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23.3.2.7 Writing a Pretty-Printer

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 is 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):
    objfile.pretty_printers.append(str_lookup_function)

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

import gdb.libstdcxx.v6
gdb.libstdcxx.v6.register_printers(gdb.current_objfile())

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(
        "my_library")
    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
gdb.printing.register_pretty_printer(
    gdb.current_objfile(),
    my_library.build_pretty_printer())

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

(gdb) info pretty-printer
my_library.so:
  my_library
    foo
    bar

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