Debugging Chromium on macOS

Debug vs. Release Builds

Debug builds are the default configuration for Chromium and can be explicitly specified with is_debug=true in the file of the out directory. Debug builds are larger and non-portable because they default to is_component_build=true, but they contain full debug information.

If you set is_debug=false, a release build will be created with no symbol information, which cannot be used for effective debugging.

A middle-ground is to set symbol_level=1, which will produce a minimal symbol table, capable of creating backtraces, but without frame-level local variables. This is faster to build than a debug build, but it is less useful for debugging.

When doing an is_official_build=true build (which is meant for producing builds with full compiler optimization suitable for shipping to users), enable_dsyms and enable_stripping both get set to true. The binary itself will be stripped of its symbols, but the debug information will be saved off into a dSYM file. Producing a dSYM is rather slow, so it is uncommon for developers to build with this configuration.

Chrome Builds

The official Google Chrome build has published dSYMs that can be downloaded with the script at tools/mac/ or by using the LLDB integration at tools/lldb/

However, the official Chrome build is codesigned with the restrict and runtime options, which generally prohibit debuggers from attaching.

In order to debug production/released Chrome, you need to do one of two things:

  1. Disable System Integrity Protection, by:
    1. Rebooting into macOS recovery mode
    2. Launching Terminal
    3. Running csrutil enable --without debug
    4. Rebooting
  2. Stripping or force-re-codesigning the binary to not use those options: codesign --force --sign - path/to/Google\

If you will frequently debug official builds, (1) is recommended. Note that disabling SIP reduces the overall security of the system, so your system administrator may frown upon it.

The Debugger

The debugger on macOS is lldb and it is included in both a full Xcode install and the Command Line Tools package. There are two ways to use LLDB: either launching Chromium directly in LLDB, or attaching to an existing process:

lldb ./out/debug/
lldb -p <pid>

LLDB has an extensive help system which you can access by typing help at the (lldb) command prompt. The commands are organized into a functional hierarchy, and you can explore the subcommands via (lldb) help breakpoint, etc. Commands can take arguments in a command-line flag style. Many commands also have short mnemonics that match the gdb equivalents. You can also just use enough letters to form a unique prefix of the command hierarchy. E.g., these are equivalent:

(lldb) help breakpoint set
(lldb) h br s

When the program is running, you can use Ctrl-C to interrupt it and pause the debugger.

Passing Arguments

To pass arguments to LLDB when starting Chromium, use a --:

lldb ./out/debug/ -- --renderer-startup-dialog


Simple function-name breakpoints can be specified with a short mnemonic:

(lldb) b BrowserWindow::Close

But there are a range of other options for setting breakpoints using the, such as:

  • -t to limit the breakpoint to a specific thread
  • -s to specify a specific shared library, if the same symbol name is exported by multiple libraries
  • -o for a one-shot breakpoint (delete after first hit)

See (lldb) help br set for full details.

Navigating the Stack

When the debugger is paused, you can get a backtrace by typing bt. To navigate the stack by-1 type either up or down. You can also jump to a specific index in the stack by typing f # (short for frame select #).

To see local variables, type v (short for frame variable).

Examining Execution

To step through the program, use:

  • s or si for step-in
  • n for step-over
  • c to continue (resume or go to next breakpoint)

Printing Values

To print values, use the p <value> command, where <value> can be a variable, a variable expression like object->member_->sub_member_.value, or an address.

If <value> is a pointer to a structure, p <value> will usually just print the address. To show the contents of the structure, dereference the value. E.g.:

(lldb) p item
(HistoryMenuBridge::HistoryItem *) $3 = 0x0000000245ef5b30
(lldb) p *item
(HistoryMenuBridge::HistoryItem) $4 = {
  title = u"Google"
  url = {
    spec_ = ""
    is_valid_ = true

Note above that LLDB has also stored the results of the expressions passed to p into the variables $3 and $4, which can be referenced in other LLDB expressions.

Often (and always when printing addresses) there is not type information to enable printing the full structure of the referenced memory. In these cases, use a C-style cast:

(lldb) p 0x0000000245ef5b30  # Does not have type information
(long) $5 = 9763248944
(lldb) p (HistoryMenuBridge::HistoryItem*)0x0000000245ef5b30
(HistoryMenuBridge::HistoryItem *) $6 = 0x0000000245ef5b30
(lldb) p *$6
(HistoryMenuBridge::HistoryItem) $7 = {
  title = u"Google"
  • For printing Cocoa NSObjects, use the po command to get the -[NSObject description].
  • If uptr is a std::unique_ptr, the address it wraps is accessible as uptr.__ptr_.__value_.
  • To pretty-print std::u16string, follow the instructions here.

Multi-Process Debugging

Chrome is split into multiple processes, which can mean that the logic you want to debug is in a different process than the main browser/GUI process. There are a few ways to debug the multi-process architecture, discussed below.

(a) Attach to a Running Process

You can use Chrome's Task Manager to associate specific sites with their PID. Then simply attach with LLDB:

lldb -p <pid>

Or, if you have already been debugging a Chrome process and want to retain your breakpoints:

(lldb) attach <pid>

(b) Debug Process Startup

If you need to attach early in the child process's lifetime, you can use one of these startup-dialog switches for the relevant process type:

  • --renderer-startup-dialog
  • --utility-startup-dialog
  • --renderer-startup-dialog

After the process launches, it will print a message like this to standard error:

[80156:775:0414/] Renderer (80156) paused waiting for debugger to attach. Send SIGUSR1 to unpause.

Then attach the the process like above in (a), using the PID in parenthesis (e.g. 80156 above).

(c) Run Chrome in a single process

This option is not recommended. Single-process mode is not tested and is frequently broken.

Chrome has an option to run all child processes as threads inside a single process, using the --single-process command line flag. This can make debugging easier.

Debugging Out-of-Process Tests:

Similar to debugging the renderer process, simply attaching LLDB to a out-of-process test like browser_tests will not hit the test code. In order to debug a browser test, you need to run the test binary with  “--single_process” (note the underscore in single_process). Because you can only run one browser test in the same process, you're probably going to need to add --gtest_filter as well. So your command will look like this:

/path/to/src/out/debug/browser_tests --single_process --gtest_filter=GoatTeleporterTest.DontTeleportSheep

Working with Xcode

If you'd prefer to use Xcode GUI to use the debugger, there are two options:

(1) Empty Xcode Project

This approach creates an empty Xcode project that only provides a GUI debugger:

  1. Select File > New > Project... and make a new project. Dump it anywhere, call it anything. It doesn't matter.
  2. Launch Chromium.
  3. In Xcode, select Debug > Attach to Process > Chromium.
  4. You can now pause the process and set breakpoints. The debugger will also activate if a crash occurs.

(2) Use gn

  1. Tell gn to generate an Xcode project for your out directory: gn gen --ide=xcode out/debug
  2. Open out/debug/all.xcodeproj
  3. Have it automatically generate schemes for you
  4. You can now build targets from within Xcode, which will simply call out to ninja via an Xcode script. But the resulting binaries are available as debuggable targets in Xcode.

Note that any changes to the .xcodeproj will be overwritten; all changes to the build system need to be done in GN.

Debugging the Sandbox

See the page on sandbox debugging.

System Permission Prompts; Transparency, Consent, and Control (TCC)

When debugging issues with OS-mediated permissions (e.g. Location, Camera, etc.), you need to launch Chromium with LaunchServices rather than through a shell. If you launch Chromium as a subprocess of your terminal shell, the permission requests get attributed to the terminal app rather than Chromium.

To launch Chromium via launch services, use the open(1) command:

open ./out/debug/

To pass command line arguments:

open ./out/debug/ -- --enable-features=MyCoolFeature

Taking CPU Samples

A quick and easy way to investigate slow or hung processes is to use the sample facility, which will generate a CPU sample trace. This can be done either in the Terminal with the sample(1) command or by using Activity Monitor:

  1. Open Activity Monitor
  2. Find the process you want to sample (for “Helper” processes, you may want to consult the Chrome Task Manager)
  3. Double-click on the row
  4. Click the Sample button in the process's information window

After a few seconds, the sample will be completed. For official Google Chrome builds, the sample should be symbolized using crsym. If you do not have access to crsym, save the entire contents as a file and attach it to a bug report for later analysis.

See also How to Obtain a Heap Dump.

Working with Minidumps

See this page.

Disabling ReportCrash

macOS helpfully tries to write a crash report every time a binary crashes – which happens for example when a test in unit_tests fails. Since Chromium's debug binaries are huge, this takes forever. If this happens, “ReportCrash” will be the top cpu consuming process in Activity Monitor. You should disable ReportCrash while you work on Chromium. Run man ReportCrash to learn how to do this on your version of macOS. On 10.15, the command is

launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchAgents/
sudo launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

Yes, you need to run this for both the normal user and the admin user.

Processing Apple Crash Reports

If you get a Google Chrome crash report caught by ReportCrash/macOS, it will not have symbols (every frame will be ChromeMain). To get a symbolized stack trace, use the internal crsym tool by simply pasting the contents of an entire Apple crash report.

Testing Other Locales

To test Chrome in a different locale, change your system locale via the System Preferences. (Keep the preferences window open so that you can change the locale back without needing to navigate through menus in a language you may not know.)

Using DTrace

DTrace is a powerful, kernel-level profiling and dynamic tracing utility. In order to use DTrace, you need to (at least partially) disable System Integrity Protection with (see above):

csrutil enable --without dtrace

Using DTrace is beyond the scope of this document, but the following resources are useful:

DTrace examples on macOS: /usr/share/examples/DTTk

To get truss on macOS, use dtruss. That requires root, so use sudo dtruss -p and to attach to a running non-root program.

Memory/Heap Inspection

Chrome has built-in memory instrumentation that can be used to identify allocations and potential leaks.

MacOS also provides several low-level command-line tools that can be used to inspect what's going on with memory inside a process.

heap summarizes what's currently in the malloc heap(s) of a process. (It only works with regular malloc, of course, but Mac Chrome still uses that.) It shows a number of useful things:

  • How much of the heap is used or free
  • The distribution of block sizes
  • A listing of every C++, Objective-C and CoreFoundation class found in the heap, with the number of instances, total size and average size.

It identifies C++ objects by their vtables, so it can't identify vtable-less classes, including a lot of the lower-level WebCore ones like StringImpl. To work around, temporarily added the virtual keyword to WTF::RefCounted's destructor method, which forces every ref-counted object to include a vtable pointer identifying its class.

malloc_history identifies the stack backtrace that allocated every malloc block in the heap. It lists every unique backtrace together with its number of blocks and their total size. It requires that the process use malloc stack logging, which is enabled if the environment variable MallocStackLogging is set when it launches. The env command is handy for this:

$ env MallocStackLogging=1

Then in another shell you run

$ malloc_history <pid> -all_by_size

Watch out: the output is big.

leaks finds malloc blocks that have no pointers to them and are probably leaked. It doesn‘t require MallocStackLogging, but it’s more useful if it's on because it can then show the backtrace that allocated each leaked block.

vmmap shows all the virtual-memory regions in the process‘s address space. This is less useful since it doesn’t say anything about individual malloc blocks (except huge ones) but it can be useful for looking at things like static data size, mapped files, and how much memory is paged out. The “-resident” flag shows how much of each allocation is currently paged into RAM. See the man page for details.


  • These are not going to be very useful on stripped binaries, and they're less useful in release builds.
  • All of these except vmmap take several minutes to run, apparently because of the number of symbols in Chrome. They spend most of their time pegging one CPU down inside system code that's reading symbol tables from the binary. Be patient.
  • Instruments is an application bundled with Xcode that provides GUI interfaces for many of these tools, including sample and leaks. Most Chromies prefer the command line tools, but Instruments can be useful. If running Instruments on a local build, expect to wait a few minutes for it to load symbols before it starts recording useful data


The Mac OS X Debugging Magic Technote contains a wealth of (mostly outdated) information about various debugging options built in to macOS.