Inspect a live running Ruby process

Are you still adding printf/puts calls and restarting your app to figure what went wrong? Sometimes, the problem is hard to reproduce, or you only discover it in production. You've got a process that exhibits the bug, but you didn't run it under ruby-debug, so there's no choice but kill it and reproduce after adding some code to inspect your program, right?

Sure not. Jamis Buck blogged about how to use GDB to inspect a live Ruby process, and showed how to get a stack-trace using Ruby's C API and some GDB scripting:

(gdb) set $ary = (int)backtrace(-1)
(gdb) set $count = *($ary+8)
(gdb) set $index = 0
(gdb) while $index < $count
>  x/1s *((int)rb_ary_entry($ary, $index)+12)
>  set $index = $index + 1
>end

But it gets much easier than that. How about this:

(gdb) eval "caller"

or

(gdb) eval "local_variables"

Once you've opened that door, you get a full-powered Ruby interpreter inside GDB. Ruby's introspection capabilities do the rest. Local variables, instance variables, classes, methods, Ruby threads, object counts... evil eval can bring us pretty far. You can find the scripts to turn GDB into a sort of IRB that can attach to running processes below.

This turned out to be massively useful today while debugging some errors with the Facebook API on our live site -- it was causing zombie passenger workers.

There's something about using GDB to find problems with production instances just makes you feel cool.