[llvm-dev] RFC: CodeView debug info emission in Clang/LLVM

Dave Bartolomeo via llvm-dev llvm-dev at lists.llvm.org
Thu Oct 29 10:11:12 PDT 2015

RFC: CodeView debug info emission in Clang/LLVM

On Windows, the de facto debug information format is CodeView, most commonly encountered in the form of a .pdb file. This is the format emitted by the Visual C++, C#, and VB.NET compilers, consumed by the Visual Studio debugger and the Windows debugger (WinDbg), and exposed for read-only access via the DIA SDK. The CodeView format has never been publically documented, and Microsoft has never provided an API for emitting CodeView info for native code. Therefore, Clang and LLVM have only been able to emit the small subset of CodeView information that the community has been able to reverse engineer.

In order to improve the experience of using Clang and other LLVM-based compilers to target Windows, Microsoft has decided to contribute code to the LLVM project to read and write CodeView debug information, including changes to make Clang and LLVM emit CodeView debug information for C and C++ code. This RFC covers the first phase of this work: Emitting CodeView type information for C and C++. The next phase will be to emit CodeView symbol information for functions and their local variables; I'll send out a separate RFC for that when I get to that phase.

I'll start with some background on the CodeView format, and then move on to the proposed design.

Overview of the CodeView Debug Information Format
"CodeView" is the name we use to refer to the debug record format generated by the Visual C++ compiler and consumed by the Visual Studio debugger, the Windows debugger (WinDbg), and the DIA SDK. CodeView records are contained in either a .pdb file or in an object file. The CodeView records that describe the debug information for a PE image (i.e. a .dll or .exe) are always contained in a corresponding PDB file. The CodeView records that describe the debug information for a COFF object file (.obj) are contained within the .obj itself, although some of the debug information will be stored in a .pdb file if the .obj was compiled with the /Zi or /ZI option.

When code is compiled with cl.exe using the /Z7, /Zi, or /ZI option, cl.exe generates two well-known sections in the resulting .obj file: ".debug$T" and ".debug$S". These are known as the "types" section and the "symbols" section, respectively. The types section contains CodeView records that describe all of the data types referenced by symbols in that .obj. The symbols section contains CodeView records that describe all of the symbols defined within the .obj, including functions, global and static data, and local variables. When link.exe is invoked with the /debug option, all of the debug information from the contributing .obj files is combined into a single .pdb file for the linked image.

The .debug$T Section
The types section of the .obj file contains a short header consisting solely of the version number of the CodeView types format (currently equal to 4), followed by a sequence of CodeView type records. Each type record starts with a 16-bit field holding the length of the record, followed by a 16-bit tag field that identifies the kind of type described by the record. The format of the remainder of the record depends on the tag. Common type record kinds include:

-          Pointer

-          Array

-          Function

-          Struct

-          Class

-          Union

-          Enum

Duplicate type records are folded based on a binary comparison of their contents. Thus, there will be only a single instance of the type record for 'const char*' in a given types section, regardless of the number of uses of that type.
When one type record needs to refer to another type record (e.g. a Pointer record referring to the record that describes the referent type of the pointer), it uses a 32-bit "type index", usually abbreviated "TI". A TI with a value less than 0x1000 refers to a well-known type for which no type record actually exists. Examples include primitive types like 'int' or 'wchar_t', and simple pointers to these primitive types. A TI with a value of 0x1000 or greater refers to the another type record in the types section, whose zero-based index is determined by subtracting 0x1000 from the value of the TI. It is an invariant of the types section that a given type record may only use a TI to refer to type records defined earlier in the types section. Thus, no cycles are possible. In order to support types with cyclic dependencies, user-defined types (class, struct, union, enum) can have two records for each type: one to describe the forward declaration, and one to describe the definition. Other records refer to the forward declaration of the type, and only the definition record contains the member list of the type. The debugger matches a forward declaration with its definition based on the qualified name of the type.

Type indices are also used within the .debug$S section to refer to types in the .debug$T section.

If a given .obj file was compiled with the /Zi or /ZI option, the type records for that .obj are stored in a separate .pdb file, rather than in the .obj file itself. The records in the PDB have exactly the same format as those in the .obj, so there is essentially no functional difference in the debug info itself.

When the linker generates the .pdb for an image, it creates a single types section in the .pdb consisting of the transitive closure of all of the type records referenced by any symbol in any of the contributing .objs, with any type indices suitably fixed up to refer to the correct record in the merged types section.

The .debug$S Section
The symbols section of the .obj file contains several substreams to describe the symbols defined in that .obj. The most common substreams are:

-          Line Numbers: Contains mappings from code address ranges to source file, line, and column.

-          Source File Info: Contains the file names and file hashes of source files referenced in the Line Numbers stream.

-          Symbols: Contains symbol records that describe functions and variables.

The Symbols substream is a sequence of records that, like the type records, each begin with a 16-bit size and a 16-bit tag. Common symbol record kinds include:

-          Global Data

-          Function

-          Block Scope

-          Stack Frame

-          Frame Pointer-Relative Variable

-          Register-Relative Variable

-          Enregistered Variable

Unlike type records, some symbol records can be nested. For example, Function records usually contain a Stack Frame record, local variable records, and Block Scope records. Block Scope records can in turn contain more local variable and Block Scope records.

When a symbol record needs to refer to a data type, it uses a TI that refers to a record in the types section for the .obj.

When the linker generate the .pdb for an image, it creates a separate symbols section in the .pdb for each contributing .obj. The contents of the .obj's symbols section are copied into the corresponding section in the .pdb, fixing up any TIs to refer to the types section of the .pdb, and fixing up any code or data addresses to refer to the correct location in the final linked image.

Proposed Design
How Debug Info is Generated
The CodeView type records for a compilation unit will be generated by the front-end for the source language (Clang, in the case of C and C++). The front-end has access to the full type system and AST of the language, which is necessary to generate accurate debug type info. The type records will be represented as metadata in the LLVM IR, similar to how DWARF debug info is represented. I'll cover the actual representation in a bit more detail below.
The LLVM back-end will be responsible for emitting the CodeView type records from the IR into the output .obj file. Since the type records will already be in the correct format, this is essentially just a copy. No inspection of the type records is necessary within LLVM. The back-end will also be responsible for generating CodeView symbol records, line numbers, and source file info for any functions and data defined in the compilation unit. The back-end is the logical place to do this because only the back-end knows the code addresses, data addresses, and stack frame layouts.

Representation of CodeView in LLVM IR
+ existing fields
+ CodeViewTypes : DICodeViewTypes

+ TypeRecords : MDString[]
+ UDTSymbols : DICodeViewUDT[]

+ Name : MDString
+ TypeIndex : uint32_t

+ existing fields
+ TypeIndex : uint32_t

+ existing fields
+ TypeIndex : uint32_t
The existing DICompileUnit node will have a new operand named CodeViewTypes, which points to the new DICodeViewTypes node that describes the CodeView type information for the compilation unit.

The DICodeViewTypes node contains two operands:

-          TypeRecords, an array of MDStrings containing the actual CodeView type records for the compilation unit, sorted in ascending order of type index.

-          UDTSymbols, and array of DICodeViewUDT nodes describing the user-defined types (class/struct/union/enum) for which CodeView symbol records will need to be emitted by the back-end.

The DICodeViewUDT node contains two operands:

-          Name, an MDString with the name of the symbol as it should appear in the CodeView symbol record.

-          TypeIndex, a uint32_t holding the CodeView type index of the type record for the user-defined type's definition.

The DICodeViewUDT nodes are necessary because they are generally the only references to the definition of the user-defined type. Other uses of that type refer to the forward declaration record for the type, and without a reference to the definition of the type, the linker will discard the definition record when it merges the type information into the PDB.

To specify the CodeView type for a variable or function, the DIVariable and DISubprogram nodes will have an additional TypeIndex operand containing the type index of the type record for that variable or function's type. This operand will be set to zero when CodeView debug info is not enabled.

The above representation essentially extends the existing DWARF-focused debug metadata to also include CodeView info. This was the least invasive way I found to add CodeView support, but it may not be the right architectural decision. It would also be possible to have the CodeView metadata entirely separate from the DWARF metadata. This would reduce the size of the IR when only one form of debug information was being emitted, which is presumably the common case. However, I expect it would complicate the scenario where both DWARF and CodeView are being emitted; for example, would having two dbg.declare intrinsics for a single local variable confuse existing consumers of LLVM IR? I'm hoping someone more familiar with the existing debug info architecture can provide some guidance here if there's a better way of doing this.

New Library - LLVMCodeView
The design introduces a new library in LLVM, "LLVMCodeView". This library will contain the code to read and write the CodeView debug info format. The library depends only on the LLVMSupport library, enabling non-LLVM clients to use the library without depending on large portions of LLVM. The LLVMCodeView library is not responsible for translating other forms of information (e.g. LLVM IR, Clang ASTs) to the CodeView format; that work happens in other components.

Changes to LLVMCore
The LLVMCore library will be extended with the definitions of the new debug metadata nodes and new fields on existing nodes, as described previously.

Generating CodeView Type Records in Clang
The clangCodeGen library will be extended with a new class, CodeViewTypeTable. This class is the CodeView equivalent of CGDebugInfo for CodeView. It translates Clang types into the appropriate CodeView type record on demand, returning the type index of the new record. This is where most of the interesting work happens. Since all of the type records for a given image are merged together by the linker when creating the final .pdb, having the type records emitting by Clang match those emitted by cl.exe as closely as possible minimizes conflicts when object files built by the two compilers are linked together into the same image.

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