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Debugging the linux kernel using kgdb and VirtualBox

September 6th, 2009 Leave a comment Print Print Go to comments

Kgdb is a source level debugger for the linux kernel. It requires two machines, one running a kernel compiled with kgdb enabled and the second one running gdb. It can be found at sourceforge and a light version has been merged into the 2.6.26 kernel. There is an article at kerneltrap which contains all the appropriate information about this light version and it’s differences from the full one. I am going to describe how you can debug a linux kernel running under VirtualBox using the kgdb-light debugger.

First of all you must define a serial port. Go to the settings of your virtual machine, then at the “Serial Ports” and enable “Port 1”. Use port number COM1, port mode ‘Host Pipe’, check ‘Create Pipe’ and enter a path, e.g. /home/fotisl/virtualbox/myvm/serial1. You can use another port number, e.g. COM2, but then you’ll have to change the device below to ttyS1, ttyS2 for COM3 etc. Furthermore, you can create the pipe yourself and not automatically using:

At your virtual machine you must have a kernel compiled with the option CONFIG_KGDB. You can find this under the “Kernel debugging” menu. I also advise you to enable the CONFIG_DEBUG_INFO to insert debug symbols.

At the host machine you only need to install socat and of course gdb. Socat is a multipurpose relay which can be found here. You should also transfer the uncompressed image of the kernel running at the vm. It can be found at the directory where you compiled the kernel and it’s name will be vmlinux.

You are now ready to start. At the host machine run:

You must note the PTY, in this case /dev/pts/4. Now fire gdb and load vmlinux. Then set the remote baud to 115200 and attach to the serial port.

Now switch to the virtual machine. You must first set the serial port that kgdb will use.

You’re ready to start debugging! When you want to break use the Alt-SysRq-G key combination or use

If you want to start the debugging when the kernel starts loading, append

to the command line parameters of the kernel. You must use this order! First you must register the I/O driver and then kgdb will be able to wait.

You can now explore the linux kernel! Warning, messing with various structures and executing code that you shouldn’t can cause kernel panics and mess up your virtual machine! But you already know that, that’s why you use virtualbox!

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  1. shogun1234
    April 10th, 2010 at 23:10 | #1

    Fotis, thanks to provide such article. It is useful.

    But Now I encounter a problem. After transfering vmlinux image from guest os (debian/ back to the host machine (debian/ I load vmlinux image with gdb with command – gdb vmlinux-, but it complains with error saying `not in executable format: File format not recognized.’ Looks like gdb can not recognized vmlinux image of elf format from guest os. What steps I may miss?

    Thanks for help.

  2. shogun1234
    April 10th, 2010 at 23:25 | #2

    Sorry, I think I know what’s the root cuase. It is because the vmlinux- (2.5m) obtained previously is from /boot/, which is compressed. The one need to be loaded is located in the folder where we compile the source e.g. /path/to/linux-; and size is around e.g. 104m.

    Thanks again for this post.

  3. Fotis
    April 12th, 2010 at 22:04 | #3

    I think you transfered the vmlinuz file, which is a stripped version of vmlinux with some other stuff to make it bootable. You can check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vmlinuz for more information.

  4. greg
    July 25th, 2010 at 20:06 | #4

    This si good but I had a question…. where did “/tmp/serial_vm_debian” in the socat command come from? Did you just make that filename up? At any rate, when I run socat -d -d /tmp/serial_vm_debian it just says EOF and exits.

  5. Fotis
    August 9th, 2010 at 13:29 | #5

    You’re right! When I wrote the post I made a test and used /tmp/serial_vm_debian as the socket name! The correct name is /home/fotisl/virtualbox/myvm/serial1. I have corrected the error! Thanks!

  6. December 27th, 2011 at 13:54 | #6

    YaY! Thanks for this info 🙂 I was now finally able to debug my netdev changes :] I tried kgdb before without virtual box, but the addresses reported by test machine were not interpreted correctly by gdb. (the offset to kernel base address was known by gdb on host, but target reported the offset + base address if I remember correctly).

    However with this guide I managed to get sources and all nicely shown! Just setting breakpoints was not working for me :/

    But anyways, thumbs up!

  7. Elias
    March 16th, 2012 at 14:27 | #7

    Thanks Fotis. This was very helpful.

  8. February 25th, 2014 at 04:40 | #8

    You can also try using the built-in VirtualBox debugger, that is much faster than KGDB, but not that stable. Here’s a tutorial: http://visualkernel.com/tutorials/virtualbox/

  1. October 26th, 2009 at 00:20 | #1

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