How to get a stacktrace with WinDbg

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Sometimes you need to get a stacktrace (call stack) for a crash or hang but Breakpad fails because it’s a special crash or a hang. This article describes how to get a stacktrace in those cases with WinDbg on Windows. (To get a stacktrace for Thunderbird or some other product, substitute the product name where ever you see Firefox in this instructions.)


To get such a stacktrace you need to install the following software:

Debugging Tools for Windows

Microsoft distributes the Debugging Tools for Windows for free, those include WinDbg which you will need here. Download it from Install Debugging Tools for Windows. (You’ll want the 32-bit version, even if you are using a 64-bit version of Windows) Then install it, the standard settings in the installation process are fine.

A Firefox nightly or release

You need a Firefox version for which symbols are availables from the symbol server to use with WinDbg. You can use any official nightly build or released version of Firefox from Mozilla. You can find the latest trunk nightly builds under…/latest-trunk/.


To begin debugging, ensure that Firefox is not already running and open WinDbg from the Start menu. (Start->All Programs->Debugging Tools for Windows->WinDbg) Next, open the “File” menu and choose “Open Executable…”. In the file chooser window that appears, open the firefox.exe executable in your Firefox program folder (C:Program FilesMozilla Firefox).

You should now see a “Command” text window with debug output at the top and an input box at the bottom. Before debugging can start, several commands must be entered into the one-line input box at the bottom of the Command window.


Tip: All commands must be entered exactly as written, one line at a time, into the bottom of the Command box.

  • Copying and pasting each line is the easiest method to avoid mistakes

  • Some commands start with a period (.) or a pipe character (|), which is required. (The keystroke for a pipe character on US keyboards is SHIFT+)

  • Submit the log file on a bug or via the support site, even if nothing seems to happen during the debug process

Start debugging

Now that Firefox is opened in the debugger, you need to configure your WinDbg to download symbols from the Mozilla symbol server. To load the symbols, enter the three commands below, pressing enter after each one. (More details are available at symbol server.)

.sympath SRV*c:\symbols*;SRV*c:\symbols*
.symfix+ c:\symbols
.reload /f

Now wait for the symbols to download. This may take some time depending on your connection speed; the total size of the Mozilla and Microsoft symbols download is around 1.4GB. WinDbg will show “Busy” at the bottom of the application window until the download is complete.

Once the download is complete, you need to configure WinDbg to examine child processes, ignore a specific event caused by Flash Player, and record a log of loaded modules. You will also want to open a log file to save data you collect. To do this, enter these four commands, pressing enter after each one.

.logopen /t c:\temp\firefox-debug.log
.childdbg 1
sxn gp

If you see firefox.exe listed in the output from .tlist more than once, then you are already running the application and need to close the running instance first before you start debugging, otherwise you won’t get useful results.

Now run Firefox by opening the Debug menu and clicking Go. While Firefox is running, you will not be able to type any commands into the debugger. After it starts, try to reproduce the crash or hanging issue that you are seeing.


If Firefox fails to start, and you see lines of text followed by a command prompt in the debugger, a “breakpoint” may have been triggered. If you are prompted for a command but don’t see an error about a crash, go back to the Debug menu and press Go.

Once the browser crashes, you will see an error (such as “Access violation”) in the WinDbg Command window. If Firefox hangs and there is no command prompt available in the debugger, open the Debug menu and choose Break. Once the browser has crashed or been stopped, continue with the steps below.

After the crash or hang

You need to capture the debug information to include in a bug comment or support request. Enter these three commands, one at a time, to get the stacktrace, crash/hang analysis and log of loaded modules. (Again, press Enter after each command.)

~* kp
!analyze -v -f

After these steps are completed, find the file c:tempfirefox-debug-(Today’s Date).txt on your hard drive. To provide the information to the development community, submit this file with a support request or attach it to a related bug on Bugzilla.

Producing a minidump

Sometimes the stacktrace alone is not enough information for a developer to figure out what went wrong. A developer may ask you for a “minidump” or a “full memory dump”, which are files containing more information about the process. You can easily produce minidumps from WinDBG and provide them to developers.


Q: I am running Windows 7 (32-bit or 64-bit) and I see an exception in the WinDbg command window that says ‘ntdll32!LdrpDoDebuggerBreak+0x2c’ or ‘ntdll32!LdrpDoDebuggerBreak+0x30’. What do I do now?

A: If you see ‘int 3’ after either of those exceptions, you will need to execute the following commands in WinDbg.

bp ntdll!LdrpDoDebuggerBreak+0x30
bp ntdll!LdrpDoDebuggerBreak+0x2c
eb ntdll!LdrpDoDebuggerBreak+0x30 0x90
eb ntdll!LdrpDoDebuggerBreak+0x2c 0x90
Make sure you enter them one at a time and press enter after each one. If you use the 64-bit version of Windows, you need to replace “ntdll” in these commands with “ntdll32”.
Q: The first four frames of my stack trace look like this:
0012fe20 7c90e89a ntdll!KiFastSystemCallRet
0012fe24 7c81cd96 ntdll!ZwTerminateProcess+0xc
0012ff20 7c81cdee kernel32!_ExitProcess+0x62

0012ff34 6000179e kernel32!ExitProcess+0x14

This looks wrong to me?!

A: You ran the application without the “Debug child processes also” check box being checked. You need to detach the debugger and open the application again, this time with the check box being checked.

Q: WinDbg tells me that it is unable to verify checksum for firefox.exe. Is this normal?

A: Yes, this is normal and can be ignored.

Q: Should I click yes or no when WinDbg asks me to “Save information for workspace?”

A: Click yes and WinDbg will save you from having to enter in the symbol location for Firefox.exe in the future. Click no if you’d rather not having WinDbg save this information.

Q: I’m seeing “wow64” on top of each thread, is that ok ?

A: No, you are running a 64 bit version of Windbg and trying to debug a 32 bit version of the mozilla software. Redownload and install the 32 bit version of windbg.

Troubleshooting: Symbols will not download

If symbols will not download no matter what you do, the problem may be that Internet Explorer has been set to the Work Offline mode. You will not receive any warnings of this in Windbg, Visual C++ or Visual Studio. Even using the command line with symchk.exe to download symbols will fail. This is because Microsoft uses Internet Explorer’s internet & proxy settings to download the symbol files. Check the File menu of Internet Explorer to ensure “Work Offline” is unchecked.

See also