Debugging RISCV-64 bootloader in QEMU

Blog post by kallisti5 on Sun, 2021-01-17 09:36

Debugging early bootloader code can be extremely difficult. The lack of printf and other classical black-box debugging tools means you’re limited to one of the following methods of debugging lockups:

  1. Arm chair debugging, Changing code, compiling, booting, repeat.
  2. Using GDB or another debugger tool and stepping through code watching outcome.

Obviously #2 above is more ideal than #1. Welcome to debugging by attaching gdb to qemu!

The steps below really should apply to any architecture. Just replace riscv64 with your architecture of choice.


  • All of the Haiku compiling pre-requisite software installed.
  • ArchLinux and Fedora offer riscv64 toolchains.
    • I recommend installing them. (ex: riscv64-elf-gdb, riscv64-elf-gcc, riscv64-elf-binutils)

Compiling Haiku (with debug symbols)

Overall, this is the easier step for most folks with any Haiku development experience.

  1. Get the haiku and buildtools git repos.
  2. Compile your toolchain.
    1. cd haiku; mkdir generated.riscv64; cd generated.riscv64
    2. ../configure -j2 --cross-tools-source ../../buildtools --build-cross-tools riscv64
  3. Enable debugging symbols in bootloader.
    1. Create an empty UserBuildConfig in haiku/build/jam/
    2. Add SetConfigVar DEBUG : HAIKU_TOP src system boot : 1 : global ;
  4. Compile haiku for riscv64 jam -q @minimum-mmc

Install GEF

GEF is an extension for gdb making it a lot more friendly and will help visualize what’s going on.

Compile u-boot

u-boot is the early loader of choice for RISCV64 and ARM platforms. You can use Haiku’s firmware CI/CD tools to simplify getting and compiling u-boot.

  1. Clone Haiku’s firmware repo
  2. Build riscv64 qemu u-boot
    1. cd firmware; cd u-boot; ./tools/build riscv64 qemu

After you have the firmware, we’re less interested in the newly generated changes to the firmware repository, and more interested in /tmp/riscv64-build/ which contains all of the u-boot artifacts. (u-boot.bin for qemu, u-boot (elf, debugging sybmols) for GDB)

Get ready to debug

Now we have all the componenents needed to begin debugging Haiku’s bootloader.

Boot u-boot + Haiku in qemu-system-riscv64

qemu-system-riscv64 -bios /tmp/riscv64-build/u-boot.bin \
  -M virt -m 4G \
  -drive file=haiku-mmc.image,format=raw,id=hd0 -device virtio-blk-device,drive=hd0 \
  -s -S
  • -bios ...
    • The bios is the u-boot bios you compiled
  • -M virt
    • A standardized “qemu riscv64 machine”
  • -m 4G
    • 4 GiB of memory
  • -drive
    • Haiku’s disk image (contains our EFI bootloader, and Haiku’s filesystem)
  • -s
    • Listen for GDB connections on
  • -S
    • Halt boot until GDB says to begin running

At this point, qemu will “wait” for your command to start running.

Attach GDB

Now, we attach to qemu from GDB, and start debugging!

TIP: The hex addresses below could change over time. If you don’t get debugging symbols (aka source-code view of what’s happening) you’ll need to “figure the new addresses out”. I’ve included some basic information on how I got them.

  1. Start gdb for your architecture
    1. riscv64-elf-gdb /tmp/riscv64-build/u-boot on ArchLinux
  2. Connect to qemu
    1. target extended-remote
  3. Tell gdb where u-boot symbols should be loaded
    1. add-symbol-file /tmp/riscv64-build/u-boot 0xfff66000
    2. This hex value came from booting u-boot, and typing bdinfo for the “reloc addr”
  4. Tell gdb where our EFI bootloader symbols should be loaded
    1. add-symbol-file .../generated.riscv64/objects/haiku/riscv64/debug_1/system/boot/efi/boot_loader_efi 0xfe6b0000
    2. This hex value came from compiling u-boot with full tracing, and looking where u-boot puts our EFI bootloader in memory.
    3. EFI: Entry efi_load_image, ..., EFI: efi_add_memory_map_pg: 0xfe6b0000 0x60 1 yes

These important commands can be placed into a text file, and passed to gdb on every startup via:

riscv64-elf-gdb -x (file) /tmp/riscv64-build/u-boot

Start debugging!

You’ll generally get “one shot” at debugging. If you hit a hard lockup, you’ll likely need to exit gdb, and qemu, and repeat the two sections above.

I’ve heard there are some “extended-remote” commands allowing you to restart from within gdb, however I haven’t figured them out yet :-)


You can set a breakpoint to “stop” execution at a fixed function. Since we have u-boot’s symbols AND Haiku’s bootloader symbols you can pass any function from the two.

  • break _relocate – Stop when GDB sees Haiku’s EFI relocate function getting called.


You can set a watchpoint to “stop” when a value is read, written, or matches an expression.

  • watch foo – Stop when the program writes to a variable called “foo”
  • rwatch foo – Stop when the program reads from a variable called “foo”


Sometimes you’ll want to adjust breakpoints/watchpoints

  • info watchpoints – Show all watchpoints
  • info breakpoints – Show all breakpoints
  • delete – Delete all watchpoints/breakpoints

Begin Debugging

Now that you have defined some “stuff to do”, you can start execution.

  • continue / c
    • Start qemu running until GDB “stops” based on conditions above, or user presses <ctl> + <c> in GDB
  • <ctl> + <c>
    • Pause qemu, return control to GDB
  • step / s
    • Continue until control reaches a different source line, then stop it and return control to GDB

More details on how to use GDB controls can be found in their online docs

Happy Debugging!