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Valgrind 3.3 - Advanced Debugging and Profiling for GNU/Linux applications
by J. Seward, N. Nethercote, J. Weidendorfer and the Valgrind Development Team
Paperback (6"x9"), 164 pages
ISBN 0954612051
RRP £12.95 ($19.95)

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3.4 Reporting of errors

When an error-checking tool detects something bad happening in the program, an error message is written to the commentary. Here's an example from Memcheck:

==25832== Invalid read of size 4
==25832==    at 0x8048724: BandMatrix::ReSize(int, int, int)
               (bogon.cpp:45)
==25832==    by 0x80487AF: main (bogon.cpp:66)
==25832==  Address 0xBFFFF74C is not stack'd, malloc'd 
           or free'd

This message says that the program did an illegal 4-byte read of address 0xBFFFF74C, which, as far as Memcheck can tell, is not a valid stack address, nor corresponds to any current malloc'd or free'd blocks. The read is happening at line 45 of ‘bogon.cpp’, called from line 66 of the same file, etc. For errors associated with an identified malloc'd/free'd block, for example reading free'd memory, Valgrind reports not only the location where the error happened, but also where the associated block was malloc'd/free'd.

Valgrind remembers all error reports. When an error is detected, it is compared against old reports, to see if it is a duplicate. If so, the error is noted, but no further commentary is emitted. This avoids you being swamped with bazillions of duplicate error reports.

If you want to know how many times each error occurred, run with the -v option. When execution finishes, all the reports are printed out, along with, and sorted by, their occurrence counts. This makes it easy to see which errors have occurred most frequently.

Errors are reported before the associated operation actually happens. If you're using a tool (e.g. Memcheck) which does address checking, and your program attempts to read from address zero, the tool will emit a message to this effect, and the program will then duly die with a segmentation fault.

In general, you should try and fix errors in the order that they are reported. Not doing so can be confusing. For example, a program which copies uninitialised values to several memory locations, and later uses them, will generate several error messages, when run on Memcheck. The first such error message may well give the most direct clue to the root cause of the problem.

The process of detecting duplicate errors is quite an expensive one and can become a significant performance overhead if your program generates huge quantities of errors. To avoid serious problems, Valgrind will simply stop collecting errors after 1,000 different errors have been seen, or 10,000,000 errors in total have been seen. In this situation you might as well stop your program and fix it, because Valgrind won't tell you anything else useful after this. Note that the 1,000/10,000,000 limits apply after suppressed errors are removed. These limits are defined in ‘m_errormgr.c’ and can be increased if necessary.

To avoid this cutoff you can use the --error-limit=no flag. Then Valgrind will always show errors, regardless of how many there are. Use this flag carefully, since it may have a bad effect on performance.

ISBN 0954612051Valgrind 3.3 - Advanced Debugging and Profiling for GNU/Linux applicationsSee the print edition