Lightweight Control-Flow Instrumentation and Postmortem Analysis in Support of Debugging

This research was conducted by Peter Ohmann and Ben Liblit. The paper appeared Automated Software Engineering (ASE). It is an extended journal version of our award-winning conference paper from ASE 2013.


Debugging is difficult and costly. As a programmer looks for a bug, it would be helpful to see a complete trace of events leading to the point of failure. Unfortunately, full tracing is simply too slow to use after deployment, and may even be impractical during testing.

We aid post-deployment debugging by giving programmers additional information about program activity shortly before failure. We use latent information in post-failure memory dumps, augmented by low-overhead, tunable run-time tracing. Our results with a realistically-tuned tracing scheme show low enough overhead (0%–5%) to be used in production runs. We demonstrate several potential uses of this enhanced information, including a novel postmortem static slice restriction technique and a reduced view of potentially-executed code. Experimental evaluation shows our approach to be very effective. For example, our analyses shrink stack-sensitive interprocedural static slices by 53%–78% in larger applications.

Full Paper

The full paper is available as a single PDF document. A suggested BibTeX citation record is also available.

Code Release

Code implementing ideas from this paper is available as open source for others to use and/or build upon. Feedback, bug reports, and enhancements are welcome!