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Using an output stream for debugging

, 24 Nov 2001 Public Domain
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How to create an output stream that writes to the debug terminal.


There are many different schools of how to debug a program (yeah, I know - write it correctly from the start), but whatever tools you prefer it is often very convenient just to use the printf approach. Well, since you are a modern C++ kind of person, you don't really want printf, you want to use an output stream, like cerr.

There's just one problem though, you are writing Windows applications, so there is no standard error output to write to. Not true, actually there is, and you've probably used many times already. When you use one of the TRACE macros, the result ends up in the Debug pane of Visual Studio. MFC goes through great pains to turn off all this debug output in Release builds, but it can often be very convenient to keep it.

Of course, you won't see any output in Visual Studio from a release build, but there are other programs that can capture this output. A good one is DebugView from Incidentially, if you start this program you'll probably see like a million messages from Internet Explorer. There you go, even Microsoft practise Release build debugging!

The problem

So, how to direct a standard output stream to the debug terminal? In general, the correct answer is to derive from streambuf and connect the new class to a normal ostream. In this way all stream inserters and manipulators work as expected. In this case we can save some work by deriving from stringbuf instead. So, without further ado, here's how to do it:

The code

First we include the needed headers.

#include <Windows.h>
#include <ostream>
#include <sstream>
#include <string>

Now for the real work: Since we are using a stringbuf we only need to override the sync function.

The sync method is what actually transfers the text in the put area to whatever output destination the streambuf uses, in this case by calling the API function OutputDebugString.

template <class CharT, class TraitsT = std::char_traits<CharT> >
class basic_debugbuf : 
    public std::basic_stringbuf<CharT, TraitsT>

    virtual ~basic_debugbuf()


    int sync()
        str(std::basic_string<CharT>());    // Clear the string buffer

        return 0;

    void output_debug_string(const CharT *text) {}

Next, I specialize the output routine so it calls the Ansi or Unicode API as appropriate.

void basic_debugbuf<char>::output_debug_string(const char *text)

void basic_debugbuf<wchar_t>::output_debug_string(const wchar_t *text)

That's really all you need, but as a convenience I also provide a class derived from basic_ostream that connects the output stream to the basic_debugbuf just created.

In order to work just like cout, you should then create a global object of type dostream or wdostream and use that to output to.

template<class CharT, class TraitsT = std::char_traits<CharT> >
class basic_dostream : 
    public std::basic_ostream<CharT, TraitsT>

    basic_dostream() : std::basic_ostream<CharT, TraitsT>
                (new basic_debugbuf<CharT, TraitsT>()) {}
        delete rdbuf(); 

typedef basic_dostream<char>    dostream;
typedef basic_dostream<wchar_t> wdostream;


  • 18-apr-2001 - Original version
  • 23-nov-2001 - Updated to use a stringbuf as suggested by Jim Barry.
    Also fixed the remaining HTML markup errors that made the code un-compileable


This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under A Public Domain dedication


About the Author

Sven Axelsson
Web Developer
Sweden Sweden
No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

GeneralThanks! Just what I needed! PinmemberMitchel Haas22-Jul-09 4:40 
Generaljust a little adjustment .. make it work with wince Pinmemberisatohon12-Dec-08 0:59 
QuestionHow to ensure that debug stream is flushed? PinmemberFreon19-Dec-07 14:15 
AnswerRe: How to ensure that debug stream is flushed? Pinmemberisatohon12-Dec-08 0:52 
GeneralWorks like a charm, Pinmemberamnonglaser30-Sep-07 14:37 
QuestionHow to declare global dostream PinmemberMax235116-Jun-06 4:20 
GeneralUnbuffered output PinmemberRichard Braint10-Aug-05 4:43 
GeneralRe: Unbuffered output PinmemberHenry Bruce5-Jun-07 9:50 
Note that this confuses DebugView, which outputs a new line after each << operator.
If strings are correctly terminated with endl or ends, the unbuffered manipulator should not be necessary.

GeneralRe: Unbuffered output PinmemberFreon20-Dec-07 8:23 
Generalvery handy PinmemberBernhard14-Oct-03 22:42 
GeneralNot possible to output more than 1023 characters with OutputDebugString() Pinmemberpatrickdreyer20-Aug-03 0:31 
GeneralI built a testrunner around this PinmemberPhlip3-Feb-03 11:22 
GeneralRe: I built a testrunner around this PinmemberSven Axelsson4-Feb-03 6:56 
QuestionSTL container? PinmemberAnonymous13-May-02 14:12 
AnswerRe: STL container? PinmemberAnonymous13-May-02 14:21 
AnswerRe: STL container? PinmemberEdwin Chen3-Jul-03 9:13 
GeneralMemory leaks PinmemberJavaBodum18-Mar-02 9:33 
GeneralRe: Memory leaks PinmemberAnthony_Yio4-Nov-04 16:49 
Generalthread safe PinmemberAnonymous14-Jun-01 6:38 
GeneralUsage PinmemberMarkus Johansson12-Jun-01 23:52 
GeneralRe: Usage PinmemberAnonymous20-Sep-01 11:26 
GeneralRe: Usage PinmemberAnonymous12-Feb-02 17:45 
GeneralBetter to use basic_stringbuf PinmemberJim Barry22-Apr-01 5:12 
GeneralA small bug PinmemberSven Axelsson18-Apr-01 2:31 
Generalstlport Compatability PinmemberPatrick DellEra18-Apr-01 1:16 
GeneralRe: stlport Compatability PinmemberSven Axelsson18-Apr-01 2:27 
QuestionCan't Compile?? PinmemberPatrick DellEra17-Apr-01 11:40 
AnswerRe: Can't Compile?? PinmemberSven Axelsson17-Apr-01 12:04 
GeneralRe: Can't Compile?? PinmemberPatrick DellEra17-Apr-01 13:23 
GeneralOutputDebugString PinmemberSimon C. Smith16-Apr-01 23:31 
GeneralRe: OutputDebugString PinmemberSven Axelsson17-Apr-01 1:19 
GeneralRe: OutputDebugString Pinmembersimon smith17-Apr-01 1:22 
GeneralYou may also want to check out this PinmemberDaniel Lohmann13-Apr-01 4:29 
GeneralBug PinmemberArnaud Brejeon12-Apr-01 22:41 
GeneralRe: Bug PinmemberSven Axelsson13-Apr-01 6:40 

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