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A pretty-printer consists of two parts: a lookup function to detect if the type is supported, and the printer itself.

Here is an example showing how a std::string printer might be written. See Pretty Printing API, for details on the API this class must provide.

     class StdStringPrinter(object):
         "Print a std::string"
         def __init__(self, val):
             self.val = val
         def to_string(self):
             return self.val['_M_dataplus']['_M_p']
         def display_hint(self):
             return 'string'

And here is an example showing how a lookup function for the printer example above might be written.

     def str_lookup_function(val):
         lookup_tag = val.type.tag
         if lookup_tag == None:
             return None
         regex = re.compile("^std::basic_string<char,.*>$")
         if regex.match(lookup_tag):
             return StdStringPrinter(val)
         return None

The example lookup function extracts the value's type, and attempts to match it to a type that it can pretty-print. If it is a type the printer can pretty-print, it will return a printer object. If not, it returns None.

We recommend that you put your core pretty-printers into a Python package. If your pretty-printers are for use with a library, we further recommend embedding a version number into the package name. This practice will enable gdb to load multiple versions of your pretty-printers at the same time, because they will have different names.

You should write auto-loaded code (see Python Auto-loading) such that it can be evaluated multiple times without changing its meaning. An ideal auto-load file will consist solely of imports of your printer modules, followed by a call to a register pretty-printers with the current objfile.

Taken as a whole, this approach will scale nicely to multiple inferiors, each potentially using a different library version. Embedding a version number in the Python package name will ensure that gdb is able to load both sets of printers simultaneously. Then, because the search for pretty-printers is done by objfile, and because your auto-loaded code took care to register your library's printers with a specific objfile, gdb will find the correct printers for the specific version of the library used by each inferior.

To continue the std::string example (see Pretty Printing API), this code might appear in gdb.libstdcxx.v6:

     def register_printers(objfile):

And then the corresponding contents of the auto-load file would be:

     import gdb.libstdcxx.v6

The previous example illustrates a basic pretty-printer. There are a few things that can be improved on. The printer doesn't have a name, making it hard to identify in a list of installed printers. The lookup function has a name, but lookup functions can have arbitrary, even identical, names.

Second, the printer only handles one type, whereas a library typically has several types. One could install a lookup function for each desired type in the library, but one could also have a single lookup function recognize several types. The latter is the conventional way this is handled. If a pretty-printer can handle multiple data types, then its subprinters are the printers for the individual data types.

The gdb.printing module provides a formal way of solving these problems (see gdb.printing). Here is another example that handles multiple types.

These are the types we are going to pretty-print:

     struct foo { int a, b; };
     struct bar { struct foo x, y; };

Here are the printers:

     class fooPrinter:
         """Print a foo object."""
         def __init__(self, val):
             self.val = val
         def to_string(self):
             return ("a=<" + str(self.val["a"]) +
                     "> b=<" + str(self.val["b"]) + ">")
     class barPrinter:
         """Print a bar object."""
         def __init__(self, val):
             self.val = val
         def to_string(self):
             return ("x=<" + str(self.val["x"]) +
                     "> y=<" + str(self.val["y"]) + ">")

This example doesn't need a lookup function, that is handled by the gdb.printing module. Instead a function is provided to build up the object that handles the lookup.

     import gdb.printing
     def build_pretty_printer():
         pp = gdb.printing.RegexpCollectionPrettyPrinter(
         pp.add_printer('foo', '^foo$', fooPrinter)
         pp.add_printer('bar', '^bar$', barPrinter)
         return pp

And here is the autoload support:

     import gdb.printing
     import my_library

Finally, when this printer is loaded into gdb, here is the corresponding output of ‘info pretty-printer’:

     (gdb) info pretty-printer