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5.4 Signals

A signal is an asynchronous event that can happen in a program. The operating system defines the possible kinds of signals, and gives each kind a name and a number. For example, in Unix SIGINT is the signal a program gets when you type an interrupt character (often Ctrl-c); SIGSEGV is the signal a program gets from referencing a place in memory far away from all the areas in use; SIGALRM occurs when the alarm clock timer goes off (which happens only if your program has requested an alarm).

Some signals, including SIGALRM, are a normal part of the functioning of your program. Others, such as SIGSEGV, indicate errors; these signals are fatal (they kill your program immediately) if the program has not specified in advance some other way to handle the signal. SIGINT does not indicate an error in your program, but it is normally fatal so it can carry out the purpose of the interrupt: to kill the program.

GDB has the ability to detect any occurrence of a signal in your program. You can tell GDB in advance what to do for each kind of signal.

Normally, GDB is set up to let the non-erroneous signals like SIGALRM be silently passed to your program (so as not to interfere with their role in the program’s functioning) but to stop your program immediately whenever an error signal happens. You can change these settings with the handle command.

info signals
info handle

Print a table of all the kinds of signals and how GDB has been told to handle each one. You can use this to see the signal numbers of all the defined types of signals.

info signals sig

Similar, but print information only about the specified signal number.

info handle is an alias for info signals.

catch signal [signal|all]

Set a catchpoint for the indicated signals. See Set Catchpoints, for details about this command.

handle signal [ signal] [keywords]

Change the way GDB handles each signal. Each signal can be the number of a signal or its name (with or without the ‘SIG’ at the beginning); a list of signal numbers of the form ‘low-high’; or the word ‘all’, meaning all the known signals, except SIGINT and SIGTRAP, which are used by GDB. Optional argument keywords, described below, say what changes to make to all of the specified signals.

The keywords allowed by the handle command can be abbreviated. Their full names are:


GDB should not stop your program when this signal happens. It may still print a message telling you that the signal has come in.


GDB should stop your program when this signal happens. This implies the print keyword as well.


GDB should print a message when this signal happens.


GDB should not mention the occurrence of the signal at all. This implies the nostop keyword as well.


GDB should allow your program to see this signal; your program can handle the signal, or else it may terminate if the signal is fatal and not handled. pass and noignore are synonyms.


GDB should not allow your program to see this signal. nopass and ignore are synonyms.

When a signal stops your program, the signal is not visible to the program until you continue. Your program sees the signal then, if pass is in effect for the signal in question at that time. In other words, after GDB reports a signal, you can use the handle command with pass or nopass to control whether your program sees that signal when you continue.

The default is set to nostop, noprint, pass for non-erroneous signals such as SIGALRM, SIGWINCH and SIGCHLD, and to stop, print, pass for the erroneous signals.

You can also use the signal command to prevent your program from seeing a signal, or cause it to see a signal it normally would not see, or to give it any signal at any time. For example, if your program stopped due to some sort of memory reference error, you might store correct values into the erroneous variables and continue, hoping to see more execution; but your program would probably terminate immediately as a result of the fatal signal once it saw the signal. To prevent this, you can continue with ‘signal 0’. See Giving your Program a Signal.

GDB optimizes for stepping the mainline code. If a signal that has handle nostop and handle pass set arrives while a stepping command (e.g., stepi, step, next) is in progress, GDB lets the signal handler run and then resumes stepping the mainline code once the signal handler returns. In other words, GDB steps over the signal handler. This prevents signals that you’ve specified as not interesting (with handle nostop) from changing the focus of debugging unexpectedly. Note that the signal handler itself may still hit a breakpoint, stop for another signal that has handle stop in effect, or for any other event that normally results in stopping the stepping command sooner. Also note that GDB still informs you that the program received a signal if handle print is set.

If you set handle pass for a signal, and your program sets up a handler for it, then issuing a stepping command, such as step or stepi, when your program is stopped due to the signal will step into the signal handler (if the target supports that).

Likewise, if you use the queue-signal command to queue a signal to be delivered to the current thread when execution of the thread resumes (see Giving your Program a Signal), then a stepping command will step into the signal handler.

Here’s an example, using stepi to step to the first instruction of SIGUSR1’s handler:

(gdb) handle SIGUSR1
Signal        Stop      Print   Pass to program Description
SIGUSR1       Yes       Yes     Yes             User defined signal 1
(gdb) c

Program received signal SIGUSR1, User defined signal 1.
main () sigusr1.c:28
28        p = 0;
(gdb) si
sigusr1_handler () at sigusr1.c:9
9       {

The same, but using queue-signal instead of waiting for the program to receive the signal first:

(gdb) n
28        p = 0;
(gdb) queue-signal SIGUSR1
(gdb) si
sigusr1_handler () at sigusr1.c:9
9       {

On some targets, GDB can inspect extra signal information associated with the intercepted signal, before it is actually delivered to the program being debugged. This information is exported by the convenience variable $_siginfo, and consists of data that is passed by the kernel to the signal handler at the time of the receipt of a signal. The data type of the information itself is target dependent. You can see the data type using the ptype $_siginfo command. On Unix systems, it typically corresponds to the standard siginfo_t type, as defined in the signal.h system header.

Here’s an example, on a GNU/Linux system, printing the stray referenced address that raised a segmentation fault.

(gdb) continue
Program received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.
0x0000000000400766 in main ()
69        *(int *)p = 0;
(gdb) ptype $_siginfo
type = struct {
    int si_signo;
    int si_errno;
    int si_code;
    union {
        int _pad[28];
        struct {...} _kill;
        struct {...} _timer;
        struct {...} _rt;
        struct {...} _sigchld;
        struct {...} _sigfault;
        struct {...} _sigpoll;
    } _sifields;
(gdb) ptype $_siginfo._sifields._sigfault
type = struct {
    void *si_addr;
(gdb) p $_siginfo._sifields._sigfault.si_addr
$1 = (void *) 0x7ffff7ff7000

Depending on target support, $_siginfo may also be writable.

On some targets, a SIGSEGV can be caused by a boundary violation, i.e., accessing an address outside of the allowed range. In those cases GDB may displays additional information, depending on how GDB has been told to handle the signal. With handle stop SIGSEGV, GDB displays the violation kind: "Upper" or "Lower", the memory address accessed and the bounds, while with handle nostop SIGSEGV no additional information is displayed.

The usual output of a segfault is:

Program received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault
0x0000000000400d7c in upper () at i386-mpx-sigsegv.c:68
68        value = *(p + len);

While a bound violation is presented as:

Program received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault
Upper bound violation while accessing address 0x7fffffffc3b3
Bounds: [lower = 0x7fffffffc390, upper = 0x7fffffffc3a3]
0x0000000000400d7c in upper () at i386-mpx-sigsegv.c:68
68        value = *(p + len);

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