This is an Application Note for debugging uClinux kernel and applications with GNU gdb/insight using the JTAG Emulator PEEDI. The increasing popularity of high-speed 32-bit ARM based microcontrollers allowed Linux to enter the world of embedded devices. That is why the need of debugging its kernel and applications became essential. Since Linux is a true multiprocess operating system, it utilizes a Memory Management Unit (MMU) to give each process a separate memory space. But the low end ARM cores (ARM7) don’t have a MMU, so the conventional Linux is not applicable. Here comes the uClinux – a port of Linux targeted to the MMU-less CPU’s. Since no MMU is utilized, no virtual memory space is available. This means all processes share the same memory space, therefore each process, each time is loaded to a different base address not known during compilation.

Why debugging via JTAG?

The debugging via JTAG interface does not need a monitor like program running on the target, so it is non-intrusive and it uses no target resources. Platform and tools:
For the purpose of this application note, I will use:

  • uClinux kernel v2.4
  • GNU toolchain – gcc v2.95, gdb/insight v6.5.50
  • target CPU – Atmel AT91C140

JTAG emulator – PEEDI ( Note: Don’t use GNU gdb/Insight earlier than v6.3 – it has broken task support.

Setting PEEDI

Apart from all the common things that must be set in the target configuration file, there is another parameter that needs to be set – the base address of the init_task_union structure in the uClinux kernel. This structure contains the list of all the processes currently running on the target. So PEEDI will be able to show them. This address is known during compilation of the uClinux kernel, because the kernel is loaded on the same address every time. It may be obtained using the nm gcc tool like this:

[ilko@ibox spar]$ nm linux |grep init_task_union ; uClinux 2.4


[ilko@ibox spar]$ nm linux |grep init_task ; uClinux 2.6

Where “linux” is the uClinux elf image. Now we can set the address in the target configuration file:

CORE_OS = ucLinux24, 0x10c000 ; uClinux 2.4, init_task_union is at addr 0x10c000


CORE_OS = ucLinux26, 0x1241A4 ; uClinux 2.6, init_task is at addr 0x1241A4

Another thing to set is the init section of the target, which will initialize the FLASH, RAM and the system clock:


Setting the target

Three different images have to be programmed into the target:

  • uboot – this is the bootloader
  • the linux kernel
  • a ROM file system image

For easy programming each image is described in different FLASH section in the configuration file, this way the flash set PEEDI command can be used to switch among them.

[ilko@ibox tftpboot]$ telnet

Connected to
Escape character is '^]'.

PEEDI - Powerful Embedded Ethernet Debug Interface
Copyright (c) 2005-2006 - All rights reserved
Hw:1.2, L:JTAG v1.1 Fw:1.11, SN: PD-0000-0B69-3811

at91c140> flash set

*Flash #0 -> FLASH_UBOOT (current)
Flash #1 -> FLASH_KERNEL
Flash #2 -> FLASH_ROMFS

at91c140> flash set 1
Selected FLASH section: FLASH_KERNEL

After we have selected the kernel, we can program it, and then select and program the other two images:

at91c140> flash program

at91c140> flash set 2
Selected FLASH section: FLASH_ROMFS

at91c140> flash program
at91c140> flash set 0
Selected FLASH section: FLASH_UBOOT

at91c140> flash program

We have finished programming the target, and now we can set the other init section, which does not initialize the target because this is done by the bootloader, but only sets the Embedded Ice registers to break on software breakpoint pattern:


Debugging the kernel

To debug the kernel, you need to compile it with debug information:

  • run “make config” or “make menuconfig”
  • enable “Customize kernel Settings”
  • enable “Customize Vendor/User Settings”
  • in the kernel settings, turn on “Full Symbolic/Source debugging support”
  • in the vendor/user settings, turn on “build debugable libraries” and “build debugable applications”.
  • make clean; make dep; make Note: If you want to debug only uClinux applications and not the kernel, it is not necessary to compile the kernel with debug information. For easier debugging, we will use this .gdbinit file:
echo Setting up the environment for debugging gdb with PEEDI.\n
set complaints 1
set remotetimeout 10
dir .
set prompt (peedi)

define conn
target remote
info target

# use the following command if you have a gdb version older than v6.5.50
define fast
set remote memory-write-packet-size fixed
set remote memory-write-packet-size 16384
set download-write-size 16128

# start connect command

After the kernel is built you can start gdb/insight loading it:

[ilko@ibox spar]$ arm-elf-gdb linux
GNU gdb
Copyright (C) 2006 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
GDB is free software, covered by the GNU General Public License, and you are
welcome to change it and/or distribute copies of it under certain conditions.
Type "show copying" to see the conditions.
There is absolutely no warranty for GDB. Type "show warranty" for details.
This GDB was configured as "--host=i686-pc-linux-gnu --target=arm-elf"...
Setting up the environment for debugging gdb with PEEDI.
Remote serial target in gdb-specific protocol:
Debugging a target over a serial line.
While running this, GDB does not access memory from...
Local exec file:
`/home/ilko/work/spar/linux', file type elf32-littlearm.
Entry point: 0x8000
0x00008000 - 0x00014000 is .init
0x00014000 - 0x0010bba0 is .text
0x0010c000 - 0x00116d0c is .data
0x00116d20 - 0x0013a2f0 is .bss


Following the .gdbinit file, gdb will automatically connect to PEEDI and next we can load the image

(peedi) load
Loading section .init, size 0xc000 lma 0x8000
Loading section .text, size 0xf7ba0 lma 0x14000
Loading section .data, size 0xad0c lma 0x10c000
Start address 0x8000, load size 1108140
Transfer rate: 1754159 bits/sec, 15830 bytes/write.

To start the uClinux kernel just type:

(peedi) continue

At this point you have kicked the kernel into life and it will boot. You can now break into the debugger and add some break points to debug your code.

Debugging an Application

To debug an uClinux application you need first to prepare the application – at the beginning of the application put a software breakpoint pattern – this will cause the program to stop here when started:

int main(void)
    // set software breakpoint pattern, must be the same as in config file for PEEDI
    // this will cause the program to stop here
    asm(".long 0xDFFFDFFF");
    printf("Hello world\r\n");

Compile the application again, make the ROMFS and program it into the target.
Boot the uClinux kernel from the flash or from RAM.

You can start your application from the serial console or from a telnet session.
The target will stop at the line with asm(“.long 0xDFFFDFFF”);

The gdb command “info threads” gives you the information about the start addresses of the .text, .data and .bss sections, which is necessary for the loading the symbolic information:

(peedi) c
During symbol reading, misplaced first line number at 0x77810 for 'romfs_checksum'.

Program received signal SIGTRAP, Trace/breakpoint trap.
0x00f6918c in ?? ()
(peedi) info threads
11 thread 18 (spar: 0xF64040 -s .data 0xF4A004 -s .bss 0xF53104) 0x00f6918c in ?? ()
10 thread 17 (sh: 0xF89040 -s .data 0xFA1004 -s .bss 0xFA40B4) 0x00f6918c in ?? ()
9 thread 16 (telnetd: 0xFAC040 -s .data 0xFA8004 -s .bss 0xFA9984) 0x00f6918c in ?? ()
8 thread 15 (inetd: 0xFB8040 -s .data 0xFD9004 -s .bss 0xFDA544) 0x00f6918c in ?? ()
7 thread 7 (mtdblockd) 0x00f6918c in ?? ()
6 thread 6 (kupdated) 0x00f6918c in ?? ()
5 thread 5 (bdflush) 0x00f6918c in ?? ()
4 thread 4 (kswapd) 0x00f6918c in ?? ()
3 thread 3 (ksoftirqd_CPU0) 0x00f6918c in ?? ()
2 thread 2 (keventd) 0x00f6918c in ?? ()
1 thread 1 (init: 0xFF0040 -s .data 0xFC4004 -s .bss 0xFC4F44) 0x00f6918c in ?? ()

Spar is the the thread we are interested in. Now we know the addresses of the sections that we need and we can load the executable file with corrected addresses of symbolic information:

(peedi) add-symbol-file spar.elf 0xF64040 -s .data 0xF4A004 -s .bss 0xF53104
add symbol table from file "spar.elf" at
.text_addr = 0xf64040
.data_addr = 0xf4a004
.bss_addr = 0xf53104
(y or n) y
Reading symbols from /home/ilko/spar/spar.elf...done.

From this point on you can set breakpoints where you need and debug the application normally.

Keep in mind that the target executes several threads, switching among them, so if you forcibly stop it there is a guarantee that it will stop when executing the debugged thread. Because of this reason, it is recommended to use breakpoints to stop the target at the desired point of the debugged thread.

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