Using GDB & VSCode to debug Julia code on Windows

One of the most annoying tasks for me is debugging code on Windows. I have been using Linux as my primary system for a long time now, and no of my customary tools (most notably rr) work or work reliably.

Nonetheless I regularly need to debug Windows specific issues that crop up when either working on the Julia compiler or other tools like Enzyme. As it often does it this adventure started out with CI only failing on Windows, and to make matters worse it looked like an ABI mismatch...

In any case I wanted to setup a better environment for me to debug in, instead of grasping in the dark.

While this content is written for Windows most of it outside the setup should work under Linux or MacOS as well.


I noticed that my preferred editor of choice (VSCode) had setup instructions for Mingw-w64 that promised GDB integration.

After downloading MSYS2 and using the MSYS2 console to install the mingw-w64 toolchain:

pacman -Syu
pacman -Su
pacman -S --needed base-devel mingw-w64-x86_64-toolchain

and adding C:\msys64\mingw64\bin to my PATH environment variable. It seemed that I had GDB available.

First test

gdb --args julia -g2 -e "ccall(:jl_breakpoint, Cvoid, (Any,), :success)"

The command above start julia under gdb with extended debug information turned on -g2 and then executes the statement ccall(:jl_breakpoint, Cvoid, (Any,), :success) which is a foreign call to a Julia runtime function called jl_breakpoint that we can use to set inspect variables from within GDB.

This and other useful information you can find in the Julia Developer Documentation.

Running the command will drop you into the GDB REPL, where we want to set a breakpoint (b shorthand) and then run (r shortand) the program.

(gdb) b jl_breakpoint
Function "jl_breakpoint" not defined.
Make breakpoint pending on future shared library load? (y or [n]) y
Breakpoint 1 (jl_breakpoint) pending.
(gdb) r
Starting program: C:\Users\vchuravy\AppData\Local\Programs\Julia-1.6.2\bin\julia.exe -g2 -e "ccall(:jl_breakpoint, Cvoid, (Any,), :success)"

Shortly thereafter we will hit our breakpoint:

Thread 1 hit Breakpoint 1, 0x0000000002687730 in jl_breakpoint (v=0xe6d3d38) at /cygdrive/c/buildbot/worker/package_win64/build/cli/trampolines/trampolines_x86_64.S:19
warning: Source file is more recent than executable.

If you print a backtrace (bt shorthand) from this location you will notice that the stacktrace is incomplete:

(gdb) bt
#0  0x00000000026c7730 in jl_breakpoint (v=0xe723d38) at /cygdrive/c/buildbot/worker/package_win64/build/cli/trampolines/trampolines_x86_64.S:19
#1  0x0000000061090899 in ?? ()
Backtrace stopped: previous frame inner to this frame (corrupt stack?)

This is because GDB is unable to find Julia's debug information. We will need to set the environment variable ENABLE_GDBLISTENER=1 to inform Julia that it needs to notify GDB of the debug information.


Retracing our steps we now get:

(gdb) bt
#0  0x0000000002657730 in jl_breakpoint (v=0x1d583d38) at /cygdrive/c/buildbot/worker/package_win64/build/cli/trampolines/trampolines_x86_64.S:19
#1  0x0000000061090899 in japi1_top-level scope_13 () at none:1
#2  0x00000000026ff5c0 in jl_toplevel_eval_flex (m=m@entry=0xf5a4eb0 <jl_system_image_data+1601136>, e=<optimized out>, fast=<optimized out>, fast@entry=1, expanded=expanded@entry=0)
    at /cygdrive/c/buildbot/worker/package_win64/build/src/toplevel.c:871
#3  0x00000000026ffdc2 in jl_toplevel_eval_flex (m=0xf5a4eb0 <jl_system_image_data+1601136>, m@entry=0xc813f10, e=0x192328b0, e@entry=0x7ffc07040003, fast=fast@entry=1, expanded=expanded@entry=0)
    at /cygdrive/c/buildbot/worker/package_win64/build/src/toplevel.c:825
#4  0x0000000002700d10 in jl_toplevel_eval (v=0x7ffc07040003, m=0xc813f10) at /cygdrive/c/buildbot/worker/package_win64/build/cli/trampolines/trampolines_x86_64.S:19
#5  jl_toplevel_eval_in (m=0xc813f10, ex=0x7ffc07040003) at /cygdrive/c/buildbot/worker/package_win64/build/src/toplevel.c:929
#6  0x000000000f242f34 in eval () at boot.jl:360
#7  julia_exec_options_25396 () at client.jl:261
#8  0x000000000ed7a9a0 in julia__start_39744 () at client.jl:485
#9  0x000000000ed7ab2f in jfptr.start_39745.clone_1 () at client.jl:288

Which is much more helpful. Calling the function jl_ we can print out the Julia value of v.

(gdb) c jl_(v)
Value can't be converted to integer.

Configuring VSCode

Getting the Julia source code

In order to be able to step through the Julia runtime it helps to have the source code locally available. Make sure to

git clone
git -C julia checkout v1.6.2

Make sure that you checkout the tag of your installed Julia version.

Currently the pre-built Julia doesn't have debug symbols available and building Julia on windows is a whole different adventure.


My launch.json looks like this

    // Use IntelliSense to learn about possible attributes.
    // Hover to view descriptions of existing attributes.
    // For more information, visit:
    "version": "0.2.0",
    "configurations": [
            "name": "(gdb) Launch",
            "type": "cppdbg",
            "request": "launch",
            "program": "C:\\Users\\vchuravy\\AppData\\Local\\Programs\\Julia-1.6.2\\bin\\julia.exe",
            "args": ["--project=.", "${file}"],
            "stopAtEntry": false,
            "cwd": "${workspaceFolder}",
            "environment": [
                {"name":"ENABLE_GDBLISTENER", "value":"1"},
            "externalConsole": false,
            "MIMode": "gdb",
            "miDebuggerPath": "gdb",
            "setupCommands": [
                    "description": "Enable pretty-printing for gdb",
                    "text": "-enable-pretty-printing",
                    "ignoreFailures": true
            "symbolOptions": {
                "searchMicrosoftSymbolServer": true,
                "cachePath": "%TEMP%\\symcache",
            "sourceFileMap": {
                "/cygdrive/c/buildbot/worker/package_win64/build/src" : "C:\\Users\\vchuravy\\dev\\julia\\src"

The two important settings are environment to include the ENABLE_GDBLISTENER and the sourceFileMap that maps the paths on the buildserver to a local checkout.