Various programs (including debuggers, exception handling for both Ada and C++, and perhaps others) need the ability to be able to unwind the call stack (that is, return to a calling function - sort of like setjmp/longjmp but without any "setjmp" step). To do this, one needs to know, for example, whether each function has a frame pointer and if not how deep the stack is.

Here are the various approaches:

Note one somewhat subtle issue: that parsing the prologue works even if the program counter is within the prologue (GDB simply stops parsing when it gets to the program counter). Having the program counter within the prologue is a more or less normal state of affairs for optimized code. Only the fancier (and more space consuming) debug formats have the ability to say "there is a frame pointer when PC is 0x400 to 0x407, but not when PC is 0x304 to 0x400" and the like.

A couple other issues are: (1) whether compilers are more likely to emit buggy unwind info than buggy code, and (2) whether unwind info is in a bizarre (perhaps platform-specific) format, and/or is customarily manipulated via bizarre platform specific libraries (or even worse, bizarre libraries with licensing issues). These don't necessarily apply to all implementations/formats of unwind info, it is just they have been problems in the past.

This page is part of the GDB site.