Category Archives: Debugging

System Level Breakpoints in Swift

Any great software developer must inevitably become a great software debugger. Debugging consists largely of setting breakpoints, then landing on them to examine the state of an app at arbitrary points during its execution. There are roughly two kinds of breakpoints: those you set on your own code, and those you set on other people’s code.

Setting a breakpoint on your own code is simple. Just find the line of source code in your Xcode project, and tap the area in the gutter next to the pertinent line:


But what if you need to set a breakpoint on a system API, or a method implemented in a drop-in library for which you don’t have source code? For example, imagine you are hunting down a layout bug and decide it might be helpful to observe any calls to Apple’s own internal layoutSubviews method on UIView. Historically, to an Objective-C programmer, this is not a huge challenge. We know the form for expressing such a method symbolically and to break on it, we just drop into Xcode’s lldb console (View -> Debug Area -> Activate Console), and set a breakpoint manually by specifying its name. The “b” shorthand command in lldb does a bit of magic regex matching to expand what we type to its full, matching name:

(lldb) b -[UIView layoutSubviews]
Breakpoint 3: where = UIKit`-[UIView(Hierarchy) layoutSubviews], address = 0x000000010c02f642

If you’re intimidated by the lldb console, or you want the breakpoint to stick around longer than the current debug session, you can use Xcode’s own built-in symbolic breakpoint interface (Debug -> Breakpoints -> Create Symbolic Breakpoint) to achieve the same thing:

Image of Xcode's symbolic breakpoint editor

In fact, if you add this breakpoint to your iOS project and run your app, I am pretty sure you will run into a breakpoint on Apple’s layoutSubviews method. Pop back into the lldb console and examine the object that is being sent the message:

(lldb) po $arg1
<UIClassicWindow: 0x7f8e7dd06660; frame = (0 0; 414 736); userInteractionEnabled = NO; gestureRecognizers = <NSArray: 0x60000004b7c0>; layer = <UIWindowLayer: 0x600000024260>>

Now, continue and break on the symbol again. And again. Examine the target each time by typing “po $arg1” into the lldb console. You can imagine how handy it might be to perform this kind of analysis while tracking down a tricky bug.

But what about the poor Swift programmers who have come to our platforms, bright-eyed and full of enthusiasm for Swift syntax? They who have read Apple’s documentation, and for whom “-[UIView layoutSubviews]” is impossible to parse, whereas “UIView.layoutSubviews” not only looks downright obvious, but is correct for Swift?

Unfortunately, setting a breakpoint on “UIView.layoutSubviews” simply doesn’t work:

(lldb) b UIView.layoutSubviews
Breakpoint 3: no locations (pending).
WARNING:  Unable to resolve breakpoint to any actual locations.

This fails because there is no Swift type named UIView implementing a method called layoutSubviews. It’s implemented entirely in Objective-C. In fact, a huge number of Objective-C methods that are exposed to Swift get compiled down to direct Objective-C message sends. If you type something like “UIView().layoutIfNeeded()” into a Swift file, and compile it, no Swift method call to layoutIfNeeded ever occurs.

This isn’t the case for all Cocoa types that are mapped into Swift. For example, imagine you wanted to break on all calls to “Data.write(to:options:)”. You might try to set a breakpoint on “Data.write” in the hopes that it works:

(lldb) b Data.write
Breakpoint 11: where = libswiftFoundation.dylib`Foundation.Data.write (to : Foundation.URL, options : __ObjC.NSData.WritingOptions) throws -> (), address = 0x00000001044edf10

And it does! How about that? Only it doesn’t, really. This will break on all calls that pass through libswiftFoundation on their way to -[NSData writeToURL:options:error:], but it won’t catch anything that calls the Objective-C implementation directly. To catch all calls to the underlying method, you need to set the breakpoint on the lower level, Objective-C method.

So, as a rule, Swift programmers who want to be advanced debuggers on iOS or Mac platforms, also need to develop an ability for mapping Swift method names back to their Objective-C equivalents. For a method like UIView.layoutSubviews, it’s a pretty direct mapping back to “-[UIView layoutSubviews]”, but for many methods it’s nowhere near as simple.

To map a Swift-mapped method name back to Objective-C, you have to appreciate that many Foundation classes are stripped of their “NS” prefix, and the effects of rewriting method signatures to accommodate Swift’s API guidelines. For example, a naive Swift programmer may not easily guess that in order to set a breakpoint on the low-level implementation for “Data.write(to:options)”, you need to add back the “NS” prefix, explicitly describe the URL parameter, and add a mysterious error parameter, which is apparently how cranky greybeards used to propagate failures in the bad old days:

(lldb) b -[NSData writeToURL:options:error:]
Breakpoint 13: where = Foundation`-[NSData(NSData) writeToURL:options:error:], address = 0x00000001018328c3


For those of you mourn the thought of having to develop this extensive knowledge of Objective-C message signatures and API conventions, I offer a little hack that will likely get you through your next challenge. If the API has been rewritten using one of these rules, it’s almost certain that the Swift name of the function is a subset of the ObjC method name. You can probably leverage the regex matching ability of lldb to zero in on the method you want to set a breakpoint on:

(lldb) break set -r Data.*write
Breakpoint 14: 107 locations.

Now type “break list” and see the massive number of likely matches lldb has presented at your feet. Among them are a number of Swift cover methods that are part of libswiftFoundation, but you’ll also find the target method in question. In fact, you’ll also see a few other low-level Objective-C methods that you may want to break on as well.

To make the list more manageable, given your knowledge that the target methods are in a given Objective-C framework, add the “-s” flag to limit matches to a specific shared library by name:

(lldb) break set -s Foundation -r Data.*write
Breakpoint 17: 8 locations.

Among these breakpoints there are a few false hits on the NSPageData class, but the list is altogether more manageable. The single breakpoint “17” has all of its matches identified by sub-numbers. Prune the list of any breakpoints that get in your way, and you’re good to go:

(lldb) break disable 17.6 17.7 17.8
3 breakpoints disabled.
(lldb) c

Apple’s mapping of Objective-C API to Swift creates an altogether more enjoyable programming experience for Swift developers, but it can lead to great confusion if you don’t understand some of the implementation details, or how to work around lack of understanding. I hope this article gives you the tools you need to debug your Swift apps, and the Objective-C code that you are unavoidably leveraging, more effectively.

Update: I filed two related bugs: Radar #31115822 requesting automatic mapping from Swift method format back to underlying Objective-C methods, and Radar #31115942 requesting that lldb be more intuitive about evaluating terse Swift method signatures.

Pasteboard Priority

A weird bug cropped up in MarsEdit, in which a URL copied and pasted from Safari, for example, was pasting into the plain text editor as the text from the link instead of the link itself. Daring Fireball’s star glyph permalinks to entries presented a most dramatic example. Right-clicking a star glyph and copying the link to paste into MarsEdit was supposed to yield:

Image of pasted link shown as expected with full text content of URL

But instead gave:

Image of pasted URL showing the text of the link instead of the URL content

How strange. What could have possibly changed something so fundamental as the manner in which a pasted link is processed by my text editor? I leaned on Mercurial’s “bisect” command which led me to the specific source code commit where the behavior had changed, in my text view’s helper method for building a list of acceptable paste types. My color emphasis is on the changed part:

-	return [[NSArray arrayWithObject:NSFilenamesPboardType] arrayByAddingObjectsFromArray:[NSImage imageFileTypes]];
+	return [[NSArray arrayWithObject:NSFilenamesPboardType] arrayByAddingObjectsFromArray:[NSImage imageTypes]];

That’s it? One little tweak to the construction of a list of image types affects the behavior of pasting a URL copied from Safari? Programming is hard.

I had made the change above because imageFileTypes is deprecated. The deprecation warning specifically says: “use imageTypes instead.” Okay. Functionally, everything related to the image types should work the same. Instead of a list of file extensions from -imageFileTypes, I’m now getting a list of UTIs. I scrutinized the lists a bit to satisfy myself that all of the major image types were present in the new list, and I trust that Apple had covered the bases when they made this migration themselves.

It turns out the change above, the one word diff that causes everything to work either as expected or otherwise, is fine. It’s outside of this method where the real problem lies: in my override of NSTextView’s -readablePasteboardTypes method. In it, I endeavor to combine my own list of pasteable types with NSTextView’s own list. To do this, I create a mutable set to combine -[super readablePasteboardTypes] and my own list, and then return an array of the result. The idea is to avoid listing any items redundantly from the built in list and my own:

- (NSArray*) readablePasteboardTypes
	NSMutableSet* allReadableTypes = [NSMutableSet setWithArray:[super readablePasteboardTypes]];
	[allReadableTypes addObjectsFromArray:[self acceptableDragTypes]];
	return [allReadableTypes allObjects];

Ah, my spidey sense is finally starting to tingle. While it’s not mentioned in the NSTextView reference documentation, the NSTextView.h header file includes comments about this method that are pertinent here:

Returns an array of types that could be read currently in order of preference.  Subclassers should take care to consider the "preferred" part of the semantics of this method.

Ah, so order matters. Of course. And what does the -[NSSet allObjects] say about order?

The order of the objects in the array is undefined.

So all this time, I’ve been playing fast and loose with NSSet, lucking out with the coincidence that types I prefer would show up higher in the list than types I don’t prefer. It turns out that “public.url” is among the types included in NSTextView’s own, built-in readablePasteboardTypes method implementation, but previous to this change, it always showed up lower in resulting list than NSStringPboardType. Thus, when faced with an opportunity to paste a URL from Safari, rich with information including the original text from the link, MarsEdit always favored the plain string representation.

Changing from -[NSImage imageFileTypes] to -[NSImage imageTypes] effectively changed the roll of the dice, causing the resulting array from NSSet, documented as being “undefined” in its order, to place the URL type above the string type in the list. Thus it tries to paste as a rich URL with text linking to a URL, but since my plain text HTML editor doesn’t support rich text, all you see is the star.

The fix will be to arrange that my resulting array from readablePasteboardTypes does impose some predictable prioritization. Probably by taking the code that I have now and, after generating the list of all unique types, carefully moving a few types to the top of the list in the order that I’d prefer.


I’m working on some heavy NSTextView, NSScrollView, NSClipView type stuff in MarsEdit. This stuff is fraught with peril because of the intricate contract between the three classes to get everything in a text view, including its margins, scrolling offset, scroll bars, etc., all working and looking just right.

When faced with a problem I can’t solve by reading the documentation or Googling, I often find myself digging in at times, scratching my head, to Apple’s internal AppKit methods, to try to determine what I’m doing wrong. Or, just to learn with some certainty whether a specific method really does what I think the documentation says it does. Yeah, I’m weird like this.

I was cruising through -[NSClipView scrollToPoint:] today and I came across an enticing little test (actually in the internal _immediateScrollToPoint: support method):

0x7fff82d1e246 <+246>:  callq  0x7fff82d20562            ; _NSDebugScrolling

0x7fff82d1e24b <+251>:  testb  %al, %al

0x7fff82d1e24d <+253>:  je     0x7fff82d20130            ; <+8160>

0x7fff82d1e253 <+259>:  movq   -0x468(%rbp), %rdi

0x7fff82d1e25a <+266>:  callq  0x7fff8361635e            ; symbol stub for: NSStringFromSelector

0x7fff82d1e25f <+271>:  movq   %rax, %rcx

0x7fff82d1e262 <+274>:  xorl   %ebx, %ebx

0x7fff82d1e264 <+276>:  leaq   -0x118d54fb(%rip), %rdi   ; @“Exiting %@ scrollHoriz == scrollVert == 0”

0x7fff82d1e26b <+283>:  xorl   %eax, %eax

0x7fff82d1e26d <+285>:  movq   %rcx, %rsi

0x7fff82d1e270 <+288>:  callq  0x7fff83616274            ; symbol stub for: NSLog


Hey, _NSDebugScrolling? That sounds like something I could use right about now. It looks like AppKit is prepared to spit out some number of logging messages to benefit debugging this stuff, under some circumstances. So how do I get in on the party? Let’s step into _NSDebugScrolling:


0x7fff82d20562 <+0>:   pushq  %rbp

0x7fff82d20563 <+1>:   movq   %rsp, %rbp

0x7fff82d20566 <+4>:   pushq  %r14

0x7fff82d20568 <+6>:   pushq  %rbx

0x7fff82d20569 <+7>:   movq   -0x11677e80(%rip), %rax   ; _NSDebugScrolling.cachedValue

0x7fff82d20570 <+14>:  cmpq   $-0x2, %rax

0x7fff82d20574 <+18>:  jne    0x7fff82d20615            ; <+179>

0x7fff82d2057a <+24>:  movq   -0x116a7ad9(%rip), %rdi   ; (void *)0x00007fff751a9b78: NSUserDefaults

0x7fff82d20581 <+31>:  movq   -0x116d5df8(%rip), %rsi   ; “standardUserDefaults”

0x7fff82d20588 <+38>:  movq   -0x1192263f(%rip), %rbx   ; (void *)0x00007fff882ed4c0: objc_msgSend

0x7fff82d2058f <+45>:  callq  *%rbx

0x7fff82d20591 <+47>:  movq   -0x116d5fa0(%rip), %rsi   ; “objectForKey:”

0x7fff82d20598 <+54>:  leaq   -0x118ab0cf(%rip), %rdx   ; @“NSDebugScrolling”

0x7fff82d2059f <+61>:  movq   %rax, %rdi

0x7fff82d205a2 <+64>:  callq  *%rbx


Aha! So all i have to do is set NSDebugScrolling to YES in my app’s preferences, and re-launch to get the benefit of this surely amazing mechanism. Open the Scheme Editor for the active scheme, and add the user defaults key to the arguments passed on launch:

Screenshot 3 29 16 3 50 PM

You can see a few other options in there that I sometimes run with. But unlike those, NSDebugScrolling appears to be undocumented. Googling for it yields only one result, where it’s mentioned offhand in a Macworld user forum as something “you could try.”

I re-launched my app, excited to see the plethora of debugging information that would stream across my console, undoubtedly providing the clues to solve whatever vexing little problem led me to stepping through AppKit assembly code in the first place. The results after running and scrolling the content in my app?

Exiting _immediateScrollToPoint: without attempting scroll copy ([self _isPixelAlignedInWindow]=1)

I was a little underwhelmed. To be fair, that might be interesting, if I had any idea what it meant. Given that I’m on a Retina-based Mac, it might indicate that a scrollToPoint: was attempted that would have amounted to a no-op because it was only scrolling, say, one pixel, on a display where scrolling must move by two pixels or more in order to be visible. I’m hoping it’s nothing to worry about.

But what else can I epect to be notified about by this flag? Judging from the assembly language at the top of this post, the way Apple imposes these messages in their code seems to be based on a compile-time macro that expands to always call that internal _NSDebugScrolling method, and then NSLog if it returns true. Based on the assumption that they use the same or similar macro everywhere these debugging logs are injected, I can resort to binary analysis from the Terminal:

cd /System/Library/Frameworks/AppKit.framework
otool -tvV AppKit | grep -C 20 _NSDebugScrolling

This dumps the disssembly of the AppKit framework binary, greps for _NSDebugScrolling, and asks that 20 lines of context before and after every match be provided. This gives me a pretty concise little summary of all the calls to _NSDebugScrolling in AppKit. It’s pretty darned concise. In all there are only 7 calls to _NSDebugScrolling, and given the context, you can see the types of NSLog strings would be printed in each case. None of it seems particularly suitable to the type of debugging I’m doing at the moment. It’s more like plumbing feedback from within the framework that would probably mainly be interesting from an internal implementor’s point of view. Which probably explain why this debugging key is not publicized, and is only available to folks who go sticking their nose in assembly code where it doesn’t belong.

Unsteady Platform

I ran into a vexing build failure with one of my iOS integration builds. The vast majority of everything in my complex project, consisting of dozens of dependencies, has built fine, but at link time things blow up because one of the dependencies is not of the expected architecture.

Undefined symbols for architecture armv7:
"_RSIsEmpty", referenced from:
-[RSFormattingMacro emptyMarkupPlaceholders] in RSFormattingMacro.o
ld: symbol(s) not found for architecture armv7

Ugh, huh, wha? How is this happening? It turns out the library in which “RSIsEmpty” resides, RSFoundation, is being linked to, but it’s opting for an OS X version of the library instead of an iOS one. Because this is an integration build that performs a number of related builds for both Mac and iOS, it makes some sense that I would have both an iOS and OS X build result in the build folder. But even if I have built copies for either architecture, why is it opting for the OS X version on an iOS build?

I decided to blow away all the built versions of RSFoundation and try the build again. This time, I got an even more perplexing failure:

clang: error: no such file or directory: '[...]/build-Integration/Release/RSFoundation.framework/RSFoundation'

I’m scratching my head. Did it somehow get removed as a dependency? But then I notice something subtle. It’s looking for the framework in the “Release” build folder, but for my iOS build it should be looking in “Release-iphoneos”. What the heck is going on?

In spite of the sole build target in this scheme being an iOS app, Xcode (actually xcodebuild) is opting to build this scheme with a default destination of OS X. I don’t know of a direct way to get xcodebuild to list the available destinations for a scheme, but I know that if you pass a bogus destination platform, it will do the honor of listing its impressions:

xcodebuild -destination "platform=xx" -scheme MyIPhoneApp

The requested device could not be found because no platform could be found for the requested platform name.

Available destinations for the "MyIPhoneApp" scheme:
		{ platform:OS X, arch:x86_64 }
		{ platform:iOS Simulator, id:6DF04FFC-1C8A-4745-8F8C-7369E9CBF8DB, OS:9.3, name:iPad 2 }
		[... every other iOS simulator on my Mac ...]

Aha! So it thinks my iPhone app is suitable for OS X. But why? After a great deal of experimentation and poking around, I discovered the root of the problem is summarized by this true statement:

If any target in a Scheme’s dependency tree targets OS X, then the scheme itself will also be considered to target OS X.

In retrospect, this explains the problem perfectly. I had recently added a subproject to my dependency tree that builds both an iOS and a Mac version of a library. That’s fine: it works pretty well these days to allow targets for differing platforms to coexist in the same project file. But each of these targets also shares a dependency on a single, legitimate OS X target: a helper tool used in the process of generating that project’s own source files.

This must be at least a relatively common scenario for iOS builds of certain complexity. Because the platform on which all iOS builds run is OS X, any helper tools that are compiled and used in the process of generating sources or otherwise processing build materials, must be built for OS X.

The workaround to my specific problem is to specify a platform explicitly on the command line. I can’t assume that because the scheme targets iOS, it will necessarily default to an iOS platform target. I consider this a bug, not only because it led to this difficult to diagnose build error, but because it has other ramifications such as the presentation in Xcode’s scheme popup for these projects a useless, distracting “My Mac” target which should never be selected for the schemes in question.

I filed this as Radar #24247701: A scheme whose target has dependencies on another platform shouldn’t “support” that platform.

The Curious Case Of Xcode’s Commit Message

Xcode has a behavior with its source code integration, wherein the pending commit message is persisted so that if you cancel a commit, and then go back to commit again later, the text you already typed is preserved.

This is a nice feature.

However, my friend Seth Dillingham lamented on Twitter that for some reason the persisted commit text on his Mac was crashing Xcode. Yikes. No problem, he just needed to find the persisted text and delete it. It should be in some Xcode preferences file, or maybe in ~/Library/Developer, or somewhere else sane like that, right? Right?

Wrong. A little snooping on my part reveals that Xcode saves this bit of text in just about the least likely place I would expect…

Most people consider the OS X pasteboard pretty monolithic, especially since it’s so easy by default to obliterate the contents of the default pasteboard by e.g. copying new text to overwrite the old. But there are in fact multiple default pasteboards in OS X. For example there is a general pasteboard for typical copy and paste, but a different pasteboard for dragging content from one place to another. This is a good thing, because we wouldn’t want a drag to obliterate the copied text we were about to paste.

Have you ever noticed that on OS X, when you search for some text in one app, and then switch to another app to use its “Find” functionality, the same search text is already present in the search field? Thank, or blame, the system standard “Find” pasteboard, which makes this possible.

There are also an endless number of possible custom pasteboards, named by the creator and used for whatever purpose they see fit. Usually this is to accommodate the movement of data within an app in such a way that it doesn’t muck up the standard system pasteboards. But Xcode uses it for something more akin to the “Find” pasteboard described above. They declare and use a whole custom pasteboard to store … drum roll please … the commit message.

If you use Xcode for Source Control, select “Commit…”, type something into the commit message text area, then cancel the commit. Now, from the Terminal:

echo "from AppKit import NSPasteboard\nprint NSPasteboard.pasteboardWithName_(\"IDESourceControlCommitMessagePasteboard\").stringForType_(\"IDESourceControlCommitMessagePboardType\")" | /usr/bin/python

There’s your commit message!

Now, let’s suppose you have run into the same bad luck as Seth, and need to clear out that commit message text to prevent Xcode crashing? NSPasteboard’s “releaseGlobally” method should do the trick:

echo "from AppKit import NSPasteboard\nNSPasteboard.pasteboardWithName_(\"IDESourceControlCommitMessagePasteboard\").releaseGlobally()" | /usr/bin/python

Now you know possibly a bit more about NSPasteboard on the Mac and probably a lot more about how Xcode persists its commit message text. I know I sure do!