3.12 Debugging

Stack Overflow

Depending on the system, a segmentation violation or bus error might be the only indication of stack overflow. See ‘--enable-alloca’ choices in Build Options, for how to address this.

In new enough versions of GCC, ‘-fstack-check’ may be able to ensure an overflow is recognised by the system before too much damage is done, or ‘-fstack-limit-symbol’ or ‘-fstack-limit-register’ may be able to add checking if the system itself doesn’t do any (see Options for Code Generation in Using the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC)). These options must be added to the ‘CFLAGS’ used in the GMP build (see Build Options), adding them just to an application will have no effect. Note also they’re a slowdown, adding overhead to each function call and each stack allocation.

Heap Problems

The most likely cause of application problems with GMP is heap corruption. Failing to init GMP variables will have unpredictable effects, and corruption arising elsewhere in a program may well affect GMP. Initializing GMP variables more than once or failing to clear them will cause memory leaks.

In all such cases a malloc debugger is recommended. On a GNU or BSD system the standard C library malloc has some diagnostic facilities, see Allocation Debugging in The GNU C Library Reference Manual, or ‘man 3 malloc’. Other possibilities, in no particular order, include

The GMP default allocation routines in memory.c also have a simple sentinel scheme which can be enabled with #define DEBUG in that file. This is mainly designed for detecting buffer overruns during GMP development, but might find other uses.

Stack Backtraces

On some systems the compiler options GMP uses by default can interfere with debugging. In particular on x86 and 68k systems ‘-fomit-frame-pointer’ is used and this generally inhibits stack backtracing. Recompiling without such options may help while debugging, though the usual caveats about it potentially moving a memory problem or hiding a compiler bug will apply.

GDB, the GNU Debugger

A sample .gdbinit is included in the distribution, showing how to call some undocumented dump functions to print GMP variables from within GDB. Note that these functions shouldn’t be used in final application code since they’re undocumented and may be subject to incompatible changes in future versions of GMP.

Source File Paths

GMP has multiple source files with the same name, in different directories. For example mpz, mpq and mpf each have an init.c. If the debugger can’t already determine the right one it may help to build with absolute paths on each C file. One way to do that is to use a separate object directory with an absolute path to the source directory.

cd /my/build/dir

This works via VPATH, and might require GNU make. Alternately it might be possible to change the .c.lo rules appropriately.

Assertion Checking

The build option --enable-assert is available to add some consistency checks to the library (see Build Options). These are likely to be of limited value to most applications. Assertion failures are just as likely to indicate memory corruption as a library or compiler bug.

Applications using the low-level mpn functions, however, will benefit from --enable-assert since it adds checks on the parameters of most such functions, many of which have subtle restrictions on their usage. Note however that only the generic C code has checks, not the assembly code, so --disable-assembly should be used for maximum checking.

Temporary Memory Checking

The build option --enable-alloca=debug arranges that each block of temporary memory in GMP is allocated with a separate call to malloc (or the allocation function set with mp_set_memory_functions).

This can help a malloc debugger detect accesses outside the intended bounds, or detect memory not released. In a normal build, on the other hand, temporary memory is allocated in blocks which GMP divides up for its own use, or may be allocated with a compiler builtin alloca which will go nowhere near any malloc debugger hooks.

Maximum Debuggability

To summarize the above, a GMP build for maximum debuggability would be

./configure --disable-shared --enable-assert \
  --enable-alloca=debug --disable-assembly CFLAGS=-g

For C++, add ‘--enable-cxx CXXFLAGS=-g’.


The GCC checker (https://savannah.nongnu.org/projects/checker/) can be used with GMP. It contains a stub library which means GMP applications compiled with checker can use a normal GMP build.

A build of GMP with checking within GMP itself can be made. This will run very very slowly. On GNU/Linux for example,

./configure --disable-assembly CC=checkergcc

--disable-assembly must be used, since the GMP assembly code doesn’t support the checking scheme. The GMP C++ features cannot be used, since current versions of checker ( don’t yet support the standard C++ library.


Valgrind (http://valgrind.org/) is a memory checker for x86, ARM, MIPS, PowerPC, and S/390. It translates and emulates machine instructions to do strong checks for uninitialized data (at the level of individual bits), memory accesses through bad pointers, and memory leaks.

Valgrind does not always support every possible instruction, in particular ones recently added to an ISA. Valgrind might therefore be incompatible with a recent GMP or even a less recent GMP which is compiled using a recent GCC.

GMP’s assembly code sometimes promotes a read of the limbs to some larger size, for efficiency. GMP will do this even at the start and end of a multilimb operand, using naturally aligned operations on the larger type. This may lead to benign reads outside of allocated areas, triggering complaints from Valgrind. Valgrind’s option ‘--partial-loads-ok=yes’ should help.

Other Problems

Any suspected bug in GMP itself should be isolated to make sure it’s not an application problem, see Reporting Bugs.