Self Service Linux - Mastering the Art of Problem Determination

Peter Kitson

ISBN : 013147751X

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Sample Chapter From Self Service Linux - Mastering the Art of Problem Determination
     Copyright © Mark Wilding, Dan Behman



WHAT IS THIS BOOK ABOUT?

In a nutshell, this book is about effectively and efficiently diagnosing problems that occur in the Linux environment. It covers good investigation practices, how to use the information and resources on the Internet, and then dives right into detail describing how to use the most important problem determination tools that Linux has to offer.

Chapter 1 is like a crash course on effective problem determination practices, which will help you to diagnose problems like an expert. It covers where and how to look for information on the Internet as well as how to start investigating common types of problems.

Chapter 2 covers strace, which is arguably the most frequently used problem determination tool in Linux. This chapter includes both practical usage information as well as details about how strace works. It also includes source code for a simple strace tool and details about how the underlying functionality works with the kernel through the ptrace interface.

Chapter 3 is about the /proc filesystem, which contains a wealth of information about the hardware, kernel, and processes that are running on the system. The purpose of this chapter is to point out and examine some of the more advanced features and tricks primarily related to problem determination and system diagnosis. For example, the chapter covers how to use the SysRq Kernel Magic hotkey with /proc/sys/kernel/sysrq.

Chapter 4 provides detailed information about compiling. Why does a book about debugging on Linux include a chapter about compiling? Well, the beginning of this preface mentioned that diagnosing problems in Linux is different than that on commercial environments. The main reason behind this is that the source code is freely available for all of the open source tools and the operating system itself. This chapter provides vital information whether you need to recompile an open source application with debug information (as is often the case), whether you need to generate an assembly language listing for a tough problem (that is, to find the line of code for a trap), or whether you run into a problem while recompiling the Linux kernel itself.

Chapter 5 covers intimate details about the stack, one of the most important and fundamental concepts of a computer system. Besides explaining all the gory details about the structure of a stack (which is pretty much required knowledge for any Linux expert), the chapter also includes and explains source code that can be used by the readers to generate stack traces from within their own tools and applications. The code examples are not only useful to illustrate how the stack works but they can save real time and debugging effort when included as part of an application’s debugging facilities.

Chapter 6 takes an in-depth and detailed look at debugging applications with the GNU Debugger (GDB) and includes an overview of the Data Display Debugger (DDD) graphical user interface. Linux has an advantage over most other operating systems in that it includes a feature rich debugger, GDB, for free. Debuggers can be used to debug many types of problems, and given that GDB is free, it is well worth the effort to understand the basic as well as the more advanced features. This chapter covers hard-to-find details about debugging C++ applications, threaded applications, as well as numerous best practices. Have you ever spawned an xterm to attach to a process with GDB? This chapter will show you how—and why!

Chapter 7 provides a detailed overview of system crashes and hangs. With proprietary operating systems (OSs), a system crash or hang almost certainly requires you to call the OS vendor for help. However with Linux, the end user can debug a kernel problem on his or her own or at least identify key information to search for known problems. If you do need to get an expert involved, knowing what to collect will help you to get the right data quickly for a fast diagnosis. This chapter describes everything from how to attach a serial console to how to find the line of code for a kernel trap (an “oops”). For example, the chapter provides step-by-step details for how to manually add a trap in the kernel and then debug it to find the resulting line of code.

Chapter 8 covers more details about debugging the kernel or debugging with the kernel debugger, kdb. The chapter covers how to configure and enable kdb on your system as well as some practical commands that most Linux users can use without being a kernel expert. For example, this chapter shows you how to find out what a process is doing from within the kernel, which can be particularly useful if the process is hung and not killable.

Chapter 9 is a detailed, head-on look at Executable and Linking Format (ELF). The details behind ELF are often ignored or just assumed to work. This is really unfortunate because a thorough understanding of ELF can lead to a whole new world of debugging techniques. This chapter covers intimate but practical details of the underlying ELF file format as well as tips and tricks that few people know. There is even sample code and step-by-step instructions for how to override functions using LD_PRELOAD and how to use the global offset table and the GDB debugger to intercept functions manually and redirect them to debug versions.