Writing an IronPython Debugger: Introduction

A while back I showed how you can use Visual Studio to debug IronPython scripts. While that works great, it’s lots of steps and lots of mouse work. I yearned for something lighter weight and that I could drive from the command line.

The .NET framework includes a command line debugger called MDbg, but after using it for a bit, I found it didn’t like it very much for IronPython debugging. Mdbg automatically sets a breakpoint on the main entrypoint function, but only if it can find the debugging symbols. So when you use Mdbg with the released version of IPy, the breakpoint never gets set. Instead, you have to trap the module load event, set a breakpoint in the python file you’re debugging, then stop trapping the module load event. Every Time. That gets tedious.

Another problem with MDbg is that it’s not Just-My-Code (aka JMC) aware. JMC is this awesome debugging feature that was introduced in .NET 2.0 that lets the debugger “paint” the parts of the code that you want to step thru (aka “My Code”). By default, Visual Studio marks code with symbols as “my code” and code without symbols as “not my code”. 1 We don’t ship symbols with IronPython releases, so Visual Studio does only steps thru the python code. MDbg doesn’t support JMC, so I often found myself stepping into random parts of the IronPython implementation. That’s even more tedious.

Luckily, the source code to MDbg is available. So I got the wacky idea to build a debugger specifically for IronPython. CPython includes pdb (aka Python Debugger, not Program Database) but we don’t support it because we haven’t implementedsettrace. Thus, ipydbg was born.

Over the course of this series of blog posts, I’m going to build out ipydbg. I have built out a series of prototypes so I fairly confident that I know how to build it. However, I’m not sure what it will look like at the end. If you’ve got any strong opinions on it one way or the other, be sure to email me or leave me comments.

BTW, major thanks to my VSL teammate Mike Stall (of Mike Stall’s .NET Debugging Blog). Without his help, I would probably still be trying to make heads or tails of the MDbg source.

  1. VS uses the DebuggerNonUserCode attribute to provide fine grained control of what is considered “my code” and should be stepped thru.