Let's start with the reason why I wrote this article. One day, a colleague asked me to help him debug a problem he had. So I was watching him stepping in his code, when I noticed the following line:
int test = GetLastError();
He did this, because he wanted to know the error code, if the previous function failed. He was adding this line every time he wanted to know the error code. I advised him to remove all those lines and use the
@ERR pseudoregister in his watch window. He didn't know what it was and asking around in the office, a lot of other people didn't. So I came up with this article for people who have never heard of pseudoregisters.
What is a Pseudoregister Anyway?
A pseudoregister is not an actual hardware register, but is displayed as though it were a hardware register. With a pseudoregister, you can see and use certain values (error codes, thread information block...) in the debugger.
Let's have a look at the
@ERR pseudoregister. Fire up your debugger with your favourite home-written application. Put a breakpoint in your code so that the debugger will break execution. Open the watch window if it isn't already (do this by right clicking on some empty toolbar space, and select "Watch" from this list). Add
@ERR in this watch window. You should see
0 in the
Value column. Now step through your code, and watch this value. It will always show the
GetLastError() number for the current thread. So if something goes wrong in your code, this value will change.
If you want to test this, but your code doesn't have any errors, I advise to put some in (but don't forget to remove them afterwards). You can insert something like this:
FILE *fp = fopen("c:\\a_file_that_does_not_exist.txt", "r");
If you step over this line, you'll see that the
@ERR value changed to
2. Go to Tools->Error Lookup to see what this error value means ("
The system cannot find the file specified" if you were wondering). Lazy bums like me, and smart lads / lasses like you can change the
@ERR pseudoregister to
@ERR,hr . Doing this will change the value of the pseudoregister to the error string. Now you even don't have to lookup the error. I leave the
@ERR,hr in the watch window all the time.
Pseudoregisters can also be used in conditional expressions. To try this out, put the following lines after the
Put a breakpoint on the
if (fp) line. Go to Edit->Breakpoints (or press Alt-F9). Select the breakpoint you just inserted and press the "Condition" button. Here, you can enter the
@ERR==2 condition. Now start the debugger. The debugger will break on this breakpoint if
fopen() failed because it couldn't find the file. If the file does exist, the debugger won't break, even if it encountered another error (say error 4: could not open the file). Try this out by running the code (not stepping) after creating, and deleting the "a_file_that_does_not_exist.txt" file on c:\.
Just for the very curious (and otherwise totally irrelevant to this article): what does
@ERR do? How does it get the error number? As it turns out,
@ERR does exactly the same thing as
GetLastError() does. These functions have a whopping 3 lines of assembly code:
mov eax,dword ptr [eax+34h]
@ERR grabs the
DWORD at offset 0x34 in the thread environment block pointed to by
The @TIB Pseudoregister
@ERR pseudoregister is not the only one that exists. Another important pseudoregister is
@TIB. This is the thread information block for the current thread and is extremely helpful in multi-threaded debugging. If you place a breakpoint in a function that is called by multiple threads, the debugger will break execution every time no matter which thread passes the breakpoint. Even if you're stepping through your code, the debugger can jump to the breakpoint if another thread called the function. To solve this, you'll need to do the following. If execution breaks in the thread you want, add
@TIB in the watch window. You will see some value like "
0x7ffa6000" or "
2147115008" in regular display. Go to the breakpoint menu (Alt-F9) and select the breakpoint. You can now add the
@TIB==0x7ffa6000 condition filter. Doing this, the debugger will only break execution for this thread. All other threads using the same function will not result in a break.
This doesn't work in Windows 98 though. For Windows 98, you'll need to look at the Intel CPU FS register, which is unique for each thread. You can use the expression
Complete List of Pseudoregisters
|Pseudoregister ||Description |
|Last error value; the same value returned by the |
GetLastError() API function
|Thread information block for the current thread; necessary because the debugger doesn't handle the "FS:0" format |
|Undocumented clock register; usable only in the Watch window |
|Intel CPU registers |
|Intel CPU segment registers |
|Intel CPU floating-point registers |
[Table from "Debugging Applications" by John Robbins]
- John Robbins for his "Debugging Applications" book
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