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29.5 Calling User-Defined Subprograms

An important capability of GDB is the ability to call user-defined subprograms while debugging. This is achieved simply by entering a subprogram call statement in the form:

     call subprogram-name (parameters)

The keyword call can be omitted in the normal case where the subprogram-name does not coincide with any of the predefined GDB commands.

The effect is to invoke the given subprogram, passing it the list of parameters that is supplied. The parameters can be expressions and can include variables from the program being debugged. The subprogram must be defined at the library level within your program, and GDB will call the subprogram within the environment of your program execution (which means that the subprogram is free to access or even modify variables within your program).

The most important use of this facility is in allowing the inclusion of debugging routines that are tailored to particular data structures in your program. Such debugging routines can be written to provide a suitably high-level description of an abstract type, rather than a low-level dump of its physical layout. After all, the standard GDB print command only knows the physical layout of your types, not their abstract meaning. Debugging routines can provide information at the desired semantic level and are thus enormously useful.

For example, when debugging GNAT itself, it is crucial to have access to the contents of the tree nodes used to represent the program internally. But tree nodes are represented simply by an integer value (which in turn is an index into a table of nodes). Using the print command on a tree node would simply print this integer value, which is not very useful. But the PN routine (defined in file treepr.adb in the GNAT sources) takes a tree node as input, and displays a useful high level representation of the tree node, which includes the syntactic category of the node, its position in the source, the integers that denote descendant nodes and parent node, as well as varied semantic information. To study this example in more detail, you might want to look at the body of the PN procedure in the stated file.