Many people don’t know about how awesome the windows debuggers are. I recently got a question from a volunteer mentee: he was experiencing a startup crash in Firefox and he wanted to know how to get the debugger attached to Firefox before the crash.
On other systems, I’d say to use mach debug, but that currently doesn’t do useful things on Windows. But it’s still pretty simple. You have two options:
Debug Using Your IDE
Both Visual Studio and Visual C++ Express have a command-line option for launching the IDE ready for debugging.
devenv.exe -debugexe obj-ff-debug/dist/bin/firefox.exe -profile /c/builds/test-profile -no-remote
The -debugexe flag informs the IDE to load your Firefox build with the command lines you specify. Firefox will launch with the “Go” command (F5).
For Visual C++ express edition, run WDExpress.exe instead of devenv.exe.
Debug Using Windbg
windbg is a the Windows command-line debugger. As with any command-line debugger it has an arcane debugging syntax, but it is very powerful.
Launching Firefox with windbg doesn’t require any flags at all:
windbg.exe obj-ff-debug/dist/bin/firefox.exe -profile /c/builds/test-profile -no-remote
Debugging Firefox Release Builds
You can also debug Firefox release builds on Windows! Mozilla runs a symbol server that allows you to automatically download the debugging symbols for recent prerelease builds (I think we keep 30 days of nightly/aurora symbols) and all release builds. See the Mozilla Developer Network article for detailed instructions.
Debugging official builds can be a bit confusing due to inlining, reordering, and other compiler optimizations. I often find myself looking at the disassembly view of a function rather than the source view in order to understand what exactly is going on. Also note that if you are planning on debugging a release build, you probably want to disable automatic crash reporting by setting MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_DISABLE=1 in your environment.