Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Debug the Linux kernel using Qemu

As I am trying to understand in detail how virtualization works, I wanted to debug the Linux kernel in a virtual machine using Qemu to have an idea about the real control flow during the execution of Linux in Qemu/KVM. So I looked on the internet for how to get this done, but most of the posts I found didn't work for me. The main reason is that Qemu was used to directly boot a kernel image from the host, which for some reason I wasn't able to get done. In this post, I will use another way to debug the Linux kernel using Qemu.

The workaround is to give to gdb (on the host) the same kernel used by the virtual machine you want to debug. If you have compiled your own kernel on the host, this can easily be done by downloading the sources of the same kernel version in a VM, and use the same configuration file you used on your host system. Note that you don't need to be running the same version on your host, you only need to provide the same vmlinux file to gdb as the one used in your VM. You could also do the other way around, which is to get the configuration file used to compile the kernel in the VM and use it to compile the same kernel version on the host.

These are the detailed steps from scratch, using Linux kernel version 3.11.3:
On the host, download the tarball from and extract it (you can also use git or any other way, the only important thing is to have the same version both on the host an on the guest):
host $> wget
host $> tar xvf linux-3.11.3.tar.xz
host $> cd linux-3.11.3
host $> make menuconfig
host $> make -jNUMBER_OF_THREADS
Now, it is very important that you add debugging information to your kernel. Make sure you have done this by inspecting the .config file created, and by making sure that CONFIG_DEBUG_INFO is set to "y":

At this point, you should have a file called vmlinux in the current directory. Now you have two options, you can copy the entire directory linux-3.11.3 into your VM, cd into it and run:
guest $> sudo make modules_install
guest $> sudo make install

Or download the same tarball in your VM, copy only the file linux-3.11.3/.config from your host into linux-3.11.3 in your VM, and run:
guest $> make
guest $> sudo make modules_install
guest $> sudo make install

Both of these methods will get you to the same result: installing the same vmlinux file you have on your host in your VM. You can then reboot your VM, and try to boot using the kernel you just compiled. If you can't achieve this, you have a problem and you should review the steps from the beginning.

Assuming this worked, turn off the VM. Then use Qemu to turn it on again, while adding the options -s -S to qemu. If you're using virt-manager (libvirt), you should do this by modifying the xml file used by libvirt to configure your VM. Otherwise, you can simply use the following command:
host $> qemu-system-x86_64 -smp 4 -m 4096 /var/lib/libvirt/images/name-of-vm.img -s -S

Note: -smp 4 means create 4 virtual CPUs and -m 4096 means allocate 4GB of memory to the VM.

At this point, Qemu will have started and opened a gdbserver instance on port 1234 (-s option) but your VM will be stopped (because of the -S option). Now, from your host, launch gdb by giving it the vmlinux file we compiled earlier:
host $> gdb vmlinux

You will see a message on the output, ending with:
Reading symbols from some_path/linux-3.11.3/vmlinux...done.
If you see instead another message like:
Reading symbols from some_path/linux-3.9.2/vmlinux...(no debugging symbols found)...done.
Go back and make sure you have enabled the debugging information before compiling the kernel.

Then connect to the gdbserver launched by Qemu:
(gdb) target remote :1234
(gdb) c

Now your VM will continue execution and start the boot process. Make sure you boot using the kernel we have just compiled.
From this point, you can use gdb as you would with any regular process. In the gdb shell, you can send the Ctrl-C signal to pause the VM and set a breakpoint on a specific function:
(gdb) b do_timer

Then continue execution:
(gdb) c

Gdb will then break the next time function do_timer is called.

Tip: after sending the Ctrl-C signal to pause your VM, you can use Ctrl-X, Ctrl-A to show the source code of your kernel and the location at which the VM is paused.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! how to solve the problem :
    qemu-system-x86_64: -s: Failed to bind socket: Address already in use
    qemu-system-x86_64: -s: chardev: opening backend "socket" failed


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