jfarrell jfarrell - 3 months ago 40
C Question

C #define macro for debug printing

Trying to create a macro which can be used for print debug messages when DEBUG is defined, like the following pseudo code:

#define DEBUG 1
#define debug_print(args ...) if (DEBUG) fprintf(stderr, args)


How is this accomplished with a macro?

Answer

If you use a C99 compiler

#define debug_print(fmt, ...) \
            do { if (DEBUG) fprintf(stderr, fmt, __VA_ARGS__); } while (0)

It assumes you are using C99 (the variable argument list notation is not supported in earlier versions). The do { ... } while (0) idiom ensures that the code acts like a statement (function call). The unconditional use of the code ensures that the compiler always checks that your debug code is valid — but the optimizer will remove the code when DEBUG is 0.

If you want to work with #ifdef DEBUG, then change the test condition:

#ifdef DEBUG
#define DEBUG_TEST 1
#else
#define DEBUG_TEST 0
#endif

And then use DEBUG_TEST where I used DEBUG.

If you insist on a string literal for the format string (probably a good idea anyway), you can also introduce things like __FILE__, __LINE__ and __func__ into the output, which can improve the diagnostics:

#define debug_print(fmt, ...) \
        do { if (DEBUG) fprintf(stderr, "%s:%d:%s(): " fmt, __FILE__, \
                                __LINE__, __func__, __VA_ARGS__); } while (0)

This relies on string concatenation to create a bigger format string than the programmer writes.

If you use a C89 compiler

If you are stuck with C89 and no useful compiler extension, then there isn't a particularly clean way to handle it. The technique I used to use was:

#define TRACE(x) do { if (DEBUG) dbg_printf x; } while (0)

And then, in the code, write:

TRACE(("message %d\n", var));

The double-parentheses are crucial — and are why you have the funny notation in the macro expansion. As before, the compiler always checks the code for syntactic validity (which is good) but the optimizer only invokes the printing function if the DEBUG macro evaluates to non-zero.

This does require a support function — dbg_printf() in the example — to handle things like 'stderr'. It requires you to know how to write varargs functions, but that isn't hard:

#include <stdarg.h>
#include <stdio.h>

void dbg_printf(const char *fmt, ...)
{
    va_list args;
    va_start(args, fmt);
    vfprintf(stderr, fmt, args);
    va_end(args);
}

You can also use this technique in C99, of course, but the __VA_ARGS__ technique is neater because it uses regular function notation, not the double-parentheses hack.

Why is it crucial that the compiler always see the debug code?

[Rehashing comments made to another answer.]

One central idea behind both the C99 and C89 implementations above is that the compiler proper always sees the debugging printf-like statements. This is important for long-term code — code that will last a decade or two.

Suppose a piece of code has been mostly dormant (stable) for a number of years, but now needs to be changed. You re-enable debugging trace - but it is frustrating to have to debug the debugging (tracing) code because it refers to variables that have been renamed or retyped, during the years of stable maintenance. If the compiler (post pre-processor) always sees the print statement, it ensures that any surrounding changes have not invalidated the diagnostics. If the compiler does not see the print statement, it cannot protect you against your own carelessness (or the carelessness of your colleagues or collaborators). See 'The Practice of Programming' by Kernighan and Pike, especially Chapter 8 (see also Wikipedia on TPOP).

This is 'been there, done that' experience — I used essentially the technique described in other answers where the non-debug build does not see the printf-like statements for a number of years (more than a decade). But I came across the advice in TPOP (see my previous comment), and then did enable some debugging code after a number of years, and ran into problems of changed context breaking the debugging. Several times, having the printing always validated has saved me from later problems.

I use NDEBUG to control assertions only, and a separate macro (usually DEBUG) to control whether debug tracing is built into the program. Even when the debug tracing is built in, I frequently do not want debug output to appear unconditionally, so I have mechanism to control whether the output appears (debug levels, and instead of calling fprintf() directly, I call a debug print function that only conditionally prints so the same build of the code can print or not print based on program options). I also have a 'multiple-subsystem' version of the code for bigger programs, so that I can have different sections of the program producing different amounts of trace - under runtime control.

I am advocating that for all builds, the compiler should see the diagnostic statements; however, the compiler won't generate any code for the debugging trace statements unless debug is enabled. Basically, it means that all of your code is checked by the compiler every time you compile - whether for release or debugging. This is a good thing!

debug.h - version 1.2 (1990-05-01)

/*
@(#)File:            $RCSfile: debug.h,v $
@(#)Version:         $Revision: 1.2 $
@(#)Last changed:    $Date: 1990/05/01 12:55:39 $
@(#)Purpose:         Definitions for the debugging system
@(#)Author:          J Leffler
*/

#ifndef DEBUG_H
#define DEBUG_H

/* -- Macro Definitions */

#ifdef DEBUG
#define TRACE(x)    db_print x
#else
#define TRACE(x)
#endif /* DEBUG */

/* -- Declarations */

#ifdef DEBUG
extern  int     debug;
#endif

#endif  /* DEBUG_H */

debug.h - version 3.6 (2008-02-11)

/*
@(#)File:           $RCSfile: debug.h,v $
@(#)Version:        $Revision: 3.6 $
@(#)Last changed:   $Date: 2008/02/11 06:46:37 $
@(#)Purpose:        Definitions for the debugging system
@(#)Author:         J Leffler
@(#)Copyright:      (C) JLSS 1990-93,1997-99,2003,2005,2008
@(#)Product:        :PRODUCT:
*/

#ifndef DEBUG_H
#define DEBUG_H

#ifdef HAVE_CONFIG_H
#include "config.h"
#endif /* HAVE_CONFIG_H */

/*
** Usage:  TRACE((level, fmt, ...))
** "level" is the debugging level which must be operational for the output
** to appear. "fmt" is a printf format string. "..." is whatever extra
** arguments fmt requires (possibly nothing).
** The non-debug macro means that the code is validated but never called.
** -- See chapter 8 of 'The Practice of Programming', by Kernighan and Pike.
*/
#ifdef DEBUG
#define TRACE(x)    db_print x
#else
#define TRACE(x)    do { if (0) db_print x; } while (0)
#endif /* DEBUG */

#ifndef lint
#ifdef DEBUG
/* This string can't be made extern - multiple definition in general */
static const char jlss_id_debug_enabled[] = "@(#)*** DEBUG ***";
#endif /* DEBUG */
#ifdef MAIN_PROGRAM
const char jlss_id_debug_h[] = "@(#)$Id: debug.h,v 3.6 2008/02/11 06:46:37 jleffler Exp $";
#endif /* MAIN_PROGRAM */
#endif /* lint */

#include <stdio.h>

extern int      db_getdebug(void);
extern int      db_newindent(void);
extern int      db_oldindent(void);
extern int      db_setdebug(int level);
extern int      db_setindent(int i);
extern void     db_print(int level, const char *fmt,...);
extern void     db_setfilename(const char *fn);
extern void     db_setfileptr(FILE *fp);
extern FILE    *db_getfileptr(void);

/* Semi-private function */
extern const char *db_indent(void);

/**************************************\
** MULTIPLE DEBUGGING SUBSYSTEMS CODE **
\**************************************/

/*
** Usage:  MDTRACE((subsys, level, fmt, ...))
** "subsys" is the debugging system to which this statement belongs.
** The significance of the subsystems is determined by the programmer,
** except that the functions such as db_print refer to subsystem 0.
** "level" is the debugging level which must be operational for the
** output to appear. "fmt" is a printf format string. "..." is
** whatever extra arguments fmt requires (possibly nothing).
** The non-debug macro means that the code is validated but never called.
*/
#ifdef DEBUG
#define MDTRACE(x)  db_mdprint x
#else
#define MDTRACE(x)  do { if (0) db_mdprint x; } while (0)
#endif /* DEBUG */

extern int      db_mdgetdebug(int subsys);
extern int      db_mdparsearg(char *arg);
extern int      db_mdsetdebug(int subsys, int level);
extern void     db_mdprint(int subsys, int level, const char *fmt,...);
extern void     db_mdsubsysnames(char const * const *names);

#endif /* DEBUG_H */

Single argument C99 variant

Kyle Brandt asked:

Anyway to do this so debug_print still works even if there are no arguments? For example:

    debug_print("Foo");

There's one simple, old-fashioned hack:

debug_print("%s\n", "Foo");

The GCC-only solution also provides support for that.

However, you can do it with the straight C99 system by using:

#define debug_print(...) \
            do { if (DEBUG) fprintf(stderr, __VA_ARGS__); } while (0)

Compared to the first version, you lose the limited checking that requires the 'fmt' argument, which means that someone could call 'debug_print()' with no arguments. Whether the loss of checking is a problem at all is debatable.

GCC-specific Technique

Some compilers may offer extensions for other ways of handling variable-length argument lists in macros. Specifically, as first noted in the comments by Hugo Ideler, GCC allows you to omit the comma that would normally appear after the last 'fixed' argument to the macro. It also allows you to use ##__VA_ARGS__ in the macro replacement text, which deletes the comma preceding the notation if, but only if, the previous token is a comma:

#define debug_print(...) \
            do { if (DEBUG) fprintf(stderr, ##__VA_ARGS__); } while (0)

This solution retains the benefits of first version.


Why the do-while loop?

What's the purpose of the do while here?

You want to be able to use the macro so it looks like a function call, which means it will be followed by a semi-colon. Therefore, you have to package the macro body to suit. If you use an if statement without the surrounding do { ... } while (0), you will have:

/* BAD - BAD - BAD */
#define debug_print(...) \
            if (DEBUG) fprintf(stderr, __VA_ARGS__)

Now, suppose you write:

if (x > y)
    debug_print("x (%d) > y (%d)\n", x, y);
else
    do_something_useful(x, y);

Unfortunately, that indentation doesn't reflect the actual control of flow, because the preprocessor produces code equivalent to this (indented and braces added to emphasize the actual meaning):

if (x > y)
{
    if (DEBUG)
        fprintf(stderr, "x (%d) > y (%d)\n", x, y);
    else
        do_something_useful(x, y);
}

The next attempt at the macro might be:

/* BAD - BAD - BAD */
#define debug_print(...) \
            if (DEBUG) { fprintf(stderr, __VA_ARGS__); }

And the same code fragment now produces:

if (x > y)
    if (DEBUG)
    {
        fprintf(stderr, "x (%d) > y (%d)\n", x, y);
    }
; // Null statement from semi-colon after macro
else
    do_something_useful(x, y);

And the else is now a syntax error. The do { ... } while(0) loop avoids both these problems.

There's one other way of writing the macro which might work:

/* BAD - BAD - BAD */
#define debug_print(...) \
            ((void)((DEBUG) ? fprintf(stderr, __VA_ARGS__) : 0))

This leaves the program fragment shown as valid. The (void) cast prevents it being used in contexts where a value is required — but it could be used as the left operand of a comma operator where the do { ... } while (0) version cannot. If you think you should be able to embed debug code into such expressions, you might prefer this. If you prefer to require the debug print to act as a full statement, then the do { ... } while (0) version is better. Note that if the body of the macro involved any semi-colons (roughly speaking), then you can only use the do { ... } while(0) notation. It always works; the expression statement mechanism can be more difficult to apply. You might also get warnings from the compiler with the expression form that you'd prefer to avoid; it will depend on the compiler and the flags you use.


TPOP was previously at http://plan9.bell-labs.com/cm/cs/tpop and http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/cs/tpop but both are now (2015-08-10) broken.