TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Simple Call Stack Logging

Volume Number: 25
Issue Number: 06
Column Tag: Programming

Simple Call Stack Logging

Who called NSLog()?

by Sengan Baring-Gould

In this article I present an extension to NSLog() which not only prints out a user specified message but also lists the function calls that led to its invocation. By the end of this article you will have a new tool you can use in your own applications, and you'll understand how it works so that you can adapt it to your needs.

Why log?

NSLog() is an important tool for debugging. It can be placed anywhere in an application to log internal state.

Many programmers prefer logging to using a debugger, as it helps them concentrate on possible causes of a problem while filtering out irrelevant information. Logging provides a complete textual record of the problem that can be studied later.

Debuggers on the other hand interrupt the developer who must record by hand all the relevant state before letting the application continue. Continuing is an unforgiving operation: once performed, prior state that was not recorded is lost.

Brian W Kernighan (one of the authors of the seminal text on the C language) said:

"As a personal choice, we tend not to use debuggers beyond getting a stack trace or the value of a variable or two. One reason is that it is easy to get lost in details of complicated data structures and control flow; we find stepping through a program less productive than thinking harder and adding output statements and self-checking code at critical places. Clicking over statements takes longer than scanning the output of judiciously-placed displays. It takes less time to decide where to put print statements than to single-step to the critical section of code, even assuming we know where that is. More important, debugging statements stay with the program; debugger sessions are transient".

However, if NSLog() is invoked from a function that is called from many other functions, determining which function call caused the bug can be very difficult. We need a record of the function calls that led to the invocation of NSLog().

Where we are headed

Our new debug function debugLog() will print out any message we want the same way NSLog() does. Following the message, it will list the function invocations that led it to be called:

2009-04-05 15:37:58.119 TestDebugLog[14442:10b] C++ constructor
        0000301f — CPP::CPP() + 33             (TestDebugLog)
        0000316c — main + 86                   (TestDebugLog)
        00001a5e — start + 54                  (TestDebugLog)

The first line follows NSLog()'s traditional format: the date, the time, the name of the application (TestDebugLog) and then the message we passed as argument: "C++ Constructor".

On the next lines, debugLog() lists the function invocations that led it to be called:

  • debugLog() was called from the C++ constructor CPP::CPP() defined in TestDebugLog.
  • CPP:CPP() was called by main also defined in TestDebugLog.
  • main was called by start also defined in TestDebugLog. (start is the function the Operating System calls when it starts an application).

The module name between parentheses specifies where a function is defined. In the following example, NSPopAutoreleasePool is shown to be defined in the Foundation framework:

2009-04-05 15:40:03.921 TestDebugLog[14462:10b] Objective-C dealloc
        000030d3 — [Objc dealloc]  + 33        (TestDebugLog)
        91117e4f — NSPopAutoreleasePool + 431  (Foundation)
        000031d1 — main + 207                  (TestDebugLog)
        00001a4a — start + 54                  (TestDebugLog)

Obtaining the list of function invocations

Obtaining the list of function invocations to print is a two step process. First, debugLog() must obtain the addresses of the functions that called it. A computer uses addresses to keep track of what it is doing, but addresses are not specified in a program's source-code.

Then debugLog() must translate these addresses into the function names that appear in the program's source code. Three different methods are required to obtain C, C++, and Objective-C function names.

1. Retrieving the list of called functions' addresses

Compilers transform source-code into machine code that computers understand. When a function is called, the caller's return address must be saved so that the CPU can continue running the caller after the function invocation completes. In the context of this discussion, we will assume that these return addresses are stored on the stack. (We will ignore specific optimizations used by the PowerPC and x86 CPUs).

Unfortunately, the stack also records other information, such as local variables and function arguments. Determining precisely which items in the stack are return addresses requires compiler specific knowledge. Conveniently, the new version of gcc which ships with Leopard provides a new function, backtrace(), which gives us the return addresses in the current stack.

Remember that inlined functions are embedded within their callers rather than being invoked. This means backtrace will not see them in the stack and they will not be listed by debugLog().

2. Function layout in memory

Functions are compiled independently by the compiler and occupy contiguous areas of memory. Therefore if we know the starting addresses of any two consecutive functions f and g, and if we have an address x which falls between f and g ( &f <= x < &g ), we know that x belongs to the function f.

One rarely has addresses that match the beginning of each function precisely. Therefore function-lookup functions are designed to return information about the preceding function when given an address. Our case matches this scenario: the return addresses provided by backtrace occur within functions. Thus we can safely ignore the difference between return addresses and starting function addresses for most of this discussion. Similarly, we'll adopt the standard convention of referring to starting function addresses as function addresses.

3. Retrieving C function names

When an application is first loaded into memory, it needs to be told the addresses of the external library functions it wants to use. Because libraries are updated independently of applications, the addresses of their functions may change, although the names of their functions will not. It is the responsibility of the dynamic linker to give each application this information.

The dynamic linker reads function names from a symbol table embedded in the application and the libraries the application uses. The symbol table lists all the C function addresses and the C function names that can be accessed externally. Therefore if we know an address, we can ask the dynamic linker for the corresponding function name. The backtrace_symbols() function provides this functionality.

Because the dynamic linker only knows about externally visible function names, backtrace_symbols() always returns the nearest preceding external symbol. Static C functions are not exported and will not be given the correct name by the linker.

Most symbols will be exported as external if you compile your application in Debug Configuration. This is not true if you compile it in Release Configuration. The UNIX utility nm lists exported function names with a preceding capital T letting you check if an unexpected function name shows up.

4. Retrieving Objective-C method names

Objective-C does not use the dynamic linker. Instead it uses the Objective-C runtime, which like the dynamic linker keeps track of all known method addresses and names. (A method is a function defined within a class). However there is no equivalent to backtrace_symbols() which returns a function name when given a function address. We must build one ourselves.

The Objective-C runtime provides a function to enumerate all the Objective-C classes that can be invoked by the application, including those in the frameworks bound to the application. It also provides a function to enumerate the methods in any Objective-C class. With these components we can obtain every method's address and name.

Implementation

This code is Objective-C++ so don't forget to use the ".mm" extension for your implementation filename. We start with the necessary includes:

DebugLog Implementation File: SBGDebug.mm

#include "SBGDebug.h"
#include <cxxabi.h>
#include <map>
#include <string>
#include <execinfo.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#import <objc/Object.h>

1. Finding Objective-C methods

We want to build a method-lookup function that will return the method in which an address lies. We know how to enumerate the name and address of every Objective-C method available to the application, but this enumeration is expensive. Therefore we need a data structure in which to store the locations of the member functions.

The data structure must return the correct member function when queried with any address belonging to that member function. NSDictionary does not provide this functionality, but C++'s Standard Template Library's (STL) map container does.

map::upper_bound returns an iterator to the first element in the map whose key is larger than the queried key. For a map with method addresses as keys and method names as values, map::upper_bound will return an iterator pointing to the name of the method following the one we are looking for. Simply decrementing the iterator will make it point to the preceding method name.

// Lookup Function names
static std::map<uint32, std::string>* objectiveCMethodNames = NULL;
inline static uint32 lookupFunction(uint32 addr, const char** name)
{
   if (objectiveCMethodNames == NULL)
      return NULL;
     // Find the next function
   std::map<uint32, std::string>::iterator iter
      = objectiveCMethodNames->upper_bound( addr );
    // Go back a function: now we are looking at the right one!
   —iter;
   *name = iter->second.c_str();
   return iter->first;
}

Populating the STL map is a simple matter of iterating through all the classes known to the Objective-C runtime, and enumerating their methods.

// Add classes by stepping through their method lists.
inline static void  addObjectiveCMethod(uint32 addr, const char* name)
{   (*objectiveCMethodNames)[addr] = std::string(name); }
void addClass(Class c)
{
   unsigned int method_count;
   Method *method_list = class_copyMethodList(c, &method_count);
   for (int i = 0; i < method_count; i++)
   {
      Method      func = method_list[i];
      const char* name = sel_getName( method_getName( func ) );
      uint32      addr = (uint32) method_getImplementation( func );
      addObjectiveCMethod(   addr,
                           [[NSStringstringWith Format:@"[%s %s]",
                           class_getName(c), name] cString]);
   }
}

We could call the code that enumerates the Objective-C methods explicitly from main, but that requires remembering to add the call to each new application that uses debugLog(). Instead I can put the enumeration code into the load method of an Objective-C class which is guaranteed to be called if debugLog() is built into the application. The only gotcha is that the load method is invoked before Cocoa has created an NSAutoreleasePool. That's why the code below creates its own NSAutoreleasePool to avoid memory leaks.

@implementation SBGDebug
+ (void) load
{
   if (objectiveCMethodNames != NULL)
      return;
   NSAutoreleasePool* pool = [[NSAutoreleasePool alloc] init];
   objectiveCMethodNames = new std::map<uint32, std::string>();
   int numClasses = objc_getClassList(NULL, 0);
   if (numClasses > 0 )
   {
      Class *classes = (Class*) malloc(sizeof(Class) * numClasses);
      numClasses     = objc_getClassList(classes, numClasses);
      for (int i = 0; i < numClasses; ++i)
         addClass(classes[i]);
      free(classes);
   }
   [pool release];
}
@end

2. Deciding whether a function is C, C++ or Objective-C

The return addresses provided by backtrace() could belong to a C function, a C++ function or an Objective-C method. We need a way to decide which case we're dealing with. We start by asking both the C/C++ function-lookup function and the Objective-C method-lookup function to what function they believe a return address belongs. We will obtain two addresses a and b which should both be smaller than the return address r. Because functions are contiguous and do not intersect with each other, a and b must differ, and one of them must be lower than the other. For the same reason, the return address r cannot belong to the function with the lower address, as that function must end before the higher address. Therefore we use the name of the function that starts at the higher address:

extern "C" void debugLog(NSString* format, ...)
{
   // Print the debug message
   va_list arguments;
   va_start(arguments,format);
   NSLogv(format, arguments);
   // Dump the callstack
   uint32 callstack[128];
   int  frames = backtrace((void**) callstack, 128);
   char** strs = backtrace_symbols((void**) callstack, frames);
   for (int i = 1; i < frames; ++i)
   {
      char functionSymbol[64*1024];
      char moduleName    [64*1024];
      int  offset        = 0;
      sscanf(strs[i], "%*d %s %*s %s %*s %d", &moduleName,
                                       &functionSymbol, &offset);
      uint32 addr = callstack[i];
      if (objectiveCMethodNames)
      {
         const char* objcName;
         uint32      objcAddr = lookupFunction(addr, &objcName);
         if (      (objcAddr != 0)
               &&   (addr > objcAddr)
               &&   (addr - objcAddr < offset))
         {   printf("\t%8.8x — %s  + %d\t\t(%s)\n", addr, objcName,
                                             addr - objcAddr, moduleName);
            continue; };
      };
      int   validCppName;
      char* functionName = abi::__cxa_demangle(functionSymbol, NULL, 0,
                                                            &validCppName);
      if (validCppName == 0)
         printf(   "\t%8.8x — %s + %d\t\t(%s)\n",
                  addr, functionName, offset, moduleName);
      else
         printf(   "\t%8.8x — %s + %d\t\t(%s)\n",
                  addr, functionSymbol, offset, moduleName);
      if (functionName)
         free(functionName);
   }
   free(strs);
}

The output of backtrace_symbols() is an array of C-strings. We use sscanf() to parse them. The resulting function names are passed to the C++ demangler to convert into human-readable form if they are C++ names.

debugLog() uses printf() rather than NSLog() to avoid printing the application's name at the beginning of each line.

debugLog() is declared as extern "C" so it can be linked directly to Objective-C code. The class interface file does the same:

DebugLog Interface File: SBGDebug.h

@interface SBGDebug : NSObject
+ (void) load;
@end
#ifdef __cplusplus
extern "C" {
#endif
void debugLog(NSString* format, ...);
#ifdef __cplusplus
};
#endif

Using DebugLog

Invoke debugLog() just as you would NSLog():

Test file: TestDebugLog.mm

#import "SBGDebug.h"
// C++ test
struct CPP      { CPP(); ~CPP(); };
CPP::CPP()      { debugLog(@"C++ Constructor"); };
CPP::~CPP()   { debugLog(@"C++ Destructor"); };
// Objective C test
@interface Objc : NSObject
@end
@implementation Objc
- (id)      init
{ debugLog(@"Objective-C init"); return [super init]; };
(void)   dealloc
{ debugLog(@"Objective-C dealloc"); [super dealloc]; };
@end
// Main
int main(int argc, const char* argv[])
{
   NSAutoreleasePool* pool = [[NSAutoreleasePool alloc] init];
   CPP   cpp;
   Objc* objc = [[[Objc alloc] init] autorelease];
   debugLog(@"C — test arguments work too: %@", objc);
   [pool release];
   return 0;
}

Conclusion

Leopard provides all the components necessary to build a cross-platform NSLog() which can print function call traces. Although the code I provide assumes compilation to a 32-bit executable, extending it to 64 bits should be straightforward as only standard library functions are used.

You can download the entire Objective-C++ project from the MacTech ftp source archive at ftp.mactech.com/src/mactech/volume25_2009/25.06.sit.

Don't forget to compile it and run it in Debug Configuration!

References:

backtrace() : man backtrace.

backtrace_symbols() limitations : http://lists.apple.com/archives/darwin-dev/2009/Mar/msg00111.html.

backtrace_symbols() : man backtrace_symbols.

abi::__cxa_demangle : http://www.ib.cnea.gov.ar/~oop/biblio/libstdc++/namespaceabi.html.

Objective-C runtime: http://developer.apple.com/documentation/Cocoa/Reference/ObjCRuntimeRef/ObjCRuntimeRef.pdf.

The Standard Template Library: http://www.sgi.com/tech/stl/


Dr. Sengan Baring-Gould is a Boulder, Colorado-based independent Mac OS X developer and writer. He is available for consulting and specializes in Algorithms, AI, Cocoa, Debugging tools, High performance code, and UIs. He can be reached at sengan@ansemond.com.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Garmin Express 7.0.0.0 - Manage your Gar...
Garmin Express is your essential tool for managing your Garmin devices. Update maps, golf courses and device software. You can even register your device. Update maps Update software Register your... Read more
ClipGrab 3.8.12 - Download videos from Y...
ClipGrab is a free downloader and converter for YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook and many other online video sites. It converts downloaded videos to MPEG4, MP3 or other formats in just one easy step Version... Read more
VMware Fusion 11.5.5 - Run Windows apps...
VMware Fusion and Fusion Pro - virtualization software for running Windows, Linux, and other systems on a Mac without rebooting. The latest version includes full support for Windows 10, macOS Mojave... Read more
Civilization VI 1.3.0 - Next iteration o...
Civilization® VI is the award-winning experience. Expand your empire across the map, advance your culture, and compete against history’s greatest leaders to build a civilization that will stand the... Read more
Corel Painter 20.1.0.285 - Digital art s...
Corel Painter lets you advance your digital art style with painted textures, subtle glazing brushwork, interactive gradients, and realistic Natural-Media. Easily transition from traditional to... Read more
iTubeDownloader 6.5.19 - Easily download...
iTubeDownloader is a powerful-yet-simple YouTube downloader for the masses. Because it contains a proprietary browser, you can browse YouTube like you normally would. When you see something you want... Read more
OmniFocus 3.8 - GTD task manager with iO...
OmniFocus is an organizer app. It uses projects to organize tasks naturally, and then add tags to organize across projects. Easily enter tasks when you’re on the go, and process them when you have... Read more
Hazel 4.4.5 - Create rules for organizin...
Hazel is your personal housekeeper, organizing and cleaning folders based on rules you define. Hazel can also manage your trash and uninstall your applications. Organize your files using a familiar... Read more
Macs Fan Control 1.5.7 - Monitor and con...
Macs Fan Control allows you to monitor and control almost any aspect of your computer's fans, with support for controlling fan speed, temperature sensors pane, menu-bar icon, and autostart with... Read more
Acorn 6.6 - Bitmap image editor.
Acorn is a new image editor built with one goal in mind - simplicity. Fast, easy, and fluid, Acorn provides the options you'll need without any overhead. Acorn feels right, and won't drain your bank... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Dungonian is a card-based dungeon crawle...
Dungonian is a card-based dungeon crawler from developer SandFish Games that only recently launched as a free-to-play title. It offers an extensive roster of playable heroes to collect and enemies to take down, and it's available right now for iOS... | Read more »
Steam Link Spotlight - Signs of the Sojo...
Steam Link Spotlight is a feature where we look at PC games that play exceptionally well using the Steam Link app. Our last entry was XCOM: Chimera Squad. Read about how it plays using Steam Link's new mouse and keyboard support over here. | Read more »
Steampunk Tower 2, DreamGate's sequ...
Steampunk Tower 2 is a DreamGate's follow up to their previous tower defence game. It's available now for both iOS and Android as a free-to-play title and will see players defending their lone base by kitting it out with a variety of turrets. [... | Read more »
Clash Royale: The Road to Legendary Aren...
Supercell recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and their best title, Clash Royale, is as good as it's ever been. Even for lapsed players, returning to the game is as easy as can be. If you want to join us in picking the game back up, we've put... | Read more »
Pokemon Go Fest 2020 will be a virtual e...
Niantic has announced that Pokemon Go Fest will still take place this year although understandably it won't be a physical event. Instead, it will become a virtual celebration and is set to be held on 25th and 26th July. [Read more] | Read more »
Marvel Future Fight's major May upd...
Marvel Future Fight's latest update has now landed, and it sounds like a big one. The focus this time around is on Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, and it introduces all-new characters, quests, and uniforms for players to collect. [Read more] | Read more »
SINoALICE, Yoko Taro and Pokelabo's...
Yoko Taro and developer Pokelabo's SINoALICE has now opened for pre-registration over on the App Store. It's already amassed 1.5 million Android pre-registrations, and it's currently slated to launch on July 1st. [Read more] | Read more »
Masketeers: Idle Has Fallen's lates...
Masketeers: Idle Has Fallen is the latest endeavour from Appxplore, the folks behind Crab War, Thor: War of Tapnarok and Light A Way. It's an idle RPG that's currently available for Android in Early Access and will head to iOS at a later date. [... | Read more »
Evil Hunter Tycoon celebrates 2 million...
Evil Hunter Tycoon has proved to be quite the hit since launching back in March, with its most recent milestone being 2 million downloads. To celebrate the achievement, developer Super Planet has released a new updated called Darkness' Front Yard... | Read more »
Peak's Edge is an intriguing roguel...
Peak's Edge is an upcoming roguelike puzzle game from developer Kenny Sun that's heading for both iOS and Android on June 4th as a free-to-play title. It will see players rolling a pyramid shape through a variety of different levels. [Read more] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Sams Club Sales Event: $100 off every Apple W...
Sams Club is discounting all Apple Watch Series 5 models by $100 off Apple’s MSRP through June 3, 2020. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale prices for online orders... Read more
New 16″ MacBook Pros now on sale for up to $2...
Apple reseller DataVision is now offering new 16″ Apple MacBook Pros for up to $255 off MSRP, each including free shipping. Prices start at $2194. DataVision charges sales tax for NY, NJ, PA, and CA... Read more
Apple now offering Certified Refurbished iPho...
Apple is now offering Certified Refurbished iPhone Xr models in the refurbished section of their online store starting at $499. Each iPhone comes with Apple’s standard one-year warranty, ships free,... Read more
Sale! Get a 10.2″ 32GB WiFi iPad for only $27...
Walmart has new 10.2″ 32GB WiFi iPads on sale for $50 off Apple’s MSRP, only $279. These are the same iPads sold by Apple in their retail and online stores. Be sure to select Walmart as the seller... Read more
Apple resellers offer new 2020 Mac minis for...
Apple resellers are offering new 2020 Mac minis for up to $50 off Apple’s MSRP with prices available starting at $759. Shipping is free: (1) B&H Photo: – 2020 4-Core Mac mini: $759 $40 off MSRP... Read more
Sprint is offering the Apple iPhone 11 free t...
Did you miss out on Sprint’s recent free iPhone SE promotion? No worries. Sprint has the 64GB iPhone 11 available for $0 per month for new lines when you trade-in a qualifying phone in any condition... Read more
Apple has clearance 2019 13″ 1.4GHz MacBook P...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2019 13″ 1.4GHz 4-Core Touch Bar MacBook Pros available today starting at $979 and up to $440 off original MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included, shipping is... Read more
Apple restocks 2019 MacBook Airs starting at...
Apple has clearance, Certified Refurbished, 2019 13″ MacBook Airs available again starting at $779. Each MacBook features a new outer case, comes with a standard Apple one-year warranty, and is... Read more
Apple restocks clearance Mac minis for only $...
Apple has restocked Certified Refurbished 2018 4-Core Mac minis for only $599. Each mini comes with a new outer case plus a standard Apple one-year warranty. Shipping is free: – 3.6GHz Quad-Core... Read more
Apple’s new 2020 13″ MacBook Airs on sale for...
B&H Photo has Apple’s new 2020 13″ 4-Core and 6-Core MacBook Airs on sale today for $50-$100 off Apple’s MSRP, starting at $949. Expedited shipping is free to many addresses in the US. The... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Mac Desktop Support - Global Dimensi...
…Operate and support an Active Directory (AD) server-client environment for all Apple devices operating on the BUMED network + Leverage necessary industry enterprise Read more
Surgical Technologist III, *Apple* Hill Sur...
Surgical Technologist III, Apple Hill Surgical Center - Full Time Tracking Code D5.29.2020 Job Description Surgical Technologist III Apple Hill Surgical Center Read more
Security Officer - *Apple* Store - NANA (Un...
**Security Officer \- Apple Store** **Description** About NMS Built on a culture of safety and integrity, NMSdelivers award\-winning, integrated support services to Read more
Transition Into Practice Program (TIP) - Sept...
…Academy-Transition into Practice (TIP) Residency program at St Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, CA. **We are seekingRegistered Nurses who are:** + New graduate Read more
Essbase Developer - *Apple* - Theorem, LLC...
Job Summary Apple is seeking an experienced, detail-minded Essbase developer to join our worldwide business development and strategy team. If you are someone who Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.