9 unstable releases (3 breaking)

0.4.2 Nov 6, 2020
0.4.1 Oct 29, 2020
0.3.0 Sep 11, 2020
0.2.2 Sep 9, 2020
0.1.1 Mar 29, 2020

#68 in Debugging

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MIT license



An ergonomic and easy-to-integrate implementation of the GDB Remote Serial Protocol in Rust, with full #![no_std] support.

Why gdbstub?

  • Excellent Ergonomics
    • Unlike other GDB stub libraries, which simply expose the underlying GDB protocol "warts and all", gdbstub tries to abstract as much of the raw GDB protocol details from the user.
    • gdbstub makes extensive use of Rust's powerful type system + generics to enforce protocol invariants at compile time, minimizing the number of tricky protocol details end users have to worry about.
  • Easy to Integrate
    • gdbstub's API is designed to be as unobtrusive as possible, and shouldn't require any large refactoring effort to integrate into an existing project. It doesn't require taking direct ownership of any key data structures, and aims to be a "drop in" solution when you need to add debugging to a project.
  • #![no_std] Ready & Size Optimized
    • Can be configured to use fixed-size, pre-allocated buffers. gdbstub does not depend on alloc.
    • gdbstub is transport-layer agnostic, and uses a basic Connection interface to communicate with the GDB server. As long as target has some method of performing in-order, serial, byte-wise I/O (e.g: putchar/getchar over UART), it's possible to run gdbstub on it.
    • "You don't pay for what you don't use": If you don't implement a particular protocol extension, the resulting binary won't include any code related to parsing/handling that extension's packets! See the Zero-overhead Protocol Extensions section below for more details.
    • A lot of work has gone into reducing gdbstub's binary and RAM footprints.
      • In release builds, using all the tricks outlined in min-sized-rust, a baseline gdbstub implementation weighs in at roughly 10kb of .text and negligible .rodata! *
      • This is already pretty good, and I suspect that there are still lots of low-hanging optimizations which can reduce the size even further.

* Exact numbers vary by target platform, compiler version, and gdbstub revision. Data was collected using the included example_no_std project compiled on x86_64.

gdbstub is particularly well suited for emulation, making it easy to add powerful, non-intrusive debugging support to an emulated system. Just provide an implementation of the Target trait for your target platform, and you're ready to start debugging!

Can I Use gdsbtub in Production?

Yes, as long as you don't mind some API churn until 1.0.0 is released.

In terms of correctness, gdbstub has been integrated into several projects since its initial 0.1.0 release, and thusfar, no major bugs have been reported. Reported issues have typically been the result of faulty Target implementations (e.g: forgetting to adjust the PC after a breakpoint is hit), or were related to certain unimplemented GDB protocol features.

That being said, due to gdbstub's heavy use of Rust's type system in enforcing GDB protocol invariants at compile time, it's often been the case that implementing new GDB protocol features has required making some breaking Trait/Type changes (e.g: adding the RegId associated type to Arch to support addressing individual registers). While these changes are typically quite minor, they are nonetheless breaking, and may require a code-change when moving between versions.

See the Future Plans + Roadmap to 1.0.0 for more information on what features gdbstub still needs to implement before committing to API stability with version 1.0.0.

Debugging Features

The GDB Remote Serial Protocol is surprisingly complex, supporting advanced features such as remote file I/O, spawning new processes, "rewinding" program execution, and much, much more. Thankfully, most of these features are completely optional, and getting a basic debugging session up-and-running only requires implementing a few basic methods:

  • Base GDB Protocol
    • Step + Continue
    • Read/Write memory
    • Read/Write registers
    • (optional) Multithreading support

Of course, most use-cases will want to support additional debugging features as well. At the moment, gdbstub implements the following GDB protocol extensions:

  • Automatic architecture + feature detection (automatically implemented)
  • Breakpoints
    • Software Breakpoints
    • Hardware Breakpoints
    • Read/Write/Access Watchpoints (i.e: value breakpoints)
  • Extended Mode
    • Run/Attach/Kill Processes
    • Pass environment variables / args to spawned processes
    • Change working directory
  • Section offsets
    • Get section/segment relocation offsets from the target
  • Custom monitor Commands
    • Extend the GDB protocol with custom debug commands using GDB's monitor command

Note: Which GDB features are implemented are decided on an as-needed basis by gdbstub's contributors. If there's a missing GDB feature that you'd like gdbstub to implement, please file an issue / open a PR! Check out the GDB Remote Configuration Docs for a table of GDB commands + their corresponding Remote Serial Protocol packets.

Zero-overhead Protocol Extensions

Using a technique called Inlineable Dyn Extension Traits (IDETs), gdbstub is able to leverage the Rust compiler's powerful optimization passes to ensure any unused features are dead-code-eliminated in release builds without having to rely on compile-time features flags!

For example, if your target doesn't implement a custom GDB monitor command handler, the resulting binary won't include any code related to parsing / handling the underlying qRcmd packet!

If you're interested in the low-level technical details of how IDETs work, I've included a brief writeup in the documentation here.

Feature flags

By default, the std and alloc features are enabled.

When using gdbstub in #![no_std] contexts, make sure to set default-features = false.

  • alloc
    • Implement Connection for Box<dyn Connection>.
    • Log outgoing packets via log::trace! (uses a heap-allocated output buffer).
    • Provide built-in implementations for certain protocol features:
      • Use a heap-allocated packet buffer in GdbStub (if none is provided via GdbStubBuilder::with_packet_buffer).
      • (Monitor Command) Use a heap-allocated output buffer in ConsoleOutput.
      • (Extended Mode) Automatically track Attached/Spawned PIDs without implementing ExtendedMode::query_if_attached.
  • std (implies alloc)
    • Implement Connection for TcpStream and UnixStream.
    • Implement std::error::Error for gdbstub::Error.
    • Add a TargetError::Io variant to simplify I/O Error handling from Target methods.



The armv4t example shows how gdbstub can be used to add gdb debugging support to an (incredibly simple) ARMv4T-based emulator.

This example implements a "grab bag" of miscellaneous target_ext features, and can serve as a useful reference when implementing a new target extension.

See examples/armv4t/README.md for details.


A dual-core variation of the armv4t example. Implements gdbstub's multithread extensions to enable per-core debugging.

This example shows off the multithreaded base operations API, but not much else.

See examples/armv4t_multicore/README.md for details.

Real-World Examples

Several projects are already using gdbstub. While some of these libraries may be using older versions of gdbstub, they are nonetheless useful sources of inspiration.

  • clicky - An emulator for classic clickwheel iPods (dual-core ARMv4T SoC)
  • rustyboyadvance-ng - Nintendo GameBoy Advance emulator and debugger
  • microcorruption-emu - msp430 emulator for the microcorruption.com ctf
  • ts7200 - An emulator for the TS-7200, a somewhat bespoke embedded ARMv4t platform

If you end up using gdbstub in your project, feel free to open a PR and add it to this list!

Using gdbstub on bare-metal hardware

Quite a bit of work has gone into making gdbstub optimized for #![no_std], which means it should be entirely possible to implement a Target which uses low-level trap instructions + context switching to debug bare-metal code.

If you happen to stumble across this crate and end up using it to debug some bare-metal code, please let me know! I'd love to link to your project, and/or create a simplified example based off your code!

unsafe in gdbstub

gdbstub "core" only has 2 instances of unsafe code:

  • A few trivially safe calls to NonZeroUsize::new_unchecked() when defining internal constants.
  • A call to str::from_utf8_unchecked() when working with incoming GDB packets (the underlying &[u8] buffer is checked with is_ascii() prior to the call).

With the std feature enabled, there is one additional instance of unsafe code:

  • gdbstub includes an implementation of UnixStream::peek which uses libc::recv. This will be removed once rust-lang/rust#73761 is merged + gdbstub settles on a MSRV >1.48.0.

Future Plans + Roadmap to 1.0.0

Before gdbstub can comfortably commit to a stable 1.0.0 API, there are several outstanding features that should be implemented and questions that need to be addressed. Due to gdbstub's heavy reliance on the Rust type system to enforce GDB protocol invariants, it's likely that a certain subset of yet-unimplemented protocol features may require breaking API changes.

The following features are most likely to require breaking API changes, and should therefore be implemented prior to 1.0.0.

  • Stabilize the Arch trait
    • Allow fine-grained control over target features (#12)
    • Remove RawRegId (#29)
  • Implement GDB's various high-level operating modes:
    • Single/Multi Thread debugging
    • Multiprocess Debugging
      • Add a third base::multiprocess API.
      • Note: gdbstub already implements multiprocess extensions "under-the-hood", and just hard-codes a fake PID.
    • Extended Mode (target extended-remote)
    • Non-Stop Mode
      • This may require some breaking API changes and/or some internals rework -- more research is needed.
  • Have a working example of gdbstub running in a "bare-metal" #![no_std] environment (e.g: debugging a hobby OS via serial).
    • While there's no reason it wouldn't work, it would be good to validate that the API + implementation supports this use-case.

Notably, it the vast majority of GDB protocol features (e.g: remote filesystem support, tracepoint packets, most query packets, etc...) should not require breaking API changes, and could most likely be implemented using the standard backwards-compatible protocol extension approach.

Additionally, while not strictly "blockers" to 1.0.0, it would be good to explore these features as well:

  • Commit to a MSRV
  • Exposing an async/await interface
    • e.g: the current check_gdb_interrupt callback in Target::resume() could be modeled as a future.
    • Would require some tweaks to the Connection trait.
  • Adding LLDB extension support
    • Skimming through the list, it doesn't seem like these extensions would require breaking API changes -- more research is needed.