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Is The Debugger Attached?

, 22 Oct 2001
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Take different actions depending on whether a debugger is attached to your process.


Is The Debugger Attached? As a very big part of my work is being a bugslayer, I tend to have a need for more debugging or debug support code in my projects. This article's code of substance is just one small function with effectively about 13 lines of code. Seems rather insignificant, but it has been very useful to me as a person who does a lot of debugging, and of course, that I even came to writing this function was interesting in itself.


The function is called IsDebuggerAttached(). As the name implies, it returns a BOOL indication if a debugger is attached to the process. This was developed on and for Windows NT 4.0, and also works on Windows 2000. I do not know if it will work on Win9x as internal Windows structures differ. I will now go into some example reason(s) I had the need for this, and how it might help others who might have such needs as well.

One of the first things I consider one of the pillars of good programming practices is the validation and verification of parameters coming into a function. More importantly, the validation of pointers. I've had a steady supply of 'business' due to the encounters of the lack of such practices in my last few years of software engineering. There are situations where parameters coming into a function should always be valid. In such a situation, the standard things to do is to check the parameters for validity via ASSERT's. This is perfect for parameters that should never fail the assertion. The great thing about the assertions is that it gives you the option to break into the debugger. In the case of release builds, this is not available as the ASSERT's evaluate to nothing.

There were situations that I decided that I wanted to take different actions depending on whether a debugger was attached to my process or not. If there was no debugger attached, I had my code either popup a message box on a seriously bad condition, or to output a debug string, and quietly continue on it's way if it's possible. However, I also wanted it to be able to break at the spot of the erroneous condition if a debugger was attached. And obviously, I didn't want to build one version of the code that popped up a message box and/or output a debug string, and another version that did a DebugBreak(). Also, if you called a DebugBreak() and a debugger is not attached to you process, the system would popup a nasty dialog indicating a debug break exception.

All that being said, this was clearly what I wanted :

if (Big_Bad_Error)
    if (Debugger_Is_Attached)

Here is the code for the function IsDebuggerAttached() :

BOOL IsDebuggerAttached()
    DWORD dw;

        push eax    // Preserve the registers
        push ecx
        mov eax, fs:[0x18]  // Get the TIB's linear address
        mov eax, dword ptr [eax + 0x30]
        mov ecx, dword ptr [eax]    // Get the whole DWORD
        mov dw, ecx // Save it
        pop ecx // Restore the registers
        pop eax

    // The 3rd byte is the byte we really need to check for the
    // presence of a debugger.
    // Check the 3rd byte
    return (BOOL)(dw & 0x00010000 ? TRUE : FALSE);


This is a dig into the Thread Information Block (TIB) of the process to check if a debugger is attached. And for those who don't already know, the FS register points to the current thread's TIB. Needless to say, coming to this involved a fair amount of disassemblies of Windows while in the debugger. Following, is code from the sample application for this article. It's an MFC dialog app where the test is done in the OnOK() handler :

void CDebuggerDlg::OnOK() 
    LPBYTE lpBuffer = (LPBYTE)0x80000000;

    // Give it a bogus buffer that will crash it for sure
    ReadMemory(lpBuffer, 1024);


BOOL CDebuggerDlg::ReadMemory(LPVOID lpBuffer, 
                              DWORD dwSize)
    // Validate the buffer
    if (IsBadWritePtr(lpBuffer, dwSize))
        // This is bad! Must say something!
        if (IsDebuggerAttached())
            // So we'll break into the debugger
            __asm   int 3

            // If you don't mind the function call overhead, 
            // you can call DebugBreak();
            // instead...
                "CDebuggerDlg::ReadMemory() : "
                "Bad output buffer : lpBuffer!");

        return FALSE;

    // Well, we're not really gonna write anything to the buffer,
    // it's just a demo ;)
    return TRUE;


Well folks, I hope that this technique may be of use to some of you out there.


This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

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About the Author

Tim Chew
United States United States
No Biography provided

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Comments and Discussions

QuestionWhy do you want to save the general registers? Pin
zhzhtst1-Oct-07 17:43
memberzhzhtst1-Oct-07 17:43 
AnswerRe: Why do you want to save the general registers? Pin
Ganoes Paran8-Jun-09 13:25
memberGanoes Paran8-Jun-09 13:25 
GeneralWindows API has a function for this Pin
nobot08-Jan-07 8:52
membernobot08-Jan-07 8:52 
I'm not sure whether the Windows API had call for this at the time this article was written, but it does contain one now: IsDebuggerPresent(). It works in Win98 and up.

GeneralRe: Windows API has a function for this Pin
Artemis8-Jan-07 16:59
memberArtemis8-Jan-07 16:59 
GeneralRe: Windows API has a function for this Pin
Ganoes Paran8-Jun-09 13:26
memberGanoes Paran8-Jun-09 13:26 
GeneralGreat ! Pin
Max235119-Oct-06 5:27
memberMax235119-Oct-06 5:27 
GeneralRe: Great ! Pin
Artemis19-Oct-06 17:41
memberArtemis19-Oct-06 17:41 
QuestionDoes it work for XP and 2K3? Pin
morntide21-May-06 22:14
membermorntide21-May-06 22:14 
QuestionHow to send parameters to a attached Function Pin
Anonymous21-Oct-05 1:54
sussAnonymous21-Oct-05 1:54 
QuestionHow can I check whether Drwatson is present Pin
Vikas Gandhi4-May-04 20:00
memberVikas Gandhi4-May-04 20:00 
AnswerRe: How can I check whether Drwatson is present Pin
zhzhtst1-Oct-07 17:35
memberzhzhtst1-Oct-07 17:35 
GeneralIsDebuggerPresent() not in windows 95 Pin
Anonymous30-Oct-01 4:22
memberAnonymous30-Oct-01 4:22 
GeneralRe: IsDebuggerPresent() not in windows 95 Pin
Artemis15-Nov-01 1:44
memberArtemis15-Nov-01 1:44 
GeneralDebugging Pin
DarrenSchroeder24-Oct-01 4:14
memberDarrenSchroeder24-Oct-01 4:14 
GeneralRe: Debugging Pin
Artemis24-Oct-01 22:10
memberArtemis24-Oct-01 22:10 
GeneralRe: Debugging Pin
Darren Schroeder25-Oct-01 16:09
memberDarren Schroeder25-Oct-01 16:09 
GeneralRe: Debugging Pin
Artemis25-Oct-01 17:11
memberArtemis25-Oct-01 17:11 
GeneralRe: Debugging Pin
Toby Opferman24-Mar-04 13:19
memberToby Opferman24-Mar-04 13:19 
GeneralRe: Debugging Pin
Toby Opferman24-Mar-04 14:04
memberToby Opferman24-Mar-04 14:04 
GeneralIsDebuggerPresent() Pin
Obermayr Johann23-Oct-01 22:31
memberObermayr Johann23-Oct-01 22:31 
GeneralRe: IsDebuggerPresent() Pin
Tim @ Artemis23-Oct-01 23:04
memberTim @ Artemis23-Oct-01 23:04 
GeneralRe: IsDebuggerPresent() Pin
Anonymous28-Oct-01 23:06
memberAnonymous28-Oct-01 23:06 
GeneralRe: IsDebuggerPresent() Pin
Artemis29-Oct-01 16:45
memberArtemis29-Oct-01 16:45 
General5 Points from Me! Pin
Oz Solomonovich29-Oct-01 3:34
memberOz Solomonovich29-Oct-01 3:34 
GeneralRe: 5 Points from Me! Pin
Artemis29-Oct-01 16:51
memberArtemis29-Oct-01 16:51 

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