Kernel Debugging with dcons(4)

NOTE: This page has been migrated from the wiki to - any future updates should be made there and not here.


Dcons(4) is a very simple console driver that is not directly connected with any physical devices. It just reads/writes characters from/to a buffer in kernel or loader. Because of its simple nature, it is very useful for kernel debugging especially with FireWire device. Currently, we provide two ways to interact with the buffer from outside of the kernel using dconschat(8).

Dcons over FireWire

Most of host controllers of FireWire(IEEE1394) are based the OHCI specification, that supports physical access to the host memory. This means that once the host controller is initialized, we can access the host memory without help of software(kernel). We can exploit this facility for interaction with dcons. Dcons provides similar functionality as serial console. It emulates two serial ports, one for console and DDB, the other for GDB. Because remote memory access is fully handled by the hardware, the dcons buffer is accessible even when system crashes. Only restriction is that physical access is disabled after bus reset on FireWire, that is, if you have a bus rest during a DDB session you will lose the connection.

You should note that supported FireWire devices are not limited to those built in motherborads. Just buy a cheap (maybe $20-$30) PCI card for a desktop and buy a cardbus interface for a laptop. (I don't think loader(8) can support cardbus though.)

Dcons with KVM

We can directly read dcons buffer via /dev/mem for live systems. And we can read the buffer in core dump for crashed system. They will give you similar output with 'dmesg -a' but the dcons buffer include some more information such as a session of ddb and loader as far as dcons in the loader is enabled.

How to use dcons over FireWire

Target machine

Enable FireWire/dcons support in kernel

Enable FireWire/dcons support in loader(8) (i386/amd64 only)

  # cd /sys/boot/i386 && make clean && make && make install

Configuration example

   device dcons
   device dcons_crom
   options KDB
   options DDB
   options GDB



  # conscontrol delete ttyd0             # serial console
  # conscontrol delete consolectl        # video/keyboard

  (setq gud-gdba-command-name "kgdb -a -a -a -r :12345")
  (setq gdb-many-windows t)
  (xterm-mouse-mode 1)
  M-x gdba

   # remote serail protocoal
   LANG=C ddd --debugger kgdb -r :12345 kernel
   # live core debug
   LANG=C ddd --debugger kgdb kernel /dev/fwmem0.2

Host machine

Enable FireWire support in kernel

  # kldload firewire

Find out EUI64 of the target machine

Run dconschat(8)

  # dconschat -e \# -br -G 12345 -t 00-11-22-33-44-55-66-77

"CR" + "~" + "."


"CR" + "~" + "^B"


"CR" + "~" + "^R"

RESET target

"CR" + "~" + "^Z"

Suspend dconschat

Attach remote gdb

   kgdb -r :12345 kernel

How to use dcons with KVM

  # dconschat -1

  # dconschat -1 -M vmcore.XX

Live core debug

    # fwcontrol -m target_eui64
    # kgdb kernel /dev/fwmem0.2


DebugWithDcons (last edited 2012-10-04 11:23:15 by IsabellLong)