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July 13-17, 2009

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Hardware Breakpoint (or watchpoint) usage in Linux Kernel

Prasad Krishnan (prasad.krishnan@gmail.com)

The Hardware Breakpoint (also known as watchpoint or debug) registers, hitherto, was a frugally used resource in the Linux Kernel (ptrace and in-kernel debuggers being them), with little co-operation between the users. These debug registers can trigger exceptions upon 'events' (memory read/write/execute accesses) performed on 'monitored' address locations to aid diagnosis of memory corruption and generation of profile data. Their role is best exemplified in

  • Nailing down the cause of memory corruption, which can be tricky considering that the symptoms manifest long after the actual problem has occurred and have serious consequences such as a system/application crash.
  • Gaining better knowledge of data access patterns to hint the compiler to generate better performing code.
This talk will introduce the new generic interfaces and the underlying features of the abstraction layer for HW Breakpoint registers in Linux Kernel. The (potential) users of this infrastructure such as ftrace and SystemTap will be discussed, with interesting examples of their usage. The audience will also be introduced to some of the design challenges in developing interfaces over a highly diverse resource such as HW Breakpoint registers, along with a note on the future enhancements to the infrastructure.



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