Debugging Native Code

Table of contents

Debugging Native Code in Android Studio.

If you want to work on the C++ code that powers GeckoView, you will need to be able to perform native debugging inside Android Studio. This article will guide you through how to do that.

If you need to get set up with GeckoView for the first time, follow the Quick Start Guide.

Perform a debug build of Gecko.

  1. Edit your mozconfig file and add the following lines. These will ensure that the build includes debug checks and symbols.

ac_add_options --enable-debug
  1. Ensure that the following lines are commented out in your mozconfig if present. ./mach configure will not allow artifact builds to be enabled when generating a debug build.

# ac_add_options --enable-artifact-builds
  1. To be absolutely sure that Android Studio will pick up your debug symbols, the first time you perform a debug build it is best to clobber your MOZ_OBJDIR. Subsequent builds should not need this step.

./mach clobber
  1. Build as usual. Because this is a debug build, and because you have clobbered your MOZ_OBJDIR, this will take a long time. Subsequent builds will be incremental and take less time, so go make yourself a cup of your favourite beverage.

./mach build

Set up lldb to find your symbols

Edit your ~/.lldbinit file (or create one if one does not already exist) and add the following lines.

The first line tells LLDB to enable inline breakpoints - Android Studio will need this if you want to use visual breakpoints.

The next line tells LLDB where to go to find the symbols for debugging.

settings set target.inline-breakpoint-strategy always
settings append target.exec-search-paths <PATH>/objdir-android-opt/dist/bin

Set up Android Studio to perform native debugging.

  1. Edit the configuration that you want to debug by clicking Run -> Edit Configurations... and selecting the correct configuration from the options on the left hand side of the resulting window.

  2. Select the Debugger tab.

  3. Select Dual from the Debug type select box. Dual will allow debugging of both native and Java code in the same session. It is possible to use Native, but it will only allow for debugging native code, and it’s frequently necessary to break in the Java code that configures Gecko and child processes in order to attach debuggers at the correct times.

  4. Under Symbol Directories, add a new path pointing to <PATH>/objdir-android-opt/dist/bin, the same path that you entered into your .lldbinit file.

  5. Select Apply and OK to close the window.

Debug Native code in Android Studio

  1. The first time you are running a debug session for your app, it’s best to start from a completely clean build. Click Build -> Rebuild Project to clean and rebuild. You can also choose to remove any existing builds from your emulator to be completely sure, but this may not be necessary.

  2. If using Android Studio visual breakpoints, set your breakpoints in your native code.

  3. Run the app in debug mode as usual.

  4. When debugging Fennec or geckoview_example, you will almost immediately hit a breakpoint in ElfLoader.cpp. This is expected. If you are not using Android Studio visual breakpoints, you can set your breakpoints here using the lldb console that is available now this breakpoint has been hit. To set a breakpoint, select the app tab (if running Dual, there will also be an <app> java tab) from the debug window, and then select the lldb console tab. Type the following into the console:

b <file>.cpp:<line number>
  1. Once your breakpoints have been set, click the continue execution button to move beyond the ElfLoader breakpoint and your newly set native breakpoints should be hit. Debug as usual.

Attaching debuggers to content and other child processes

Internally, GeckoView has a multi-process architecture. The main Gecko process lives in the main Android process, but content rendering and some other functions live in child processes. This balances load, ensures certain critical security properties, and allows GeckoView to recover if content processes become unresponsive or crash. However, it’s generally delicate to debug child processes because they come and go.

The general approach is to make the Java code in the child process that you want to debug wait for a Java debugger at startup, and then to connect such a Java debugger manually from the Android Studio UI.

Bug 1522318 added environment variables that makes GeckoView wait for Java debuggers to attach, making this debug process more developer-friendly. See Configuring GeckoView for Automation for instructions on how to set environment variables that configure GeckoView’s runtime environment.

Making processes wait for a Java debugger

The set-debug-app command will make Android wait for a debugger before running an app or service. e.g., to make GeckoViewExample wait, run the following:

adb shell am set-debug-app -w --persistent org.mozilla.geckoview_example

The above command works with child processes too, e.g. to make the GPU process wait for a debugger, run:

adb shell am set-debug-app -w --persistent org.mozilla.geckoview_example:gpu

Attaching a Java debugger to a waiting child process

This is standard: follow the Android Studio instructions. You must attach a Java debugger, so you almost certainly want to attach a Dual debugger and you definitely can’t attach only a Native debugger.

Determining the correct process to attach to is a little tricky because the mapping from process ID (pid) to process name is not always clear. Gecko content child processes are suffixed :tab at this time.

If you attach Dual debuggers to both the main process and a content child process, you will have four (4!) debug tabs to manage in Android Studio, which is awkward. Android Studio doesn’t appear to configure attached debuggers in the same way that it configures debuggers connecting to launched Run Configurations, so you may need to manually configure search paths – i.e., you may need to invoke the contents of your lldbinit file in the appropriate lldb console by hand, using an invocation like command source /absolute/path/to/topobjdir/lldbinit.

Android Studio also doesn’t appear to support targeting breakpoints from the UI (say, from clicking in a gutter) to specific debug tabs, so you may also need to set breakpoints in the appropriate lldb console by hand.

Managing more debug tabs may require different approaches.

Debug Native Memory Allocations

Android Studio includes a Native Memory Profiler which works for physical devices running Android 10 and later. In order to track allocations correctly Gecko must be built with jemalloc disabled. Additionally, the native memory profiler appears to only work with aarch64 builds. The following must therefore be present in your mozconfig file:

ac_add_options --target=aarch64
ac_add_options --disable-jemalloc

The resulting profiles are symbolicated correctly in debug builds, however, you may prefer to use a release build when profiling. Unfortunately a method to symbolicate using local symbols from the development machine has not yet been found, therefore in order for the profile to be symbolicated you must prevent symbols being stripped during the build process. To do so, add the following to your mozconfig:

ac_add_options STRIP_FLAGS=--strip-debug

And the following to mobile/android/geckoview/build.gradle, and additionally to mobile/android/geckoview_example/build.gradle if profiling GeckoView Example, or app/build.gradle if profiling Fenix, for example.

android {
    packagingOptions {
        doNotStrip "**/*.so"

Using Android Studio on Windows

You can now use artifact builds mode on MozillaBuild environment even if you are not using WSL. If you want to debug GeckoView using Android Studio on Windows, you have to set an additional environment variable via the Control Panel to run the gradle script. The mach command sets these variables automatically, but Android Studio cannot.

If you install MozillaBuild tools to C:\mozilla-build (default installation path), you have to set the MOZILLABUILD environment variable to recognize MozillaBuild installation path.

To set environment variable on Windows 10, open the Control Panel from Windows System, then select System and Security - System - Advanced system settings - Environment Variables ....

To set the MOZILLABUILD variable, click New... in User variables for, then Variable name: is MOZILLABUILD and Variable value: is C:\mozilla-build.

You also have to append some tool paths to the Path environment variable.

To append the variables to PATH, double click Path in User Variables for, then click New. And append the following variables to Path.

  • %MOZILLABUILD%\msys\bin