This tutorial has tips and tricks on how to debug Crystal projects. It shows how to leverage tools like GDB or LLDB using debugger clients like Native Debug for VSCode.

Prerequisites

  • Crystal - See instalation guide here

  • Crystal project - See installation guide here or here (Amber)

  • VSCode with Crystal Lang and Native Debug extensions

  • GNU debugger (GDB) or LLVM debugger (LLDB) - See installation guide below

Install gdb or lldb accordingly to your OS.

Confirm that the above prerequisites are installed before setting up the debugger. These settings have been verified for a MacOS and Linux's environments.

Debug on VSCode

By convention the project directory name is the same as your application name, if you have changed it, please update ${workspaceFolderBasename} with the name configured inside shards.yml

1. tasks.json configuration to compile a crystal project

{
"version": "2.0.0",
"tasks": [
{
"label": "Compile",
"command": "shards build --debug ${workspaceFolderBasename}",
"type": "shell"
}
]
}

2. launch.json configuration to debug a binary

Using GDB

{
"version": "0.2.0",
"configurations": [
{
"name": "Debug",
"type": "gdb",
"request": "launch",
"target": "./bin/${workspaceFolderBasename}",
"cwd": "${workspaceRoot}",
"preLaunchTask": "Compile"
}
]
}

Using LLDB

{
"version": "0.2.0",
"configurations": [
{
"name": "Debug",
"type": "lldb-mi",
"request": "launch",
"target": "./bin/${workspaceFolderBasename}",
"cwd": "${workspaceRoot}",
"preLaunchTask": "Compile"
}
]
}

3. Then hit the DEBUG green play button

debugging

Tips and Tricks for debugging Crystal applications

lldb does not show data for variables in crystal yet, see issue #4457

Fully debugging Crystal applications is not supported yet. You can use some of the techniques below to improve the debugging experience.

1. Use debugger keyword

Instead of putting breakpoints using commands inside GDB or LLDB you can try to set a breakpoint using debugger keyword.

i = 0
while i < 3
i += 1
debugger # => breakpoint
end

2. Avoid breakpoints inside blocks

Currently, Crystal lacks support for debugging inside of blocks. If you put a breakpoint inside a block, it will be ignored.

As a workaround, use pp to pretty print objects inside of blocks.

3.times do |i|
pp i
end
# i => 1
# i => 2
# i => 3

3. Try @[NoInline] to debug arguments data

Sometimes crystal will optimize argument data, so the debugger will show <optimized output> instead of the arguments. To avoid this behavior use the @[NoInline] attribute before your function implementation.

@[NoInline]
def foo(bar)
debugger
end

4. Printing strings objects (GDB)

To print string objects in the debugger:

First, setup the debugger with the debugger statement:

foo = "Hello World!"
debugger

Then use print in the debugging console.

(gdb) print &foo.c
$1 = (UInt8 *) 0x10008e6c4 "Hello World!"

Or add &foo.c using a new variable entry on watch section in VSCode debugger

Using VSCode GUI

5. Printing array variables

To print array items in the debugger:

First, setup the debugger with the debugger statement:

foo = ["item 0", "item 1", "item 2"]
debugger

Then use print in the debugging console:

(gdb) print &foo.buffer[0].c
$19 = (UInt8 *) 0x10008e7f4 "item 0"

Change the buffer index for each item you want to print.

6. Printing instance variables

For printing @foo var in this code:

class Bar
@foo = 0
def baz
debugger
end
end
Bar.new

You can use self.foo in the debugger terminal or VSCode GUI.

7. Print hidden objects

Some objects do not show at all. You can unhide them using the .to_s method and a temporary debugging variable, like this:

def bar(hello)
"#{hello} World!"
end
def foo(hello)
bar_hello_to_s = bar(hello).to_s
debugger
end
foo("Hello")

This trick allows showing the bar_hello_to_s variable inside the debugger tool.