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iOS Crash Symbolication for Dummies, Part 2

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iOS Crash Symbolication for Dummies, Part 2

In this post, we'll learn how to make sure a dSYM file is generated and see how we can manually use it to symbolicate crash reports.

· Mobile Zone ·
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In the previous post, we’ve learned what the symbolication process is, and why it is needed. In this post, we will dive deeper and learn how to make sure a dSYM file is generated and see how we can manually use it to symbolicate crash reports.

How Do I Make Sure a Dsym Is Actually Being Generated?

XCode has several settings that may affect dSYM generation, let’s review them one by one.

First of all, let’s make sure that the debug information is being generated:

Generate debug symbols

Let’s instruct XCode to put the debug symbols in a separate dSYM file:

Generate DWARF with dSYM

By default, that option is only selected for release builds, but not for debug builds. In most cases, it is enough, as debug builds, most commonly, are only used by the developer while debugging their own application while it's attached to XCode. However when trying out symbolication, or when there is a chance a debug build is going to end up on a device of a colleague who is going to test it, we may still opt to have the dSYM file so we can analyze the crashes.

And last, but not least:
Strip debug symbols

This option is not important for the symbolication process itself, but it is important to check it, as it instructs XCode to strip the debug symbols from the binary file, i.e. the file we are going to distribute to App Store. It both affects the size of the distributed application, but more importantly, leaving debug information in the application makes our competitors’ life much easier.

With all these options checked, our next build should produce a dSYM file (or rather a series of dSYM files, one for our main application and one for each framework we build as part of our application). The files are located in the products folder. Apple made it quite tricky to find it, one common method is to look at the build logs and copy the path from there. There is an alternative way through XCode:

  • Go to File->Project settings.
  • Click on Advanced.
  • Clicking on that small arrow will reveal the product folder in Finder.

Find XCode product folder

Note: XCode 8.2 was used at the time of writing the post, the options may differ in other XCode versions.

What Can I Do With a Crash Report and a Dsym File?

Let’s say we have that raw crash report with addresses and a dSYM file that we know is the matching one. What can we do with it?

The address and the dSYM file should be enough to extract debug information about that address, but there is still one element missing. We need to know the exact address that our image was loaded to for that specific crash. The reason for this is the operating system randomizes the offset at which programs are being loaded every time they are run. The technique is usually called ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization) and it is mostly done for security reasons, as it prevents exploits that rely on a specific layout of the program at runtime.

This is where the list of all the loaded images comes into play. If you are dealing with raw crash reports generated by XCode, it can be foundn in the “Binary images” section of the text file.

Binary Images:
       0x10007C000 -        0x1002C3FFF +MyApplication arm64   /var/containers/Bundle/Application/MyApplication.app/MyApplication
       0x184158000 -        0x184159FFF  libSystem.B.dylib arm64   /usr/lib/libSystem.B.dylib
       0x18415A000 -        0x1841AFFFF  libc++.1.dylib arm64   /usr/lib/libc++.1.dylib
       0x1841B0000 -        0x1841D0FFF  libc++abi.dylib arm64   /usr/lib/libc++abi.dylib
       0x1841D4000 -        0x1845ADFFF  libobjc.A.dylib arm64   /usr/lib/libobjc.A.dylib
       0x184871000 -        0x184871FFF  libvminterpose.dylib arm64   /usr/lib/system/libvminterpose.dylib
       0x184872000 -        0x184898FFF  libxpc.dylib arm64   /usr/lib/system/libxpc.dylib
       0x184899000 -        0x184AB3FFF  libicucore.A.dylib arm64   /usr/lib/libicucore.A.dylib
       0x184AB4000 -        0x184AC4FFF  libz.1.dylib arm64   /usr/lib/libz.1.dylib
       0x185675000 -        0x1859F9FFF  CoreFoundation arm64   /System/Library/Frameworks/CoreFoundation.framework/CoreFoundation

Now that we know that at that particular run our application has been loaded at 0x10007C000, we can use the atos tool that comes with XCode to try to extract more info:

$ atos -o MyApplication.app.dSYM -l 0x10007C000 0x100117f48 getElementFromArray (in MyApplication.app.dSYM) 

Find the image that address is corresponding to in that particular run of the application (remember the ASLR?).That seems to be working. But that is a lot of tedious work if we do it manually. If we want to get a nice, human readable snapshot of the callstack, then for each address we have to:

  • Get the start address for that image.
  • Locate the dSYM file for that specific image. (Where do we get dSYM files for all the system images? *)
  • Use the atos tool to translate the address into a human readable location.

When you deal with XCode raw crash reports, there is a Perl script that’s shipped in one of the frameworks that can partially automate this flow. In XCode 8.2 it can be found in:  /Applications/Xcode.app/Contents/SharedFrameworks/DVTFoundation.framework/Versions/A/  Resources/symbolicatecrash 

But it may vary from version to version.

$ find /Applications/Xcode.app -name symbolicatecrash -type f

Now we can try to symbolicate the whole report at once:

path/to/symbolicatecrash /path/to/MyApplication_2016-12-19_Device.crash /path/to/MyApplication.app.dSYM

* In fact, locating dSYM files for system frameworks is major pain point for most developers. These dSYM files are usually located in the  ~/Library/Developer/Xcode/iOS\ DeviceSupport/ folder. However this folder is populated by XCode and only contains symbols for iOS versions and architectures that were attached to that particular XCode (i.e if you’ve never debugged an armv7 device running iOS 8.2 to your Mac, you will not have iOS 8.2 armv7 symbols on this machine). The good news is, starting with iOS 10, Apple dropped the support for all old armv7 devices, and both arm64 and armv7s support files are shipped with iOS regardless of the architecture of the device itself. So it is enough now to attach any device with iOS 10.2 to XCode to have support files both for armv7s and arm64 flavors. It is still practically impossible to “collect them all,” however, especially when Apple sometimes releases iOS beta builds daily.

With this script in hand, we know how to completely symbolicate one single crash. And that is assuming we have the crash report itself, all the dSYM files, all the tools, and a lot of patience. In the real world, however, this approach becomes impractical really quickly, as our app is deployed on thousands (hopefully millions!) of devices, all having different iOS versions and architectures. And in order to have a complete solution we have to:

  • Have system framework dSYM files for all available iOS versions and architectures out there.
  • Be able to match and combine similar crashes, even if they have somewhat different stack traces, but share identical root causes.
  • Automatically catalog dSYM files for each application and framework build we produce.
  • Detect, register and process every crash from every user and device.
  • Analyze app crash statistics and trends per device, iOS version, App version, etc.

That is exactly where 3rd party crash reporting services come into the picture. Crash reporting can do that and much more, leaving us time to focus on building the app itself instead of spending precious time on building infrastructures and toolchains for debugging and analysis. Crash reporting services differ when it comes to quality of the stack trace reports, as well additional contextual information they provide about the crashes.

mobile ,bug reports ,crash report ,ios app development

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