is a pain).

Simply use the int3 instruction:


mov rsp, [gs:0x10]
int3  // Is my user stack pointer correct?

Building OVMF

Building a debug build of OVMF isn't too hard (from the base of the edk2 repo):

OvmfPkg/ -a X64

By default, debug builds of OVMF will output debugging information on the ISA debugcon, which is actually probably nicer for our purposes than most builds, which pass DEBUG_ON_SERIAL_PORT during the build. To log the output to a file, you can pass -debugcon file:ovmf_debug.log -global isa-debugcon.iobase=0x402 to QEMU.