36.3. Using SystemTap

36.3. Using SystemTap

Systemtap works by translating a SystemTap script to C, running the system C compiler to create a kernel module from that. When the module is loaded, it activates all the probed events by hooking into the kernel. Then, as events occur on any processor, the compiled handlers run. Eventually, the session stops, the hooks are disconnected, and the module removed. This entire process is driven from a single command-line program, stap.

36.3.1.  Tracing

The simplest kind of probe is simply to trace an event. This is the effect of inserting strategically located print statements into a program. This is often the first step of problem solving: explore by seeing a history of what has happened.

This style of instrumentation is the simplest. It just asks systemtap to print something at each event. To express this in the script language, you need to say where to probe and what to print there.

36.3.1.1. Where to Probe

Systemtap supports a number of built-in events. The library of scripts that comes with systemtap, each called a "tapset", may define additional ones defined in terms of the built-in family. See the stapprobes man page for details. All these events are named using a unified syntax that looks like dot-separated parameterized identifiers:

Event Description
begin The startup of the systemtap session.
end The end of the systemtap session.
kernel.function("sys_open") The entry to the function named sys_open in the kernel.
syscall.close.return The return from the close system call..
module("ext3").statement(0xdeadbeef) The addressed instruction in the ext3 filesystem driver.
timer.ms(200) A timer that fires every 200 milliseconds.

Table 36.1. SystemTap Events

We will use as a demonstration case that you would like to trace all function entries and exits in a source file, for example net/socket.c in the kernel. The kernel.function probe point lets you express that easily, since systemtap examines the kernel's debugging information to relate object code to source code. It works like a debugger: if you can name or place it, you can probe it. Use kernel.function("*@net/socket.c") for the function entries, and kernel.function("*@net/socket.c").return for the exits. Note the use of wildcards in the function name part, and the subsequent @FILENAME part. You can also put wildcards into the file name, and even add a colon (:) and a line number, if you want to restrict the search that precisely. Since systemtap will put a separate probe in every place that matches a probe point, a few wildcards can expand to hundreds or thousands of probes, so be careful what you ask for.

Once you identify the probe points, the skeleton of the systemtap script appears. The probe keyword introduces a probe point, or a comma-separated list of them. The following { and } braces enclose the handler for all listed probe points.

You can run this script as is, though with empty handlers there will be no output. Put the two lines into a new file. Run stap -v FILE. Terminate it any time with ^C. (The -v option tells systemtap to print more verbose messages during its processing. Try the -h option to see more options.)

36.3.1.2. What to Print

Since you are interested in each function that was entered and exited, a line should be printed for each, containing the function name. In order to make that list easy to read, systemtap should indent the lines so that functions called by other traced functions are nested deeper. To tell each single process apart from any others that may be running concurrently, systemtap should also print the process ID in the line.


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