Low-Overhead Interactive Debugging via Dynamic Instrumentation with DISE

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Breakpoints, watchpoints, and conditional variants of both are essential debugging primitives, but their natural implementations often degrade performance significantly. Slowdown arises because the debugger—the tool implementing the breakpoint/watchpoint interface—is implemented in a process separate from the debugged application. Since the debugger evaluates the watchpoint expressions and conditional predicates to determine whether to invoke the user, a debugging session typically requires many expensive application-debugger context switches, resulting in slowdowns of 40,000 times or more in current commercial and open-source debuggers! In this paper, we present an effective and efficient implementation of (conditional) breakpoints and watchpoints that uses DISE to dynamically embed debugger logic into the running application. DISE (dynamic instruction stream editing) is a previously-proposed, programmable hardware facility for dynamically customizing applications by transforming the instruction stream as it is decoded. DISE embedding preserves the logical separation of application and debugger—instructions are added dynamically and transparently, existing application code and data are not statically modified—and has little startup cost. Cycle-level simulation on the SPEC 2000 integer benchmarks shows that the DISE approach eliminates all unnecessary context switching, typically limits debugging overhead to 25% or less for a wide range of watchpoints, and outperforms alternative implementations.

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Copyright 2005 IEEE. Reprinted from Proceedings of the 11th International Symposium on High-Performance Computer Architecture 2005 (HPCA-11), pages 303-314. This material is posted here with permission of the IEEE. Such permission of the IEEE does not in any way imply IEEE endorsement of any of the University of Pennsylvania's products or services. Internal or personal use of this material is permitted. However, permission to reprint/republish this material for advertising or promotional purposes or for creating new collective works for resale or redistribution must be obtained from the IEEE by writing to pubs-permissions@ieee.org. By choosing to view this document, you agree to all provisions of the copyright laws protecting it.
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