How to Compare Core Dumps for Simple Time Travel Debugging

How to Compare Core Dumps for Simple Time Travel Debugging

How can the difference between two Linux core dumps be identified and why would this even come up? This is going to be lengthy, but will hopefully give you your answer to both of those questions.

How can the difference between two Linux core dumps be identified and why would this even come up? This is going to be lengthy, but will hopefully give you your answer to both of those questions.

The Case for Comparing Core Dumps

Comparing two core dumps is only meaningful if they represent the same process at different points in time. If that's the case, they could be thought of as process snapshots. Consider an application that triggers a segmentation fault after a random uptime. If the root cause is suspected to be memory corruption and post-mortem debugging does not provide any hints, it would be helpful to go back in time to inspect the memory state before the fatal error.

In the best case, all of that should be done with minimal overhead because the issue only occurs in production in our thought experiment. Also, the actual memory locations of interest are unknown, so being able to visualize relevant memory changes before the fatal error would be desirable. A set of core dumps could provide simple low-overhead time travel debugging in respect to process memory.

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