How to compile GDB for iOS!

One obstacle that I faced long time ago and came again into spotlight is how to recompile gdb for iOS. It is not useful to fix the arm disassembler and then not be able to compile. As far as I know there isn’t any documentation available or an easy method to accomplish this – Saurik’s build environment is not public (?) and Apple sources do not compile directly. Darwinbuild project works great for OS X but it’s a question mark for iOS.

Darwinbuild it is! After some failed hacking last Friday (progress was great and it was near completation), I decided to try to fix the loose end today. Success was finally achieved.
This post contains almost all the information that you need to recompile gdb yourself. There is something that you will need to complete by trial & error. Let’s start the fun!

The reference post on darwinbuild usage is this one, written by yours truly. You should follow it and modify accordingly with the information provided here. My OS X version is still Snow Leopard but you should have no problems with Lion.
The image size should be 2GB, and you should use the build # 10K540. When you execute the “darwinxref edit”, use the following information:

environment = {
RC_ARCHS = "armv7 armv6";
RC_OS = macos;
RC_PRIVATE = /private;
RC_RELEASE = SnowLeopard;
RC_TARGET_CONFIG = iphoneos;

Word of caution: be careful with copy & pasting this because of the “” (if you get an error while saving from darwinxref edit).

The next step is to edit the darwinbuild database. It’s located at “.build/xref.db”, inside the Build10K540 folder you should be located at. You need to change the gdb version to the latest one, 1708 instead of 1344. Execute the following sql statement to verify it:

SELECT * FROM properties WHERE project="gdb" AND property="version";

and then update the field:

UPDATE properties SET VALUE="1708" WHERE project="gdb" AND property="version";

Start compilation with “darwinbuild -nochroot gdb”. Version 1708 will be downloaded. When configuration/compilation starts, abort it with ctrl-c.
You will need to create a link (there is probably a more elegant solution to this!). Go to the usr/lib folder inside the iOS SDK. There you need to make a link from “crt1.10.6.o” to “crt1.o”.  Small example from my system:

lrwxr-xr-x  1 root  wheel     6 Apr 14 04:12 /Developer4/Platforms/iPhoneOS.platform/Developer/SDKs/iPhoneOS5.0.sdk/usr/lib/crt1.10.6.o -> crt1.o
-rw-r–r–  1 root  wheel  2720 Aug 30  2011 /Developer4/Platforms/iPhoneOS.platform/Developer/SDKs/iPhoneOS5.0.sdk/usr/lib/crt1.3.1.o
-rw-r–r–  1 root  wheel  4584 Aug 30  2011 /Developer4/Platforms/iPhoneOS.platform/Developer/SDKs/iPhoneOS5.0.sdk/usr/lib/crt1.o

Next step is to modify the file “BuildRoot/SourceCache/gdb/gdb-1708/src/gdb/macosx/macosx.defs”. Here you need to replace the import for exc.defs. Change:



#import "/Developer4/Platforms/iPhoneOS.platform/Developer/SDKs/iPhoneOS5.0.sdk/usr/include/mach/exc.defs"

(modify your path accordingly)

Last step for now is to modify the Makefile. We need to modify it so the ARM cross-compiling tools are used. It’s located at BuildRoot/SourceCache/gdb/gdb-1708/Makefile. To make it easier, you have my Makefile as a reference (all files at the end). I left the places that you need to modify tagged with FIXME. Your task is to change the paths.

Now you are ready to compile and start the trial and error process. This time, compile with “darwinbuild -nochroot -nosource gdb”. This will not unpack again the source package and will keep our previous changes.
The compilation process will start and hopefully you will observe lots of output, which is a good sign! Near completation, errors regarding missing includes will start to appear. Your task is to manually copy them from OS X “/usr/include” to the iOS SDK “usr/include” folder (in my case /Developer4/Platforms/iPhoneOS.platform/Developer/SDKs/iPhoneOS5.0.sdk/usr/include/). The only modifications that you will need to do are to edit some files and change the import location to relative paths (or absolute if you prefer). Not elegant, but it works! When you reach the missing architecture includes, you can use the ones from i386. Sorry for not having a complete file list – I was hacking this without great hope that it would work heheheh.

And that’s it! After you fix the missing includes and defs, the compile should successfully finish and you have your shiny recompile gdb. You can also apply my gdb patches (recommended!). Before starting to compile everything, just go to the SourceCache folder, apply the patch and compile.
Follow the steps from the reference post to copy the compiled binary, apply the necessary entitlements (reference), upload to your device and enjoy 🙂

If you don’t feel adventurous enough then I include a fat binary (armv6 and armv7) with my patches. You just need to add the entitlements.
Pancake (from Radare) created a package for this version. Add to your repo list and install it from there. Thanks to pancake for his work 🙂

Any question or problem you run into leave a comment so everyone else can benefit from the (potential) solution.

Have fun,



Hash: SHA1
SHA256(Makefile.gz)= 9aa69bc9b5a77a682c5bc74435440f26e839c0b216861f64a1af4f5a6432dfaf
SHA256(gdb-arm-apple-darwin.gz)= 7c3744c1be024a28c594c0ad90d75f0d187c5e53d9cb09d0183bba19b7415e6d
Version: GnuPG/MacGPG2 v2.0.17 (Darwin)
Comment: GPGTools -

Update: List of added/modified include files (I forgot about the power of find :X)

8 thoughts on “How to compile GDB for iOS!

  1. Actually, if you have the latest ldid, Xcode and a jailbroken device, you should be able to use the version of gdb for ARM that comes with Xcode. Pod2g had instructions here I just had to update the location of the binary and ensure I had the latest ldid (using brew) and got it going no problem.

    Or is this because using that binary was still causing issues? You may have mentioned something on twitter a while back…

    1. Yes I know about that and used that binary. The problem is not allowing easy modifications and fixes, which is something I am interested in. Especially to try to add armv7 disassembly support and make it less useless than it is now 🙂

  2. Thanks for great post!
    I was able to compile gdb using your tutorial finally.

    Could you please also advise on how to build gdbserver as its compilation/linking is disabled by default for cross (host!=target) mode although its sources are included within gdb source tree?

  3. well, 1708 are quite clear but still have many features broken, newest versions are better to have

    BTW – try this for disasm:
    % x/10wi address // disassemble 10 ARM instructions at address
    % x/10hi address // disassemble 10 Thumb instructions at address

  4. Got this on 10.8.2:
    echo “Unknown architecture string: \”arm-apple-darwin macos:armv6:MountainLion\””
    Unknown architecture string: “arm-apple-darwin macos:armv6:MountainLion”
    exit 1
    make[1]: *** [check-args] Error 1
    make: *** [install] Error 2
    BUILD TIME: 0h 0m 0s


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *