Profiling works by changing how every function in your program is compiled
so that when it is called, it will stash away some information about where
it was called from. From this, the profiler can figure out what function
called it, and can count how many times it was called. This change is made
by the compiler when your program is compiled with the `-pg' option,
which causes every function to call
__mcount, depending on the OS and compiler)
as one of its first operations.
mcount routine, included in the profiling library,
is responsible for recording in an in-memory call graph table
both its parent routine (the child) and its parent's parent. This is
typically done by examining the stack frame to find both
the address of the child, and the return address in the original parent.
Since this is a very machine-dependant operation,
itself is typically a short assembly-language stub routine
that extracts the required
information, and then calls
(a normal C function) with two arguments -
__mcount_internal is responsible for maintaining
the in-memory call graph, which records
and the number of times each of these call arcs was transversed.
GCC Version 2 provides a magical function (
which allows a generic
mcount function to extract the
required information from the stack frame. However, on some
architectures, most notably the SPARC, using this builtin can be
very computationally expensive, and an assembly language version
mcount is used for performance reasons.
Number-of-calls information for library routines is collected by using a special version of the C library. The programs in it are the same as in the usual C library, but they were compiled with `-pg'. If you link your program with `gcc ... -pg', it automatically uses the profiling version of the library.
Profiling also involves watching your program as it runs, and keeping a histogram of where the program counter happens to be every now and then. Typically the program counter is looked at around 100 times per second of run time, but the exact frequency may vary from system to system.
This is done is one of two ways. Most UNIX-like operating systems
profil() system call, which registers a memory
array with the kernel, along with a scale
factor that determines how the program's address space maps
into the array.
Typical scaling values cause every 2 to 8 bytes of address space
to map into a single array slot.
On every tick of the system clock
(assuming the profiled program is running), the value of the
program counter is examined and the corresponding slot in
the memory array is incremented. Since this is done in the kernel,
which had to interrupt the process anyway to handle the clock
interrupt, very little additional system overhead is required.
However, some operating systems, most notably Linux 2.0 (and earlier),
do not provide a
profil() system call. On such a system,
arrangements are made for the kernel to periodically deliver
a signal to the process (typically via
which then performs the same operation of examining the
program counter and incrementing a slot in the memory array.
Since this method requires a signal to be delivered to
user space every time a sample is taken, it uses considerably
more overhead than kernel-based profiling. Also, due to the
added delay required to deliver the signal, this method is
less accurate as well.
A special startup routine allocates memory for the histogram and
profil() or sets up
a clock signal handler.
This routine (
monstartup) can be invoked in several ways.
On Linux systems, a special profiling startup file
is used instead of the default
Use of this special startup file is one of the effects
of using `gcc ... -pg' to link.
On SPARC systems, no special startup files are used.
mcount routine, when it is invoked for
the first time (typically when
main is called),
If the compiler's `-a' option was used, basic-block counting
is also enabled. Each object file is then compiled with a static array
of counts, initially zero.
In the executable code, every time a new basic-block begins
(i.e. when an
if statement appears), an extra instruction
is inserted to increment the corresponding count in the array.
At compile time, a paired array was constructed that recorded
the starting address of each basic-block. Taken together,
the two arrays record the starting address of every basic-block,
along with the number of times it was executed.
The profiling library also includes a function (
mcleanup) which is
typically registered using
atexit() to be called as the
program exits, and is responsible for writing the file `gmon.out'.
Profiling is turned off, various headers are output, and the histogram
is written, followed by the call-graph arcs and the basic-block counts.
The output from
gprof gives no indication of parts of your program that
are limited by I/O or swapping bandwidth. This is because samples of the
program counter are taken at fixed intervals of the program's run time.
time measurements in
gprof output say nothing about time that your
program was not running. For example, a part of the program that creates
so much data that it cannot all fit in physical memory at once may run very
slowly due to thrashing, but
gprof will say it uses little time. On
the other hand, sampling by run time has the advantage that the amount of
load due to other users won't directly affect the output you get.
The old BSD-derived file format used for profile data does not contain a
magic cookie that allows to check whether a data file really is a
gprof file. Furthermore, it does not provide a version number, thus
rendering changes to the file format almost impossible. GNU
uses a new file format that provides these features. For backward
gprof continues to support the old BSD-derived
format, but not all features are supported with it. For example,
basic-block execution counts cannot be accommodated by the old file
The new file format is defined in header file `gmon_out.h'. It
consists of a header containing the magic cookie and a version number,
as well as some spare bytes available for future extensions. All data
in a profile data file is in the native format of the host on which
the profile was collected. GNU
gprof adapts automatically to the
byte-order in use.
In the new file format, the header is followed by a sequence of
records. Currently, there are three different record types: histogram
records, call-graph arc records, and basic-block execution count
records. Each file can contain any number of each record type. When
reading a file, GNU
gprof will ensure records of the same type are
compatible with each other and compute the union of all records. For
example, for basic-block execution counts, the union is simply the sum
of all execution counts for each basic-block.
Histogram records consist of a header that is followed by an array of bins. The header contains the text-segment range that the histogram spans, the size of the histogram in bytes (unlike in the old BSD format, this does not include the size of the header), the rate of the profiling clock, and the physical dimension that the bin counts represent after being scaled by the profiling clock rate. The physical dimension is specified in two parts: a long name of up to 15 characters and a single character abbreviation. For example, a histogram representing real-time would specify the long name as "seconds" and the abbreviation as "s". This feature is useful for architectures that support performance monitor hardware (which, fortunately, is becoming increasingly common). For example, under DEC OSF/1, the "uprofile" command can be used to produce a histogram of, say, instruction cache misses. In this case, the dimension in the histogram header could be set to "i-cache misses" and the abbreviation could be set to "1" (because it is simply a count, not a physical dimension). Also, the profiling rate would have to be set to 1 in this case.
Histogram bins are 16-bit numbers and each bin represent an equal amount of text-space. For example, if the text-segment is one thousand bytes long and if there are ten bins in the histogram, each bin represents one hundred bytes.
Call-graph records have a format that is identical to the one used in the BSD-derived file format. It consists of an arc in the call graph and a count indicating the number of times the arc was traversed during program execution. Arcs are specified by a pair of addresses: the first must be within caller's function and the second must be within the callee's function. When performing profiling at the function level, these addresses can point anywhere within the respective function. However, when profiling at the line-level, it is better if the addresses are as close to the call-site/entry-point as possible. This will ensure that the line-level call-graph is able to identify exactly which line of source code performed calls to a function.
Basic-block execution count records consist of a header followed by a sequence of address/count pairs. The header simply specifies the length of the sequence. In an address/count pair, the address identifies a basic-block and the count specifies the number of times that basic-block was executed. Any address within the basic-address can be used.
gprof's Internal Operation
Like most programs,
gprof begins by processing its options.
During this stage, it may building its symspec list
options are specified which use symspecs.
gprof maintains a single linked list of symspecs,
which will eventually get turned into 12 symbol tables,
organized into six include/exclude pairs - one
pair each for the flat profile (INCL_FLAT/EXCL_FLAT),
the call graph arcs (INCL_ARCS/EXCL_ARCS),
printing in the call graph (INCL_GRAPH/EXCL_GRAPH),
timing propagation in the call graph (INCL_TIME/EXCL_TIME),
the annotated source listing (INCL_ANNO/EXCL_ANNO),
and the execution count listing (INCL_EXEC/EXCL_EXEC).
After option processing,
building the symspec list by adding all the symspecs in
default_excluded_list to the exclude lists
EXCL_TIME and EXCL_GRAPH, and if line-by-line profiling is specified,
EXCL_FLAT as well.
These default excludes are not added to EXCL_ANNO, EXCL_ARCS, and EXCL_EXEC.
Next, the BFD library is called to open the object file,
verify that it is an object file,
and read its symbol table (
bfd_canonicalize_symtab after mallocing
an appropiate sized array of asymbols. At this point,
function mappings are read (if the `--file-ordering' option
has been specified), and the core text space is read into
memory (if the `-c' option was given).
gprof's own symbol table, an array of Sym structures,
is now built.
This is done in one of two ways, by one of two routines, depending
on whether line-by-line profiling (`-l' option) has been
For normal profiling, the BFD canonical symbol table is scanned.
For line-by-line profiling, every
text space address is examined, and a new symbol table entry
gets created every time the line number changes.
In either case, two passes are made through the symbol
table - one to count the size of the symbol table required,
and the other to actually read the symbols. In between the
two passes, a single array of type
Sym is created of
the appropiate length.
is called to sort the symbol table and remove duplicate entries
(entries with the same memory address).
The symbol table must be a contiguous array for two reasons.
qsort library function (which sorts an array)
will be used to sort the symbol table.
Also, the symbol lookup routine (
which finds symbols
based on memory address, uses a binary search algorithm
which requires the symbol table to be a sorted array.
Function symbols are indicated with an
Line number symbols have no special flags set.
Additionally, a symbol can have an
to indicate that it is a local symbol.
With the symbol table read, the symspecs can now be translated
into Syms (
sym_ids.c:sym_id_parse). Remember that a single
symspec can match multiple symbols.
An array of symbol tables
syms) is created, each entry of which is a symbol table
of Syms to be included or excluded from a particular listing.
The master symbol table and the symspecs are examined by nested
loops, and every symbol that matches a symspec is inserted
into the appropriate syms table. This is done twice, once to
count the size of each required symbol table, and again to build
the tables, which have been malloced between passes.
From now on, to determine whether a symbol is on an include
or exclude symspec list,
gprof simply uses its
standard symbol lookup routine on the appropriate table
Now the profile data file(s) themselves are read
first by checking for a new-style `gmon.out' header,
then assuming this is an old-style BSD `gmon.out'
if the magic number test failed.
New-style histogram records are read by
For the first histogram record, allocate a memory array to hold
all the bins, and read them in.
When multiple profile data files (or files with multiple histogram
records) are read, the starting address, ending address, number
of bins and sampling rate must match between the various histograms,
or a fatal error will result.
If everything matches, just sum the additional histograms into
the existing in-memory array.
As each call graph record is read (
the parent and child addresses
are matched to symbol table entries, and a call graph arc is
cg_arcs.c:arc_add, unless the arc fails a symspec
check against INCL_ARCS/EXCL_ARCS. As each arc is added,
a linked list is maintained of the parent's child arcs, and of the child's
Both the child's call count and the arc's call count are
incremented by the record's call count.
Basic-block records are read (
but only if line-by-line profiling has been selected.
Each basic-block address is matched to a corresponding line
symbol in the symbol table, and an entry made in the symbol's
bb_addr and bb_calls arrays. Again, if multiple basic-block
records are present for the same address, the call counts
A gmon.sum file is dumped, if requested (
If histograms were present in the data files, assign them to symbols
hist.c:hist_assign_samples) by iterating over all the sample
bins and assigning them to symbols. Since the symbol table
is sorted in order of ascending memory addresses, we can
simple follow along in the symbol table as we make our pass
over the sample bins.
This step includes a symspec check against INCL_FLAT/EXCL_FLAT.
Depending on the histogram
scale factor, a sample bin may span multiple symbols,
in which case a fraction of the sample count is allocated
to each symbol, proportional to the degree of overlap.
This effect is rare for normal profiling, but overlaps
are more common during line-by-line profiling, and can
cause each of two adjacent lines to be credited with half
a hit, for example.
If call graph data is present,
cg_arcs.c:cg_assemble is called.
First, if `-c' was specified, a machine-dependant
find_call) scans through each symbol's machine code,
looking for subroutine call instructions, and adding them
to the call graph with a zero call count.
A topological sort is performed by depth-first numbering
all the symbols (
cg_dfn.c:cg_dfn), so that
children are always numbered less than their parents,
then making a array of pointers into the symbol table and sorting it into
numerical order, which is reverse topological
order (children appear before parents).
Cycles are also detected at this point, all members
of which are assigned the same topological number.
Two passes are now made through this sorted array of symbol pointers.
The first pass, from end to beginning (parents to children),
computes the fraction of child time to propogate to each parent
and a print flag.
The print flag reflects symspec handling of INCL_GRAPH/EXCL_GRAPH,
with a parent's include or exclude (print or no print) property
being propagated to its children, unless they themselves explicitly appear
in INCL_GRAPH or EXCL_GRAPH.
A second pass, from beginning to end (children to parents) actually
propogates the timings along the call graph, subject
to a check against INCL_TIME/EXCL_TIME.
With the print flag, fractions, and timings now stored in the symbol
structures, the topological sort array is now discarded, and a
new array of pointers is assembled, this time sorted by propagated time.
Finally, print the various outputs the user requested, which is now fairly
straightforward. The call graph (
flat profile (
hist.c:hist_print) are regurgitations of values
already computed. The annotated source listing
basic_blocks.c:print_annotated_source) uses basic-block
information, if present, to label each line of code with call counts,
otherwise only the function call counts are presented.
The function ordering code is marginally well documented
in the source code itself (
the functions with the most use and the most parents are
placed first, followed by other functions with the most use,
followed by lower use functions, followed by unused functions
at the end.
gprof was compiled with debugging enabled,
the `-d' option triggers debugging output
(to stdout) which can be helpful in understanding its operation.
The debugging number specified is interpreted as a sum of the following
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