Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Debugger Visualizers

Debugger Visualizers

When debugging in Visual Studio, watching the contents of a variable can be of great help. But as soon as a variable is of a custom type, it might be inconvenient.

For example Boost.Geometry. You can examine the contents of a point or a polygon in the Debugger Watch Window. But the representation of a point type is cumbersome: "{...}". If you click that open, you will see m_values and a meaningless pointer. Still awkward. If you click that m_values open, you see it again, in the Values column the same pointer again. Still no coordinates. If you click that pointer open, yes, you finally see the values! But it takes three steps (clicks).


If you examine a polygon, you have to do these three steps for each point in each of its rings!

You will be tired of that soon, especially if you know it can be helped using the Visual Studio Debugger Visualizers. It seems this method is not documented by Microsoft, so it is a bit of hacking, but descriptions can be found on the web (references below).

This is the recipe how to do it:
  • go to the folder "c:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\Common7\Packages\Debugger" (usually there, path may change, this path is for VS 2010)
  • make a backup of the file autoexp.dat because we are going to change it
  • open autoexp.dat in an editor (it is (on Windows 7) convenient to edit in another path, because saving requires Administrator rights)
  • go to the bottom, just before [hresult]
  • enter the cryptic lines shown below this bullet list
  • save the file (if you did edit it in another path, copy it back, giving Administrator rights)
These are the lines to add:
   preview ( #("(x=", $e.m_values[0], " ,y=", $e.m_values[1], ")") )
It is a bit abstruse. In preview ( #( ) ) you have to enter member variables of your class (which should be called $e for enigmatic reasons). You can mix them up with strings. All is comma separated. Note that the parentheses should be placed as displayed.

After this exercise, restart Visual Studio and debug again and... you will see a much better appearance of our point in the Watch window:

We don't have to click at all. Our point is just there, x- and y- coordinates specified. Oh yes, 4.56 is now 4.55999 but that is something different, it has to do with floating point precision. We ignore that in this blog.

Definition for Boost.Geometry

At this moment I have point_xy but also model::point defined. I could have more but this is already very useful. Linestrings or polygons automatically use these point presentations, and because std::vectors are visualized by Microsoft (in that same file autoexp.dat), it is all very clear in the Watch Window.

So the section I defined looks like this:


   preview ( #("(", $e.m_values[0], " , ", $e.m_values[1], ")") )

   preview ( #("(", $e.m_values[0], " , ", $e.m_values[1], " , ", $e.m_values[2], ")") )

   preview ( #("(x=", $e.m_values[0], " ,y=", $e.m_values[1], ")") )
I have it running in Visual Studio C++ 2010 Express, and also in Visual Studio C++ 2005 Express. Debugging visualizers is a bit tricky, if you make an error you might get an exception window. But in version 2010 it is better than it was in version 2005.


There is more than this. More is explained on these pages: And in .NET (but this is actually another solution, implementing a custom visualizer in code):

No comments:

Post a Comment