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Other Debugging Tools

Android systems have other debugging tools besides system emulators. Although these tools are not used in Android, you should have a basic understanding of them to get a complete picture.


When the OS supports cross-debugging Android applications, you should try to use this method. Cross-debugging is similar to cross-compilation: the program being debugged runs on the target machine while the display, monitor, and control of debugging are done on the host machine.

Cross-debugging can only be performed in the online mode. The host machine needs to be connected to the target machine by USB cable, network, or JTAG-ICE. A debugging server is usually run on the target machine and is called a stub in the GNU tool chain. The front end running the debugging procedure on the host machine is actually the client. The front end interacts with the developer who makes requests to debugging server. The debugging server receives the commands from the front end, controls application execution, and sends the results to the front end for display, as illustrated in Figure 3-6.

Figure 3-6. Software environment for cross-debugging

For example, if you set a breakpoint at the front end to observe the values of a variable, the debugging server receives the breakpoint setup request and inserts an interruption at corresponding place in the program. When the application reaches the breakpoint, the debugging server takes over control, suspends the application, and sends back the values of the corresponding variable to the front end, which then displays the value.

Many development tools support cross-debugging, such as, for example, GNU debugger. Android Debug Bridge (adb), a common debugging tool, also supports cross-debugging. The adb debugger is based on the client/server model. It works on the principle that the local working platform serves as the debugging client while the machine on which remote applications are installed serves the role of the debugging

server. When using adb, the debugging process of the remote applications (on the target machine) may be different from local debugging. Adb manages the device, emulates status, and carries out the following operations:

• Fast code updating in the device and emulators, such as applications or Android system updates

• Running shell commands on the device

• Managing predetermined ports of the devices or emulators

• Copying or pasting files on the devices or emulators

Some common operations of adb include the following:

adb shell

This command allows you to enter the Linux shell environment of the device or emulator where you can execute many Linux commands. If you want to execute just one shell command, you can enter:

adb shell[command]

For [command], enter the particular command you want to execute, for example: adb shell dmesg, which outputs the debugging information of the kernel. Note: the Linux shell for Android adb has been simplified, so it is not compatible with many of the common Linux commands. We're going to discuss the command line in the subsequent sections.

Adb can be run independently in command line form or integrated as a plug-in into your favorite IDE (integrated development environment) such as Eclipse†. Figure 3-7 shows a screenshot of debugging an Android application in Eclipse. Adb provides many common debugging tools such as breakpoint setup, observing variables, single-step execution, and checking debugging output. The debugging process is the same as the debugging process for local applications. Many developers cannot even tell that the application is running on the target machine and not the host machine.

Figure 3-7. Android application debugging in Eclipse

In the next sections we're going to show examples of using adb commands and Eclipse debugging.

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