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Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 : Debugging with Visual Studio 2010 (part 1) - Live Debugging, Performing Post-Mortem Analysis

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7/8/2013 3:40:31 AM
Visual Studio provides an intuitive interface for debugging both managed and native applications. The Visual Studio debugger is a separate component within the Visual Studio integrated development environment (IDE). Visual Studio 2010 introduces many new debugging features, such as the ability to create and save managed dumps. In addition, you can now use Visual Studio to perform managed post-mortem analysis on a dump.

Live Debugging

You can perform real-time debugging of a running application. This is considered live debugging, which you can start in several different ways:

  • You can start debugging from an active project. Open the Visual Studio project for your managed application. This should be a runnable application, such as a Console or Windows Forms application. Select Debug from the menu, and then select Start Debugging. (The shortcut key is F5.) Assuming that your program compiles successfully, the application will start with the debugger attached.

  • You can attach the debugger to a running application by using Visual Studio. From the menu, select Debugging, and then select Attach To Process. The dialog box shown in the following image appears. Select the application you want to debug from the list, and then click the Attach button. If you have a corresponding project available, you might want to open it first. This would help with source-level debugging.

    Live Debugging
  • The last option is known as Just-In-Time debugging. When an application crashes, a dialog box appears that presents you with several choices (see the following image). One of the options is to attach the debugger and begin debugging the application in a Visual Studio session. From the crash dialog box, select the Continue button to begin Just-In-Time debugging. Visual Studio installs itself as the default Just-In-Time debugger at installation.

    Live Debugging

Most of the user interface for debugging, such as the various debugging windows, is not available for use unless the application is running but interrupted. It is hard to debug a moving target. However, there are a variety of techniques to interrupt an application, most normally breakpoints. You can insert a breakpoint into a running application from the Debug menu in Visual Studio.

There are several types of breakpoints:

  • Location . This sets a breakpoint on a specific source statement.

  • Condition . This honors the breakpoint when a Boolean condition is true. For example, you can honor the breakpoint if a variable contains a specific value.

  • Hit Count . This sets a breakpoint on a specific instance, such as every third instance or when a variable exceeds a certain value.

  • Filter . This type filters a breakpoint on a thread, process, or machine. This is useful when there are several threads executing through the same source code. In this circumstance, it might be useful to break on a specific thread.

  • When Hit . This executes a macro or displays a trace message when the breakpoint is hit. A When Hit breakpoint is also known as a Tracepoint and looks different than other breakpoints: It appears as a diamond, not as a red circle. By default, when they are hit, When Hit breakpoints do not break! When one of these breakpoints is hit, the trace is displayed or the macro is executed. You can choose to break at the breakpoint by selecting that option in the Tracepoint dialog box. If this option is chosen, the breakpoint changes to the common red circle for breakpoints and execution is interrupted when the breakpoint is hit.

Most developers set a location breakpoint by using the F9 function key. Simply place the insertion point at the target location in your source code and click F9. The F9 shortcut key acts as a toggle to turn a breakpoint on or off. You can also convert an existing breakpoint to another type by using the context menu. Right-click the breakpoint in the source window or in the Breakpoints window to change the type, as shown in the following image.

When Hit

Performing Post-Mortem Analysis

Post-mortem analysis involves debugging an application after execution has completed—a task that is most often accomplished with dumps. Managed debugging of dumps is an important new feature of Visual Studio 2010 and includes creating and opening managed dumps, which is extremely important in a production environment in which live debugging is not an option. Instead of debugging, you can create a dump of the application.

To create a dump, you first interrupt the running application. One method is to choose Debug from the menu and then select Break All. After interrupting the application, choose Save Dump As from the Debug menu. The Save Dump As dialog box appears. Enter the name, and select the type of dump you want to create. You can create dumps both with or without heap information. The default is mini dumps with heap information. To create dumps of applications already running, start with Tools | Attach To Process in Visual Studio, which might include identifying a remote machine. You can then create the dump.

You can also open managed dumps in Visual Studio. If possible, open the related project first. The dump file does not have to be created in Visual Studio—it might have been created from another application, such as Windows Task Manager, WinDbg, or ADPlus. After opening a dump, Visual Studio displays the Minidump File Summary, as shown in the next image. This window presents summary information pertaining to the dump, including when the dump was created, the list of loaded modules, and the originating operating system. To start debugging with the dump, select the Debug With Mixed or Debug With Native Only button (the green triangles in the Actions section). You can then begin your analysis by using the various debug windows.

Performing Post-Mortem Analysis

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