Friday, May 15, 2015

GCOV is amazing yet undocumented

One useful technique for maintaining software quality is code coverage. While routinely used by high-level developers it is completely forgotten by many C hackers, especially when it comes to kernel. In fact, Linux is the only kernel which supports being compiled with the GCOV coverage tool.



GCOV works by instrumenting your code. It inserts some code to increment the stats counters around each basic block. These counters reside in a special section of your ELFs. During compilation, GCC generates a ".gcno" file for each ".c" file. These files allow the "gcov" tool to lookup function names and other info using the integer IDs (which are specific to each file).

At runtime, an executable built with GCOV produces a file called ".gcda" which contains the values of the counters. During the executable initialization, constructors (which are function pointers in the ".ctors" section) are called. One of them is "__gcov_init" which registers a certain ".o" file inside libgcov.

Since we're running in kernel or "bare-metal", we don't have neither libgcov nor file system to dump the ".gcda" files. But one should not fear GCOV! Adding it to your kernel is just a matter of adding one C file (which is mostly shamelessly copy-pasted from linux kernel and gcc sources) and a couple CFLAGS. In my example I'm using the LK kernel by Travis Geiselbrecht (https://github.com/travisg/lk). I've decided to just print out the contents of the ".gcda" files to the serial console (UART) as hex dump and then use an AWK script and the "xxd" tool to convert them to binaries on the host. This works completely fine since these files are typically below 2KB in size.

An important thing to notice: if your kernel does not contain the ".ctors" section and does not call the constructors, be sure to add them to the ld script and add some code to invoke them. For example, here's how LK does that: https://github.com/travisg/lk/blob/master/top/main.c#L42

You can see the whole patch below.
https://github.com/astarasikov/lk/commit/2a4af09a894194dfaff3e05f6fd505241d54d074

After running the "gcovr" tool you can get a nice HTML with summary and see which lines were executed and which were not and add the tests for the latter. Woot!