GSoC with git, week 6: do you like debugging stories?

Par Alban, le

Three “big” things happened last week:

My first git debugging story

git has an extensive test suite. It covers a lot of cases, and when I make a mistake while rewriting code, there is at least one test that fails. It’s a very valuable tool, in short, and it’s very easy to use.

$ make test

This command is enough to run the entire test suite. All the scripts are in the t/ folder of the source, and are in separate shell scripts, which can be run independently. The most important test for interactive rebase is

Onto the reflog part of rebase -i. The first thing you should know is that defines a output() function, which silences commands, except when they fail. This is very important.

One of the first things done by interactive rebase is to call setup_reflog_action(). In turn, it will change the reflog message from rebase to rebase -i (start) by calling comment_for_reflog() (the value is stored in the environment variable $GIT_REFLOG_ACTION), and then it checkouts the commit on which the rebase takes place. The checkout operation is silenced with output().

Later in the process, another function, checkout_onto(), uses $GIT_REFLOG_ACTION, without changing the message. This function does a silent checkout, too.

I started by naively rewriting setup_reflog_action(), calling git-checkout with the proper environment variable, setting $GIT_REFLOG_ACTION, and then exiting. And here, the 75th test of t3404, “rebase -i produces readable reflog”, broke. The first reflog was not rebase -i (start) anymore, but only rebase. But why? I set the environment variables correctly…

So I tried to debug git-checkout. gdb is very tricky to use here, as git-checkout is called by git-rebase--helper, itself called by, itself called by git. Back to the good ol’ printf debugging technique.

In checkout.c, only one function uses the reflog message: update_refs_for_switch(). So, I added some printf() to know which codepath was taken, and what was the reflog message. Basically, I had that:

    reflog_msg = getenv("GIT_REFLOG_ACTION");
    if (!reflog_msg)
            strbuf_addf(&msg, "checkout: moving from %s to %s",
                    old_desc ? old_desc : "(invalid)",
            strbuf_insert(&msg, 0, reflog_msg, strlen(reflog_msg));

    fprintf(stderr, "%s\n", buf.buf);
    if (!strcmp(new_branch_info->name, "HEAD") &&
        !new_branch_info->path && !opts->force_detach) {
            /* Nothing to do. */
            fputs("1\n", stderr);
    } else if (opts->force_detach || !new_branch_info->path) {
            /* No longer on any branch. */
            fputs("2\n", stderr);
            /* … */
    } else if (new_branch_info->path) {
            /* Switch branches. */
            fputs("3\n", stderr);
            /* … */

Guess what was the value of reflog_msg. rebase -i (start)? Of course. The log also showed that the 3rd code path was taken, but the reflog message is set in the second one… And there was only one output from a checkout. I was clearly missing something.

I tried another approach: in the main function of, I manually set $GIT_REFLOG_ACTION to r. And that r appeared in the reflog. And then I understood. It was the checkout from checkout_onto() that set the value of the reflog, not the one from setup_reflog_action()! And I did not see its output because it was silenced by output(). How ironic. I also forgot that a process can’t change its parent’s environment variables. The fix was simply to call comment_for_reflog() at the beginning of checkout_onto().

One frustrating hour of debugging for a one-line fix, I’m not really a fan. Especially when that fix goes away in the next commit!

On IRC, oiaohm said USDT probes could be useful, and dscho said he puts getpid() in his debug messages for that reason. USDT probes seems interesting, I hope to talk about them in a future post.