Debugging the libraries

Extra options to give to configure


Non-developer configure options are described in INSTALL files in the source tree.

You will probably want to use some of these if you’re going to be developing Xapian.

This enables compiling of assertion code which will throw Xapian::AssertionError if the code detects violating of preconditions, postconditions, or fails other consistency checks.
This option enables a subset of the assertions enabled by “–enable-assertions”, but not the most expensive. The intention is that it should be suitable for use in a real-world system for tracking down problems without imposing too much of an overhead (but note that we haven’t yet performed timings to measure the overhead…)
This enables compiling code into the library which generates verbose debugging messages. See Debugging messages.
In 1.2.0 and earlier, this used to use the debug logging macros to report to stderr how long each method takes to execute. This feature was removed in 1.2.1 - you are likely to get better results using dedicated profiling tools - for more information see:

Debugging messages

If you configure with --enable-log, lots of places in the code generate debugging messages to tell us what they’re up to - this information can be very useful for debugging both the Xapian library and code which uses it. But the quantity of information generated is potentially vast so there’s a mechanism to allow you to select where to store the log and which types of message you’re interested by setting environment variables. You can:

  • set XAPIAN_DEBUG_LOG to be the path to a file that you would like debugging output to be appended to, or to the special value - to indicate that you would like debugging output to be sent to stderr. Unless XAPIAN_DEBUG_LOG is set, no debug logging will be performed. Occurrences of %p in XAPIAN_DEBUG_LOG will be replaced with the current process-id.

    If you’re debugging a crash and want to avoid losing the most recent log messages then include %! in XAPIAN_DEBUG_LOG (which is replaced with the empty string). This will cause the log file to be opened with O_DSYNC or O_SYNC or similar if running on a platform that supports a suitable mechanism. In 1.4.10 and earlier this was on by default (and %! has no special meaning) but it can incur a significant performance overhead and in most cases isn’t necessary.

  • set XAPIAN_DEBUG_FLAGS to a string of capital letters indicating the types of debugging message you would like to display (the default is to log calls to API functions and methods). These letters are shown in the first column of the log output, and are also listed in common/debuglog.h. If the first character is -, then the letters indicate those categories of message not be shown instead. As a consequence of this, setting XAPIAN_DEBUG_FLAGS=- will give you all debugging messages.

These environment variables only have any effect if you ran configure with the --enable-log option.

The format is:

<message type> <pid> [<this>] <message>

For example:

A 16747 [0x57ad1e0] void Xapian::Query::Internal::validate_query()

Each nested call adds another space before the [ so you can easily see which function call and return messages correspond.

Using various debugging, profiling, and leak-finding tools


If you have runes for using other tools, please add them to this section, or send them to us so we can.

libstdc++ debug mode

GCC’s libstdc++ supports a debug mode, which checks for various misuses of the STL - to enable this, define _GLIBCXX_DEBUG when building Xapian:


See their documentation of this option.


All C++ code must be compiled with this defined or you’ll get problems. Xapian’s API headers include a check that the same setting is used when building code using Xapian as was used to build Xapian.

Using gdb

To use gdb, no special build options are required, but make sure you compile with debugging information (on by default for GCC). You’ll probably find debugging easier if you compile without optimisation (with optimisation, line numbers in error messages can be confusing due to code inlining, etc, and the values of some variables can’t be printed because they’ve been eliminated from the code completely):

./configure CXXFLAGS='-O0 -g'

Using gprof and other profiling tools

To enable profiling for gprof:

./configure CXXFLAGS=-pg LDFLAGS=-pg

To use Purify (a proprietary tool):

./configure CXXLD='purify c++' --disable-shared

To use Insure (another proprietary tool):

./configure CXX=insure

Using lcov

You can use lcov (at least version 1.10) to generate a test coverage report. You ideally want lcov 1.11 or later, since 1.11 includes patches to reduce memory usage significantly - lcov 1.10 would run out of memory in a 1GB VM.

See for automatically generated reports for git master.

If you use ccache, you’ll need ccache >= 3.2.2 for coverage builds to actually be cached. Since ccache 3.0 (released 2010-06-20) coverage builds are supported, but initially by disabling caching if the coverage options are used. See below for a workaround for ccache < 3.0.

There are three make targets (currently supported in the xapian-core and xapian-letor directories):

make coverage-reconfigure

This reruns configure in the source tree with options to configure the build to generate coverage information. See for details of the configure options used and why they are needed.

You can specify additional options via COVERAGE_CONFIGURE_ARGS on the make command line. For example:

  • To configure xapian-letor to use the in-tree xapian-core use:

    make coverage-reconfigure COVERAGE_CONFIGURE_ARGS=XAPIAN_CONFIG="`pwd`/../xapian-core/xapian-config
  • If you’re using ccache < 3.0 this doesn’t support coverage builds. To work around this you can disable use of ccache with:

    make coverage-reconfigure COVERAGE_CONFIGURE_ARGS=CCACHE_DISABLE=1
  • On older systems, coverage reports don’t seem to work with shared libraries. To work around this disable use of shared libraries with:

    make coverage-reconfigure COVERAGE_CONFIGURE_ARGS=--disable-shared
make coverage-reconfigure-maintainer-mode
This does the same thing, except the tree is configured in “maintainer mode”, which is what you want if generating coverage reports while working on the code.
make coverage-check

This runs make check and generates an HTML report in a directory called lcov.

You can specify extra arguments to pass to the genhtml tool using GENHTML_ARGS, so for example if you plan to serve the generated HTML coverage report from a webserver, you can tell genhtml to gzip all generated HTML files and add a suitable .htaccess file using:

make coverage-check GENHTML_ARGS=--html-gzip

Using valgrind

The testsuite can make use of valgrind 3.3.0 or newer to check for memory leaks, reads from uninitialised memory, and some other bugs during tests.

Valgrind doesn’t support every platform, but Xapian contains very little platform specific code (and most of what there is is Microsoft Windows specific) so even just testing with valgrind on one platform gives good coverage.

If you have a new enough version of valgrind installed, it’s automatically detected by configure and used when running the testsuite. No special build options are required, but make sure you compile with debugging information (on by default for GCC) and the valgrind documentation recommends disabling optimisation (with optimisation, line numbers in error messages can be confusing due to code inlining, etc):

./configure CXXFLAGS='-O0 -g'

The testsuite runs more slowly under valgrind, so if you wish to disable this auto-detection you can run configure with:

./configure VALGRIND=

Or you can disable use of valgrind during a particular run of “make check” like so:

make check VALGRIND=

Or disable it while running a test directly (under sh or bash):

VALGRIND= ./runtest ./apitest

Current versions of valgrind result in false positives on current versions of macOS, so on this platform configure only enables use of valgrind if it’s specified explicitly, for example if valgrind is on your PATH you can just use:

./configure VALGRIND=valgrind