Using Valgrind with GDB

Valgrind is a very powerful tool for detecting & diagnosing memory related issues in a C/C++ program. Sometimes, the task of locating the actual problematic area becomes increasingly tedious if the code base is huge and complex.

Let us now try to debug a small program running under Valgrind using GDB.

/* leaky.c */

int main()
  char *ptr= malloc(100);
  printf("I am a leaky program!\n");
  return 0;

Before we move further, one point to note here is that a process running under Valgrind is actually running on a synthetic CPU provided by Valgrind and hence it cannot be debugged directly using GDB [source]. So, in order to overcome this limitation, Valgrind-3.7.0 introduced ‘gdbserver’, an implementation of GDB remote debugging protocol, using which the process can be debugged.

Step 1 : Start the process under Valgrind with –vgdb=yes & –vgdb-error=0 options

> gcc -g leaky.c

> valgrind --vgdb=yes --vgdb-error=0 ./a.out 
==6148== Memcheck, a memory error detector
==6148== Copyright (C) 2002-2011, and GNU GPL'd, by Julian Seward et al.
==6148== Using Valgrind-3.7.0 and LibVEX; rerun with -h for copyright info
==6148== Command: ./a.out
==6148== (action at startup) vgdb me ... 
==6148== TO DEBUG THIS PROCESS USING GDB: start GDB like this
==6148==   /path/to/gdb ./a.out
==6148== and then give GDB the following command
==6148==   target remote | /usr/lib64/valgrind/../../bin/vgdb --pid=6148
==6148== --pid is optional if only one valgrind process is running

Step 2 : In a different terminal start GDB

> gdb a.out 
GNU gdb Red Hat Linux (6.5-25.el5rh)
Copyright (C) 2006 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 "x86_64-redhat-linux-gnu"...Using host libthread_db library "/lib64/".

Step 3 : In the same gdb session,

(gdb) target remote | /usr/lib64/valgrind/../../bin/vgdb
Remote debugging using | /usr/lib64/valgrind/../../bin/vgdb
relaying data between gdb and process 6148
[New thread 6148]
[Switching to thread 6148]
0x0000003f10000a60 in ?? ()
(gdb) b main
Breakpoint 1 at 0x4004e0: file leaky.c, line 7.
(gdb) c

Breakpoint 1, main () at leaky.c:7
7	  char *ptr= malloc(100);

And step through the code further..

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