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GDB Annotations

This chapter describes annotations in GDB. Annotations are designed to interface GDB to graphical user interfaces or other similar programs which want to interact with GDB at a relatively high level.

What is an Annotation?

To produce annotations, start GDB with the --annotate=2 option.

Annotations start with a newline character, two `control-z' characters, and the name of the annotation. If there is no additional information associated with this annotation, the name of the annotation is followed immediately by a newline. If there is additional information, the name of the annotation is followed by a space, the additional information, and a newline. The additional information cannot contain newline characters.

Any output not beginning with a newline and two `control-z' characters denotes literal output from GDB. Currently there is no need for GDB to output a newline followed by two `control-z' characters, but if there was such a need, the annotations could be extended with an `escape' annotation which means those three characters as output.

A simple example of starting up GDB with annotations is:

$ gdb --annotate=2
Copyright 2000 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
GDB is free software, covered by the GNU General Public License,
and you are welcome to change it and/or distribute copies of it
under certain conditions.
Type "show copying" to see the conditions.
There is absolutely no warranty for GDB.  Type "show warranty"
for details.
This GDB was configured as "sparc-sun-sunos4.1.3"



Here `quit' is input to GDB; the rest is output from GDB. The three lines beginning `^Z^Z' (where `^Z' denotes a `control-z' character) are annotations; the rest is output from GDB.

The Server Prefix

To issue a command to GDB without affecting certain aspects of the state which is seen by users, prefix it with `server '. This means that this command will not affect the command history, nor will it affect GDB's notion of which command to repeat if RET is pressed on a line by itself.

The server prefix does not affect the recording of values into the value history; to print a value without recording it into the value history, use the output command instead of the print command.


When a value is printed in various contexts, GDB uses annotations to delimit the value from the surrounding text.

If a value is printed using print and added to the value history, the annotation looks like

^Z^Zvalue-history-begin history-number value-flags

where history-number is the number it is getting in the value history, history-string is a string, such as `$5 = ', which introduces the value to the user, the-value is the output corresponding to the value itself, and value-flags is `*' for a value which can be dereferenced and `-' for a value which cannot.

If the value is not added to the value history (it is an invalid float or it is printed with the output command), the annotation is similar:

^Z^Zvalue-begin value-flags

When GDB prints an argument to a function (for example, in the output from the backtrace command), it annotates it as follows:

^Z^Zarg-value value-flags

where argument-name is the name of the argument, separator-string is text which separates the name from the value for the user's benefit (such as `='), and value-flags and the-value have the same meanings as in a value-history-begin annotation.

When printing a structure, GDB annotates it as follows:

^Z^Zfield-begin value-flags

where field-name is the name of the field, separator-string is text which separates the name from the value for the user's benefit (such as `='), and value-flags and the-value have the same meanings as in a value-history-begin annotation.

When printing an array, GDB annotates it as follows:

^Z^Zarray-section-begin array-index value-flags

where array-index is the index of the first element being annotated and value-flags has the same meaning as in a value-history-begin annotation. This is followed by any number of elements, where is element can be either a single element:

`,' whitespace         ; omitted for the first element

or a repeated element

`,' whitespace         ; omitted for the first element
^Z^Zelt-rep number-of-repititions

In both cases, the-value is the output for the value of the element and whitespace can contain spaces, tabs, and newlines. In the repeated case, number-of-repititons is the number of consecutive array elements which contain that value, and repetition-string is a string which is designed to convey to the user that repitition is being depicted.

Once all the array elements have been output, the array annotation is ended with



Whenever GDB prints a frame, it annotates it. For example, this applies to frames printed when GDB stops, output from commands such as backtrace or up, etc.

The frame annotation begins with

^Z^Zframe-begin level address

where level is the number of the frame (0 is the innermost frame, and other frames have positive numbers), address is the address of the code executing in that frame, and level-string is a string designed to convey the level to the user. address is in the form `0x' followed by one or more lowercase hex digits (note that this does not depend on the language). The frame ends with


Between these annotations is the main body of the frame, which can consist of


When GDB is told to display something using the display command, the results of the display are annotated:


where number is the number of the display, number-separator is intended to separate the number from what follows for the user, format includes information such as the size, format, or other information about how the value is being displayed, expression is the expression being displayed, expression-separator is intended to separate the expression from the text that follows for the user, and value is the actual value being displayed.

Annotation for GDB Input

When GDB prompts for input, it annotates this fact so it is possible to know when to send output, when the output from a given command is over, etc.

Different kinds of input each have a different input type. Each input type has three annotations: a pre- annotation, which denotes the beginning of any prompt which is being output, a plain annotation, which denotes the end of the prompt, and then a post- annotation which denotes the end of any echo which may (or may not) be associated with the input. For example, the prompt input type features the following annotations:


The input types are

When GDB is prompting for a command (the main GDB prompt).
When GDB prompts for a set of commands, like in the commands command. The annotations are repeated for each command which is input.
When GDB wants the user to select between various overloaded functions.
When GDB wants the user to confirm a potentially dangerous operation.
When GDB is asking the user to press return to continue. Note: Don't expect this to work well; instead use set height 0 to disable prompting. This is because the counting of lines is buggy in the presence of annotations.



This annotation occurs right before GDB responds to an interrupt.


This annotation occurs right before GDB responds to an error.

Quit and error annotations indicate that any annotations which GDB was in the middle of may end abruptly. For example, if a value-history-begin annotation is followed by a error, one cannot expect to receive the matching value-history-end. One cannot expect not to receive it either, however; an error annotation does not necessarily mean that GDB is immediately returning all the way to the top level.

A quit or error annotation may be preceded by


Any output between that and the quit or error annotation is the error message.

Warning messages are not yet annotated.

Information on Breakpoints

The output from the info breakpoints command is annotated as follows:


where header-entry has the same syntax as an entry (see below) but instead of containing data, it contains strings which are intended to convey the meaning of each field to the user. This is followed by any number of entries. If a field does not apply for this entry, it is omitted. Fields may contain trailing whitespace. Each entry consists of:

^Z^Zfield 0
^Z^Zfield 1
^Z^Zfield 2
^Z^Zfield 3
^Z^Zfield 4
^Z^Zfield 5
^Z^Zfield 6
^Z^Zfield 7
^Z^Zfield 8
^Z^Zfield 9

Note that address is intended for user consumption--the syntax varies depending on the language.

The output ends with


Invalidation Notices

The following annotations say that certain pieces of state may have changed.

The frames (for example, output from the backtrace command) may have changed.
The breakpoints may have changed. For example, the user just added or deleted a breakpoint.

Running the Program

When the program starts executing due to a GDB command such as step or continue,


is output. When the program stops,


is output. Before the stopped annotation, a variety of annotations describe how the program stopped.

^Z^Zexited exit-status
The program exited, and exit-status is the exit status (zero for successful exit, otherwise nonzero).
The program exited with a signal. After the ^Z^Zsignalled, the annotation continues:
where name is the name of the signal, such as SIGILL or SIGSEGV, and string is the explanation of the signal, such as Illegal Instruction or Segmentation fault. intro-text, middle-text, and end-text are for the user's benefit and have no particular format.
The syntax of this annotation is just like signalled, but GDB is just saying that the program received the signal, not that it was terminated with it.
^Z^Zbreakpoint number
The program hit breakpoint number number.
^Z^Zwatchpoint number
The program hit watchpoint number number.

Displaying Source

The following annotation is used instead of displaying source code:

^Z^Zsource filename:line:character:middle:addr

where filename is an absolute file name indicating which source file, line is the line number within that file (where 1 is the first line in the file), character is the character position within the file (where 0 is the first character in the file) (for most debug formats this will necessarily point to the beginning of a line), middle is `middle' if addr is in the middle of the line, or `beg' if addr is at the beginning of the line, and addr is the address in the target program associated with the source which is being displayed. addr is in the form `0x' followed by one or more lowercase hex digits (note that this does not depend on the language).

Annotations We Might Want in the Future

    - target-invalid
      the target might have changed (registers, heap contents, or
      execution status).  For performance, we might eventually want
      to hit `registers-invalid' and `all-registers-invalid' with
      greater precision

    - systematic annotation for set/show parameters (including
      invalidation notices).

    - similarly, `info' returns a list of candidates for invalidation

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