The tool to reprocess an Apport crash report to produce a symbolic stack trace, apport-retrace, has been pretty hard to use on a developer system so far: It either installed the packages from the crash report, plus its debug symbol packages (“ddebs”) into the running system (which frequently caused problems like broken dependencies), or it required setting up a chroot and using apport-chroot with fakechroot and fakeroot.

I’m happy to announce that with Apport 1.22, which landed in Oneiric yesterday, this has now become much easier: In the default mode it just calls gdb on the report’s coredump, i. e. expects that all the necessary packages are already installed and will complain about the missing ones. But with the new --sandbox/-Smode, it will just create a temporary directory, download and unpack packages there, and run gdb with some magic options to consider that directory a “virtual root”. These options haven’t been available back when this stuff was written the first time, which is why it used to be so complicated with fakechroots, etc. Now this does not need any root privileges, chroot() calls, etc.

As it only downloads and installs the bare minimum, and does not involve any of the dpkg/apt overhead (maintainer scripts, etc.), it has also become quite a lot faster. That’s how the apport retracers were able to dig through a backlog of about a thousand bugs in just a couple of hours.

So now, if you locally want to retrace or investigate a crash, you can do

   $ apport-retrace -s -S system /var/crash/_usr_bin_gedit.1000.crash

to get the stack traces on stdout, or

   $ apport-retrace -g -S system /var/crash/_usr_bin_gedit.1000.crash

to be put into a gdb session.

If you do this regularly, it’s highly recommended to use a permanent cache dir, where apt can store its indexes and downloaded packages: Use -C ~/.cache/apport-retrace for this (or the long version --cache).

You can also use this to reprocess crashes for a different release than the one you are currently running, by creating a config directory with an appropriate apt sources.list.

The manpage has all the details. (Note that at the time of this writing, still has the old version — use the local one instead.)

Enjoy, and let me know how this works for you!