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Profiling raw data is just memory addresses that represent a function call stack and how often we observed the same stack. For example a function call stack might look like this:


In order for humans to understand what these memory addresses represent, we need a mapping from memory address to function names. That mapping is what is commonly referred to as "debuginfos".

Debuginfos are in form of sections within an ELF binary (ELF is the format of binaries used on Linux). ELF binaries have sections, and some of these sections contain the debuginfos. Most commonly debuginfos are in the DWARF format.

Let's look at example DWARF of a tiny C program.

#include <stdio.h>
int main() {
printf("Hello, World!");
return 0;

Compile it, enabling DWARF to be emitted (-g):

zig cc -o mainc -g -target x86_64-linux main.c

Note: Any C compiler could have been used here but Zig's cross-compile support is very convenient, as it works well on any platform.

And let's use the dwarfdump tool to print everything.

$ dwarfdump --show-form mainc
mainc: file format elf64-x86-64

.debug_info contents:
0x00000000: Compile Unit: length = 0x00000047, format = DWARF32, version = 0x0004, abbr_offset = 0x0000, addr_size = 0x08 (next unit at 0x0000004b)

0x0000000b: DW_TAG_compile_unit
DW_AT_producer [DW_FORM_strp] ("Homebrew clang version 13.0.1")
DW_AT_language [DW_FORM_data2] (DW_LANG_C99)
DW_AT_name [DW_FORM_strp] ("main.c")
DW_AT_stmt_list [DW_FORM_sec_offset] (0x00000000)
DW_AT_comp_dir [DW_FORM_strp] ("/Users/brancz/src/")
DW_AT_low_pc [DW_FORM_addr] (0x0000000000201e20)
DW_AT_high_pc [DW_FORM_data4] (0x00000016)

0x0000002a: DW_TAG_subprogram
DW_AT_low_pc [DW_FORM_addr] (0x0000000000201e20)
DW_AT_high_pc [DW_FORM_data4] (0x00000016)
DW_AT_frame_base [DW_FORM_exprloc] (DW_OP_reg6 RBP)
DW_AT_GNU_all_call_sites [DW_FORM_flag_present] (true)
DW_AT_name [DW_FORM_strp] ("main")
DW_AT_decl_file [DW_FORM_data1] ("/Users/brancz/src/")
DW_AT_decl_line [DW_FORM_data1] (2)
DW_AT_type [DW_FORM_ref4] (0x00000043 "int")
DW_AT_external [DW_FORM_flag_present] (true)

0x00000043: DW_TAG_base_type
DW_AT_name [DW_FORM_strp] ("int")
DW_AT_encoding [DW_FORM_data1] (DW_ATE_signed)
DW_AT_byte_size [DW_FORM_data1] (0x04)

0x0000004a: NULL

Looking at this output, we see the compilation unit, which is the top level unit, and right underneath it a DW_TAG_subprogram, which is our main function. It has an attribute called DW_AT_low_pc with the form DW_FORM_addr (which means it is a uint64), that describes the start of our function's memory range, as well as the DW_AT_high_pc with the form DW_FORM_data4 (which is a int32), which is the offset from the DW_AT_low_pc representing the end of our function's memory range, so the memory range is [0x201e20, 0x201e36). And lastly, important for symbolization is the DW_AT_name attribute with the form DW_FORM_strp, which is a string.

Essentially what this means for symbolization: Thanks to this entry, we know that if we encountered a memory address between 0x201e20 and 0x201e36, then it would be the main function.