Native Client


This document describes tools and techniques you can use to debug, monitor, and measure your application's performance.

Diagnostic information

Viewing process statistics with the task manager

You can use Chrome's Task Manager to display information about a Native Client application:

  1. Open the Task Manager by clicking the menu icon menu icon and choosing Tools > Task manager.
  2. When the Task Manager window appears, verify that the columns displaying memory information are visible. If they are not, right click in the header row and select the memory items from the popup menu that appears.

A browser window running a Native Client application will have at least two processes associated with it: a process for the app's top level (the render process managing the page including its HTML and any JavaScript) and one or more processes for each instance of a Native Client module embedded in the page (each process running native code from one nexe file). The top-level process appears with the application's icon and begins with the text "App:". A Native Client process appears with a Chrome extension icon (a jigsaw puzzle piece puzzle icon) and begins with the text "Native Client module" followed by the URL of its manifest file.

From the Task Manager you can view the changing memory allocations of all the processes associated with a Native Client application. Each process has its own memory footprint. You can also see the rendering rate displayed as frames per second (FPS). Note that the computation of render frames can be performed in any process, but the rendering itself is always done in the top level application process, so look for the rendering rate there.

Controlling the level of Native Client error and warning messages

Native Client prints warning and error messages to stdout and stderr. You can increase the amount of Native Client's diagnostic output by setting the following environment variables:

  • NACL_SRPC_DEBUG=[1-255] (use a higher number for more verbose debug output)

Basic debugging

Writing messages to the JavaScript console

You can send messages from your C/C++ code to JavaScript using the PostMessage call in the Pepper messaging system. When the JavaScript code receives a message, its message event handler can call console.log() to write the message to the JavaScript console in Chrome's Developer Tools.

Debugging with printf

Your C/C++ code can perform inline printf debugging to stdout and stderr by calling fprintf() directly, or by using cover functions like these:

#include <stdio.h>
void logmsg(const char* pMsg){
  fprintf(stdout,"logmsg: %s\n",pMsg);
void errormsg(const char* pMsg){
  fprintf(stderr,"logerr: %s\n",pMsg);

Redirecting output to log files

You can redirect stdout and stderr to output files by setting these environment variables:

  • NACL_EXE_STDOUT=c:\nacl_stdout.log
  • NACL_EXE_STDERR=c:\nacl_stderr.log

There is another variable, NACLLOG, that you can use to redirect Native Client's internally-generated messages. This variable is set to stderr by default; you can redirect these messages to an output file by setting the variable as follows:

  • NACLLOG=c:\nacl.log

Note: If you set the NACL_EXE_STDOUT, NACL_EXE_STDERR, or NACLLOG variables to redirect output to a file, you must run Chrome with the --no-sandbox flag. You must also be careful that each variable points to a different file.

Redirecting output to the JavaScript console

You can also cause output from printf statements in your C/C++ code to be relayed to the JavaScript side of your application through the Pepper messaging system, where you can then write the output to the JavaScript console. Follow these steps:

  1. Set the NACL_EXE_STDOUT and NACL_EXE_STDERR environment variables as follows:
    • NACL_EXE_STDOUT=DEBUG_ONLY:dev://postmessage
    • NACL_EXE_STDERR=DEBUG_ONLY:dev://postmessage

    These settings tell Native Client to use PostMessage() to send output that your Native Client module writes to stdout and stderr to the JavaScript side of your application.

  2. Register a JavaScript handler to receive messages from your Native Client module:
    <div id="nacl_container">
      <script type="text/javascript">
        var container = document.getElementById('nacl_container');
        container.addEventListener('message', handleMessage, true);
      <embed id="nacl_module"
             type="application/x-nacl" />
  3. Implement a simple JavaScript handler that logs the messages it receives to the JavaScript console:
    function handleMessage(message_event) {

    This handler works in the simple case where the only messages your Native Client module sends to JavaScript are messages with the output from stdout and stderr. If your Native Client module also sends other messages to JavaScript, your handler will need to be more complex.

    Once you've implemented a message handler and set up the environment variables as described above, you can check the JavaScript console to see output that your Native Client module prints to stdout and stderr. Keep in mind that your module makes a call to PostMessage() every time it flushes stdout or stderr. Your application's performance will degrade considerably if your module prints and flushes frequently, or if it makes frequent Pepper calls to begin with (e.g., to render).

Debugging with Visual Studio

If you develop on a Windows platform you can use the Native Client Visual Studio add-in to write and debug your code. The add-in defines new project platforms that let you run your module in two different modes: As a Pepper plugin and as a Native Client module. When running as a Pepper plugin you can use the built-in Visual Studio debugger. When running as a Native Client module Visual Studio will launch an instance of nacl-gdb for you and link it to the running code.

Debugging with nacl-gdb

The Native Client SDK includes a command-line debugger that you can use to debug Native Client modules. The debugger is based on the GNU debugger gdb, and is located at toolchain/<platform>_<library>/bin/<prefix>-nacl-gdb, where:

  • <platform> is the platform of your development machine (win_x86, mac_x86, or linux_x86)
  • <library> is the C library/toolchain you are using to build your module (newlib or glibc)
  • <prefix> depends on the module you are debugging (i686- for 32-bit modules, or x86_64- for 64-bit modules)

For example, to debug a 64-bit module built with the glibc toolchain on Windows, you would use toolchain/win_x86_glibc/bin/x86_64-nacl-gdb.

Prerequisites for using nacl-gdb:

  • You must use the pepper_23 bundle (or greater) in the SDK.
  • Your version of Chrome must be greater than or equal to the Pepper bundle that you are using. For example, if you are using the pepper_23 bundle, you must use Chrome 23 or greater. Type about:chrome in the Chrome address bar to find out what version of Chrome you have. You may want to install and use Chrome Canary on Windows and Mac OS; it's the newest version of Chrome that's available, and it runs side-by-side with your current version of Chrome.

Before you start using nacl-gdb, make sure you can build your module and run your application normally. This will verify that you have created all the required application parts (.html, .nmf, and .nexe files, shared libraries, etc.), that your server can access those resources, and that you've configured Chrome correctly to run your application. The instructions below assume that you are using a local server to run your application; one benefit of doing it this way is that you can check the web server output to confirm that your application is loading the correct resources. However, some people prefer to run their application as an unpacked extension, as described in Running Native Client Applications.

Follow the instructions below to debug your module with nacl-gdb:

  1. Compile your module with the -g flag so that your .nexe retains symbols and other debugging information (see the recommended compile flags).
  2. Launch a local web server (e.g., the web server included in the SDK).
  3. Launch Chrome with these three required flags: --enable-nacl --enable-nacl-debug --no-sandbox.
    You may also want to use some of the optional flags listed below. A typical command looks like this:
    chrome --enable-nacl --enable-nacl-debug --no-sandbox --disable-hang-monitor localhost:5103

    Required flags:

    Enables Native Client for all applications, including those that are launched outside the Chrome Web Store.
    Turns on the Native Client debug stub, opens TCP port 4014, and pauses Chrome to let the debugger connect.
    Turns off the Chrome sandbox (not the Native Client sandbox). This enables the stdout and stderr streams, and lets the debugger connect.

    Optional flags:

    Prevents Chrome from displaying a warning when a tab is unresponsive.
    Specifies the user data directory from which Chrome should load its state. You can specify a different user data directory so that changes you make to Chrome in your debugging session do not affect your personal Chrome data (history, cookies, bookmarks, themes, and settings).
    Specifies the URL Chrome should open when it launches. The local server that comes with the SDK listens on port 5103 by default, so the URL when you're debugging is typically localhost:5103 (assuming that your application's page is called index.html and that you run the local server in the directory where that page is located).
  4. Navigate to your application's page in Chrome. (You don't need to do this if you specified a URL when you launched Chrome in the previous step.) Chrome will start loading the application, then pause and wait until you start nacl-gdb and run the continue command.
  5. Go to the directory with your source code, and run nacl-gdb from there. For example:
    cd <NACL_SDK_ROOT>/examples/hello_world_gles

    The debugger will start and show you a gdb prompt:

  6. Run the following three commands from the gdb command line:
    (gdb) nacl-manifest <path-to-your-.nmf-file>
    (gdb) nacl-irt <path-to-Chrome-NaCl-integrated-runtime>
    (gdb) target remote localhost:4014

    These commands are described below:

    nacl-manifest <path>
    Tells the debugger about your Native Client application by pointing it to the application's manifest (.nmf) file. The manifest file lists your application's executable (.nexe) files, as well as any libraries that are linked with the application dynamically.
    nacl-irt <path>
    Tells the debugger where to find the Native Client Integrated Runtime (IRT). The IRT is located in the same directory as the Chrome executable, or in a subdirectory named after the Chrome version. For example, if you're running Chrome canary on Windows, the path to the IRT typically looks something like C:/Users/<username>/AppData/Local/Google/Chrome SxS/Application/23.0.1247.1/nacl_irt_x86_64.nexe.
    target remote localhost:4014
    Tells the debugger how to connect to the debug stub in the Native Client application loader. This connection occurs through TCP port 4014 (note that this port is distinct from the port which the local web server uses to listen for incoming requests, typically port 5103).

    A couple of notes on how to specify path names in the nacl-gdb commands above:

    • You can use a forward slash to separate directories on Linux, Mac, and Windows. If you use a backslash to separate directories on Windows, you must escape the backslash by using a double backslash "\\" between directories.
    • If any directories in the path have spaces in their name, you must put quotation marks around the path.

    As an example, here is a what these nacl-gdb commands might look like on Windows:

    nacl-manifest "C:/<NACL_SDK_ROOT>/examples/hello_world_gles/newlib/Debug/hello_world_gles.nmf"
    nacl-irt "C:/Users/<username>/AppData/Local/Google/Chrome SxS/Application/23.0.1247.1/nacl_irt_x86_64.nexe"
    target remote localhost:4014

    To save yourself some typing, you can put put these nacl-gdb commands in a script file, and execute the file when you run nacl-gdb, like so:

    <NACL_SDK_ROOT>/toolchain/win_x86_newlib/bin/x86_64-nacl-gdb -x <nacl-script-file>

    If nacl-gdb connects successfully to Chrome, it displays a message such as the one below, followed by a gdb prompt:

      0x000000000fc00200 in _start ()

    If nacl-gdb can't connect to Chrome, it displays a message such as "localhost:4014: A connection attempt failed" or "localhost:4014: Connection timed out." If you see a message like that, make sure that you have launched a web server, launched Chrome, and navigated to your application's page before starting nacl-gdb.

Once nacl-gdb connects to Chrome, you can run standard gdb commands to execute your module and inspect its state. Some commonly used commands are listed below.

break <location>
set a breakpoint at <location>, e.g.:
  • break
  • break hello_world::HelloWorldInstance::HandleMessage
  • break Render
resume normal execution of the program
execute the next source line, stepping over functions
execute the next source line, stepping into functions
print <expression>
print the value of <expression> (e.g., variables)
print a stack backtrace
info breakpoints
print a table of all breakpoints
delete <breakpoint>
delete the specified breakpoint (you can use the breakpoint number displayed by the info command)
help <command>
print documentation for the specified gdb <command>
quit gdb

See the gdb documentation for a comprehensive list of gdb commands. Note that you can abbreviate most commands to just their first letter (b for break, c for continue, and so on).

To interrupt execution of your module, press <Ctrl-c>. When you're done debugging, close the Chrome window and type q to quit gdb.

Debugging with other tools

If you cannot use the Visual Studio add-in, or you want to use a debugger other than nacl-gdb, you must manually build your module as a Pepper plugin (sometimes referred to as a "trusted" or "in-process" plugin). Pepper plugins (.DLL files on Windows; .so files on Linux; .bundle files on Mac) are loaded directly in either the Chrome renderer process or a separate plugin process, rather than in Native Client. Building a module as a trusted Pepper plugin allows you to use standard debuggers and development tools on your system, but when you're finished developing the plugin, you need to port it to Native Client (i.e., build the module with one of the toolchains in the NaCl SDK so that the module runs in Native Client). For details on this advanced development technique, see Debugging a Trusted Plugin. Note that starting with the pepper_22 bundle, the NaCl SDK for Windows includes pre-built libraries and library source code, making it much easier to build a module into a .DLL.

Open source profiling tools

For the brave-hearted there are open source tools at that describe how to do profiling on 64-bit Windows and Linux machines.

Authentication required

You need to be signed in with Google+ to do that.

Signing you in...

Google Developers needs your permission to do that.