A backtrace is a list of the function calls that are currently
active in a thread. The usual way to inspect a backtrace of a program
is to use an external debugger such as gdb. However, sometimes it is
useful to obtain a backtrace programatically from within a program,
e.g., for the purposes of logging or diagnostics.
The header file execinfo.h declares three functions that obtain
and manipulate backtraces of the current thread.
— Function: int backtrace (void **buffer, int size)
The backtrace function obtains a backtrace for the current
thread, as a list of pointers, and places the information into
buffer. The argument size should be the number of
void * elements that will fit into buffer. The return
value is the actual number of entries of buffer that are obtained,
and is at most size.
The pointers placed in buffer are actually return addresses
obtained by inspecting the stack, one return address per stack frame.
Note that certain compiler optimizations may interfere with obtaining a
valid backtrace. Function inlining causes the inlined function to not
have a stack frame; tail call optimization replaces one stack frame with
another; frame pointer elimination will stop backtrace from
interpreting the stack contents correctly.
— Function: char ** backtrace_symbols (void *const *buffer, int size)
The backtrace_symbols function translates the information
obtained from the backtrace function into an array of strings.
The argument buffer should be a pointer to an array of addresses
obtained via the backtrace function, and size is the number
of entries in that array (the return value of backtrace).
The return value is a pointer to an array of strings, which has
size entries just like the array buffer. Each string
contains a printable representation of the corresponding element of
buffer. It includes the function name (if this can be
determined), an offset into the function, and the actual return address
Currently, the function name and offset only be obtained on systems that
use the ELF binary format for programs and libraries. On other systems,
only the hexadecimal return address will be present. Also, you may need
to pass additional flags to the linker to make the function names
available to the program. (For example, on systems using GNU ld, you
must pass (-rdynamic.)
The return value of backtrace_symbols is a pointer obtained via
the malloc function, and it is the responsibility of the caller
to free that pointer. Note that only the return value need be
freed, not the individual strings.
The return value is NULL if sufficient memory for the strings
cannot be obtained.
— Function: void backtrace_symbols_fd (void *const *buffer, int size, int fd)
The backtrace_symbols_fd function performs the same translation
as the function backtrace_symbols function. Instead of returning
the strings to the caller, it writes the strings to the file descriptor
fd, one per line. It does not use the malloc function, and
can therefore be used in situations where that function might fail.
The following program illustrates the use of these functions. Note that
the array to contain the return addresses returned by backtrace
is allocated on the stack. Therefore code like this can be used in
situations where the memory handling via malloc does not work
anymore (in which case the backtrace_symbols has to be replaced
by a backtrace_symbols_fd call as well). The number of return
addresses is normally not very large. Even complicated programs rather
seldom have a nesting level of more than, say, 50 and with 200 possible
entries probably all programs should be covered.
/* Obtain a backtrace and print it to stdout. */
size = backtrace (array, 10);
strings = backtrace_symbols (array, size);
printf ("Obtained %zd stack frames.\n", size);
for (i = 0; i < size; i++)
printf ("%s\n", strings[i]);
/* A dummy function to make the backtrace more interesting. */
Published under the terms of the GNU General Public License