T3 Debug Records

This section describes the debugger information records that a compiler can optionally store in an image file. Debug records are not needed for normal execution of a program; they're required only for interactive source-level debugging.

Normally, a compiler will provide a compile-time option to include or suppress debug information in an image file. This setting is usually global to the entire image, but a compiler could include debug information on a method-by-method basis. The user would use this compiler setting to include debug information during the development process, but not include any debug records when compiling the final image file for release.

Method Debug Records

Each method can have an associated debug record, which specifies information local to the method:

If a method has a debug record, the debugger records field in the method header must give the non-zero offset of the record. If the method has no debugger records, this field must be set to zero.

The format of the debug table is as follows:

Debug table header
UINT2 number of line records
Line record 1
Line record 2


Line record N
UINT2 offset (from here) to first byte after end of frame table
UINT2 number of frames
UINT2 offset (from here) to frame entry 1
UINT2 offset (from here) to frame entry 2


UINT2 offset (from here) to frame entry N
Frame 1
Frame 2


Frame N
UINT4 0 (constant zero value)

Note that the size of the debug table header is given by the "debug table header size" field from the ENTP block in the image file; this information is parameterized in the image file to allow for changes to be made in future versions without affecting compatibility.

All of the offsets listed as "from here" are relative to the first byte of the entry itself. For example, consider the first offset, which gives the offset to the first byte after the frame table. Suppose that the frame table has no entries at all, in which case the frame table only requires two bytes, specifically the UINT2 giving the number of entries, which in this case would be set to zero. So, the offset to the end of the frame table would have the value 4: two bytes for the space occupied by this offset entry itself, and another two bytes for the frame count field that follows.

The final UINT4 zero value is a placeholder for future expansion; if additional fields are added in future specifications, this field will have a non-zero value to indicate the presence of additional information. Setting this field to zero will ensure that debug tables produced under this specification will remain compatible with future interpreters.

The debug table header has the following structure:

This table is currently empty

Line records: Each line record gives information on a single executable statement in the source code. Each line entry specifies an association with a contiguous range of byte-code instructions, a source file location, and a frame entry within the same debug records table.

(What constitutes an executable statement is up to the compiler to determine. For debugging purposes, this is a unit of procedural execution. The debugger can set a breakpoint at a line, and can step one line at a time through procedural code. For a C-like language, a debugging line corresponds directly to the C grammar's notion of a statement: an 'if', 'while', or 'for', an expression statement, etc. For compound statement like 'if' and 'for', the compiler should create a line record for the main statement, plus a separate line record for each statement in the body. For example, for an 'if', the compiler creates a line record for the 'if' itself, another for each statement in the true branch, and yet another for each statement in the 'else' branch, if any. This allows the user to interactively stop at the condition itself and then single-step through each statement in the selected branch. For a 'for', the compiler might wish to create a separate line record for the "reinit" part of the loop, to allow single-stepping through that portion of the loop iteration.)

Line records must appear in the table in ascending order of byte-code offsets. Each record specifies only its starting offset, but a given line record implicitly references all of the instructions starting at its starting offset and continuing to the byte before the starting offset of the following line record.

Each line record is arranged like this:

UINT2 offset (from method start) of first byte-code instruction associated with this line of source code
UINT2 source file index, a zero-based index into the global source file list
UINT4 source file line number
UINT2 frame ID, a one-based index into the method's frame list (a value of zero indicates that there is no local scope for the line). This is the innermost scope with which the line is associated; the frame itself contains links to any enclosing scopes.

Frame records: Each frame table entry provides a local symbol table. Frames can be nested, with the innermost frame taking precedence in the case of any name collisions with enclosing frames.

Frame records are of varying size (which is why the index of frame record pointers appears in the debug record before the frames themselves), and are arranged like this:

UINT2 ID of enclosing frame, a one-based index into the method's frame list (a value of zero indicates that this is the outermost frame)
UINT2 number of entries in the symbol table
UINT2 start of byte-code range covered by frame (as an offset from the method header) (new in debug format version 0x0002)
UINT2 end of byte-code range covered by frame (new in debug format version 0x0002)
Entry 1
Entry 2


Entry N

Frame local variables: Each entry in the frame gives information on a single local variable. These entries are of varying size, and are arranged like this:

Local Symbol Header
Local Symbol Name

The Local Symbol Name's format depends on the flags in the header. If flag bit 0x0004 is set, this field is a UINT4 giving the constant pool address of a UTF-8 string containing the name. Otherwise, the name is stored inline as a UTF-8 string. In either case, the storage format for the string is a UINT2 byte-length prefix followed by the name string in UTF-8 format.

The symbol header is arranged as follows. Note that the record might contain additional entries in future versions; when parsing these records, debuggers and other tools should always use the "debug local symbol header size" from the entrypoint (ENTP) record in the image file to determine the record's actual size.

UINT2 local variable or parameter number, with the same meaning as the variable number in a GETLCL or GETARG instruction
UINT2 flags
UINT2 context local index. This is used only if (flags & 2) is non-zero (i.e., the context local flag bit is set).

The "flags" entry is a bitwise "OR" combination of the following values:

Note: All bits not specified above are reserved for future designation, so the flags entry should be taken as a bit mask. To ensure compatibility with future specifications, compilers should set all bits not specified here to zero, and interpreters should ignore all bits not specified here.

A "context local" is a local variable stored not in the stack but in a separate context array object. The reference to the context object is reachable through the local variable given in the record, and the symbol's actual value is stored in the array at the index given by the context array index in the record. So, to retrieve a context variable, the equivalent of the following VM instructions can be executed:

    GETLCL local variable number from record
    PUSHINT4 context array index from record
Copyright © 2001, 2006 by Michael J. Roberts.
Revision: September, 2006