A blog post from Undo Software informed me that Microsoft has rather quietly released a reverse debugger tool for Windows programs – WinDbg with Time Travel Debug. It is available in the latest preview of WinDbg, as available through the Windows Store, for the most recent Windows 10 versions (Anniversary update or later). According to a CPPcon talk about the tool (Youtube recording of the talk) the technology has a decade-long history internally at Microsoft, but is only now being released to the public after a few years of development. So it is a new old thing 🙂
A new entry just showed up in the world of reverse debugging – Simulics, from German company Simulics. It does seem like the company and the tool are called the same. Simulics is a rather rare breed, the full-system-simulation-based reverse debugger. We have actually only seen a few these in history, with Simics being the primary example. Most reverse debuggers apply to user-level code and use various forms of OS call intercepts to create a reproducible run. Since the Simulics company clearly comes from the deeply embedded systems field, it makes sense to take the full-system approach since that makes it possible to debug code such as interrupt handlers.
I have also updated my history of commercial reverse debuggers to include Simulics.
Last year (2015), a paper called “Don’t Panic: Reverse Debugging of Kernel Drivers” was presented at the ESEC/FSE (European Software Engineering Conference and the ACM SIGSOFT Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering) conference. The paper was written by Pavel Dovgalyuk, Denis Dmitriev, and Vladimir Makarov from the Russian Academy of Sciences. It describes a rather interesting approach to Linux kernel device driver debug, using a deterministic variant of Qemu along with record/replay of hardware interactions. I think this is the first published instance of using reverse debugging in a simulator together with real hardware.
A comment on my old blog post about the history of reverse execution gave me a pointer to a fairly early example of replay debugging. The comment pointed at a 2002 blog post which in turn pointed at a 1999 LWN.net text which almost in passing describes a seemingly working record-replay debugger from 1995. The author was a Michael Elizabeth Chastain, of whom I have not managed to find any later traces.
I love bug and debug stories in general. Bugs are a fun and interesting part of software engineering, programming, and systems development. Stories that involve running Simics on Simics to find bugs are a particular category that is fascinating, as it shows how to apply serious software technology to solve problems related to said serious software technology. On the Intel Software and Services blog, I just posted a story about just that: debugging a Linux kernel bug provoked by Simics, by running Simics on a small network of machines inside of Simics. See https://blogs.intel.com/evangelists/2016/05/30/finding-kernel-1-2-3-bug-running-wind-river-simics-simics/ for the full story.
A new record, replay, and reverse debugger has appeared, and I just had to take a look at what they do and how they do it. “rr” has been developed by the Firefox developers at Mozilla Corporation, initially for the purpose of debugging Firefox itself. Starting at a debugger from the angle of attacking a particular program does let you get things going quickly, but the resulting tool is clearly generally useful, at least for Linux user-land programs on x86. Since I have tried to keep up with the developments in this field, a write-up seems to be called for.
I have a long-standing interested in debugging in general and reverse debugging in particular and the related idea of record-replay debug (see a series of blog posts I did a few years ago on the topic: history 1, history 2, history 3, S4D report, updates, Simics reverse execution, and then Lab Cloud record/replay). Recently, I found out that Undo Software, one of the pioneers in the field, had released a product called “Live Recorder“. So I went to check it out by reading their materials and comparing it to what we have seen before.
There is a new post at my Wind River blog, where I go back to the basics of reverse execution in Simics and what it can do. The post is not about reverse debugging, about which I have written quite a bit (see for example my series of blog posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), but about the core of reverse execution. I.e., moving the system state back in time in a variety of ways. There is an accompanying video demo on Youtube.
On my Wind River blog, you can now find a description on how we have used the Eclipse TCF (target connection framework) to build the Simics GUI. Or rather, the connection between the Simics GUI and the Simics simulation process. It is actually quite revolutionary what you can do with the TCF, compared to older debug protocols. In particular, TCF lets you combine many different services across a single connection.
Last year, I did a Simics webinar which included a two-part demo of how to use Simics to debug an endianness bug in a networked system as it migrates from big-endian to a little-endian system. Along the way, I also showed off various Simics features like reverse execution and checkpointing and scripted execution.
The demo is now online at the Wind River Youtube channel, and the setup is explained in a blog post at the Wind River company blog which is worth reading before watching the video.
There is a new post at my Wind River blog, telling the story of how some of the Simics developers used Simics itself to debug an intermittent Simics program crash caused by a timing-sensitive race condition.
Running Simics on itself is pretty cool, and shows the power of the simulator and its applicability even to really complex software.
After some discussions at the S4D conference last week, I have some additional updates to the history and technologies of reverse execution. I have found one new commercial product at a much earlier point in time, and an interesting note on memory consistency.
I am going to the S4D conference for the third year in a row. This year, I have a paper on reverse debugging, reviewing the technology, products, and history of the idea. I will probably write a longer blog post after the conference, interesting things tend to come up.
We just uploaded a short movie about reverse execution and reverse debugging to Youtube, to the Wind River official channel. In the short time available in this demo, we really only show reverse execution. Reverse debug, as I define it, is not used much at all, as explaining what goes on when you start to put breakpoints into a program and analyze its behavior takes a surprising amount of time.
In this final part of my series on the history of reverse debugging I will look at the products that launched around the mid-2000s and that finally made reverse debugging available in a commercially packaged product and not just research prototypes. Part one of this series provided a background on the technology and part two discussed various research papers on the topic going back to the early 1970s. The first commercial product featuring reverse debugging was launched in 2003, and then there have been a steady trickle of new products up until today.
Originally published in January 2012. Post updated 2012-09-28 with a revised timeline for Lauterbach CTS. Post updated 2016-04-05 to include Mozilla RR. Post updated 2016-12-26 to add Simulics. Post updated 2017-10-08 to add Microsoft WinDbg.
This is the second post in my series on the history of reverse execution, covering various early research papers. It is clear that reverse debugging has been considered a good idea for a very long time. Sadly though, not a practical one (at the time). The idea is too obvious to be considered new. Here are some of the papers that I have found, going back before reverse debugging got started for real in actual products (around 2003) as well later on for interesting research papers that did not make it into products. It is worth noting that products/useful software has become more common in recent times as the way that reverse debugging ideas get expressed.
For some reason, when I think of reverse execution and debugging, the sound track that goes through my head is a UK novelty hit from 1987, “Star Trekkin” by the Firm. It contains the memorable line “we’re only going forward ’cause we can’t find reverse“. To me, that sums up the history of reverse debugging nicely. The only reason we are not all using it every day is that practical reverse debugging has not been available until quite recently. However, in the past ten years, I think we can say that software development has indeed found reverse. It took a while to get there, however. This is the first of a series of blog posts that will try to cover some of the history of reverse debugging. The text turned out to be so long that I had to break it up to make each post usefully short. Part two is about research, and part three about products.
Continue reading “Reverse History Part One”
Last week, I finally got the last “OK” from the maintainers of GDB, the Gnu Debugger, indicating that my contribution to the GDB project was accepted. This is my first contribution to an open-source project, and the piece of code that has my name on it is positively puny. It is actually not really code at all, it is just a piece of documentation, for the extensions to the GDB-MI command set needed to support reversible debugging. The actual code doing the work was contributed by a colleague of mine, Tomas Holmberg, credit where credit is due.