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Visual Studio Tips & Tricks#

Useful Flags#

  • /d1PP: print preprocessor macros
  • /d1reportAllClassLayout & /d1reportSingleClassLayoutXXX: dump class packing and alignment layout

VS Debugger#

Context Operator#


  • There are two ways of specifying context:
  1. cpp>{,,[module] } expression

    • The braces must contain two commas and the module (executable or DLL) name or full path.
    • For example, to set a breakpoint at the SomeFunction function of EXAMPLE.dll:
    • cpp>{,,EXAMPLE.dll}SomeFunction
    • cpp>module!expression 1. cpp>module!expression

    • Ex: cpp>EXAMPLE.dll!SomeFunction

    • module is the name of a module. You can use a full path to disambiguate between modules with the same name.
  • If the module path includes a comma, an embedded space, or a brace, you must use quotation marks around the path so that the context parser can properly recognize the string. Single quotation marks are considered part of a Windows file name, so you must use double quotation marks. For example,
  • cpp>{,,"a long, long, library name.dll"} g_Var
  • expression is any valid C++ expression that resolves to a valid target, such as a function name, variable name, or pointer address in module.

  • When the expression evaluator encounters a symbol in an expression, it searches for the symbol in the following order:

    • Lexical scope outward, starting with the current block, series of statements enclosed in braces, and continuing outward with the enclosing block. The current block is the code containing the current location, instruction pointer address.
    • Function scope. The current function.
    • Class scope, if the current location is inside a C++ member function. Class scope includes all base classes. The expression evaluator uses the normal dominance rules.
    • Global symbols in the current module.
    • Public symbols in the current program.


Commands & PseudoVars#

  • alias: List useful commands
  • Command window: ? … to execute immediate window things
  • Immediate window: > … to execute commands
  • Ex: “>shell cmd”
Pseudovariable Function
$err Displays the last error value set with the function SetLastError. The value that is displayed represents what would be returned by the GetLastError function. Use $err,hr to see the decoded form of this value. For example, if the last error was 3, the $err,hr would display ERROR_PATH_NOT_FOUND : The system cannot find the path specified.
$handles Displays the number of handles allocated in your application.
$vframe Displays the address of the current stack frame.
$tid Displays the thread ID for the current thread.
$env Displays the environment block in the string viewer.
$cmdline Displays the command line string that launched the program.
$pid Displays the process id.
$registername/@registername Displays the contents of the register registername. Normally, you can display register contents just by entering the register name. The only time you need to use this syntax is when the register name overloads a variable name. If the register name is the same as a variable name in the current scope, the debugger interprets the name as a variable name. That’s when $registername or @registername comes in handy.
$clk Displays the time in clock cycles.
$user Displays a structure with account information for the account running the application. For security reasons, the password information is not displayed.
$exceptionstack Displays the stack trace of the current Windows Runtime exception. $ exceptionstack works only in UWP apps. $ exceptionstack is not supported for C++ and SEH exceptions
$returnvalue Displays the return value of a .NET Framework method.

Format Specifiers#

Specifier Format Original Watch Value Value Displayed
d decimal integer 0x00000066 102
o unsigned octal integer 0x00000066 000000000146
x h hexadecimal integer 102 0xcccccccc
X H hexadecimal integer 102 0xCCCCCCCC
xb hb hexadecimal integer (without leading 0x) 102 cccccccc
Xb Hb hexadecimal integer (without leading 0x) 102 CCCCCCCC
b unsigned binary integer 25 0b00000000000000000000000000011001
bb unsigned binary integer(without leading 0b) 25 00000000000000000000000000011001
e scientific notation 25000000 2.500000e+07
g shorter of scientific or floating point 25000000 2.5e+07
c single character 0x0065, c 101 ‘e’
s const char* string (with quotation marks) \<location> “hello world” “hello world”
sb const char* string (no quotation marks) \<location> “hello world” hello world
s8 UTF-8 string \<location> “This is a UTF-8 coffee cup ☕” “This is a UTF-8 coffee cup ☕”
s8b UTF-8 string (no quotation marks) \<location> “hello world” hello world
su Unicode (UTF-16 encoding) string (with quotation marks) \<location> L”hello world” L”hello world” u”hello world”
sub Unicode (UTF-16 encoding) string (no quotation marks) \<location> L”hello world” hello world
bstr BSTR binary string (with quotation marks) \<location> L”hello world” L”hello world”
env Environment block (double-null terminated string) \<location> L”=::=::\“ L”=::=::\\0=C:=C:\windows\system32\0ALLUSERSPROFILE=…
s32 UTF-32 string (with quotation marks) \<location> U”hello world” U”hello world”
s32b UTF-32 string (no quotation marks) \<location> U”hello world” hello world
en enum Saturday(6) ` Saturday
hv Pointer type - indicates that the pointer value being inspected is the result of the heap allocation of an array, for example, new int[3]. \<location>{\<first member>} \<location>{\<first member>, \<second member>, …}
na Suppresses the memory address of a pointer to an object. \<location>, {member=value…}
nd Displays only the base class information, ignoring derived classes (Shape*) square includes base class and derived class information Displays only base class information
hr HRESULT or Win32 error code. This specifier is no longer needed for HRESULTs as the debugger decodes them automatically. S_OK S_OK
wc Window class flag 0x0010 WC_DEFAULTCHAR
wm Windows message numbers 16 WM_CLOSE
nr Suppress “Raw View” item
nvo Show “Raw View” item for numeric values only
! raw format, ignoring any data type views customizations \<customized representation> 4


Format Pointers as Arrays#

Specifier Format Original Watch Value Value Displayed
n Decimal or hexadecimal integer pBuffer,[32] pBuffer,[0x20] Displays pBuffer as a 32 element array.
[exp] A valid C++ expression that evaluates to an integer. pBuffer,[bufferSize] Displays pBuffer as an array of bufferSize elements.
expand(n) A valid C++ expression that evaluates to an integer pBuffer, expand(2) Displays the third element of pBuffer

Magic Numbers#

CCCCCCCC Used by Microsoft’s C++ debugging runtime library and many DOS environments to mark uninitialized stack memory. CC resembles the opcode of the INT 3 debug breakpoint interrupt on x86 processors.
CDCDCDCD Used by Microsoft’s C/C++ debug malloc() function to mark uninitialized heap memory, usually returned from HeapAlloc()[15]
FDFDFDFD Used by Microsoft’s C/C++ debug malloc() function to mark “no man’s land” guard bytes before and after allocated heap memory[15]
FEEEFEEE “Fee fee”, Used by Microsoft’s debug HeapFree() to mark freed heap memory. Some nearby internal bookkeeping values may have the high word set to FEEE as well.[15]


CRT runtime Debugging Techniques#

Global in Watch Window#

The way to scope the global is as follows using the Context Operator: cpp>{,,foobar.dll}g_pMyStruct where foobar.dll defines g_pMyStruct as a global pointer. The same syntax can be used to scope breakpoints as well.

Advanced Debugging#


Reference From

  • Can execute code in Action:print message section of breakpoint settings by wrapping the value in textfield with {}. Ex:

  • { variable_name=0} will set variable_name=0

  • You can also concatenate several instructions on the same line. They simply have to be separated by curly braces:
{ {done = (i == 100);} { object.x -= 1.0f; } { data\[15] = 3; } }

Reference From


  • WinDBG
  • Perfmon
  • Process Explorer
  • Windows Performance Toolkit

Rules of thumb#

  • If CPU kernel utilization is high, then it’s a driver problem
  • If System interrupts .1%, driver problem
  • In process monitor, look at System|interrupts process and look at threads/modules to see what’s pegging CPU
  • Driverquery |find “driverdllname” to find info about a driver (don’t use
  • strings binary.exe: >bla.txt sysinternals tool to produce all string parameters for a binary



When trying to find all the libraries the project is loading & the order, add this flag to linker additional options: /verbose:lib

Use dumpbin & dependencywalker to find what libraries/dlls are linked against (MSVCRT/MSVCRTD/LIBCMT/x64 vs x86)

dumpbin.exe /Directives (use to see the runtime library that is linked
dumpbin.exe /HEADERS  (use to see if x86 vs x64 in the machine entry)
 DUMPBIN /LINKERMEMBER[:{1|2}] <libraryname.lib>      (output all the exported symbols in a lib)

Property Sheets#

Dump final merged properties from all .props files: batch>msbuild /pp:temp.xml .build/es2.vcxproj You can also set the MSBuild Logging level to Diagnostic propsheet-msbuild-diag.png

Last update: September 24, 2021