The **crash reporter** is a subsystem to record and manage application
While the subsystem is known as *crash reporter*, it helps to think of
it more as a *process dump manager*. This is because the heart of this
subsystem is really managing process dump files and these files are
created not only from process crashes but also from hangs and other
The crash reporter subsystem is composed of a number of pieces working
Breakpad is a library and set of tools to make collecting process
information (notably dumps from crashes) easy. Breakpad is a 3rd
party project (originally developed by Google) that is imported into
Breakpad produces files called *dump files* that hold process data
(stacks, heap data, etc).
Crash Reporter Client
The crash reporter client is a standalone executable that is launched
to handle dump files. This application optionally submits crashes to
Mozilla (or the configured server).
The minidump analyzer is a standalone executable that is launched by the
crash reporter client or by the browser itself to extract stack traces from
the dump files generated during a crash. It appends the stack traces to the
.extra file associated with the crash dump.
The ping sender is a standalone executable that is launched by the crash
reporter client to deliver a crash ping to our telemetry servers. The ping
sender is used to speed up delivery of the crash ping which would otherwise
have to wait for Firefox to be restarted in order to be sent.
How Main-Process Crash Handling Works
The crash handler is hooked up very early in the Gecko process lifetime.
It all starts in ``XREMain::XRE_mainInit()`` from ``nsAppRunner.cpp``.
Assuming crash reporting is enabled, this startup function registers an
exception handler for the process and tells the crash reporter subsystem
about basic metadata such as the application name and version.
The registration of the crash reporter exception handler doubles as
initialization of the crash reporter itself. This happens in
``CrashReporter::SetExceptionHandler()`` from ``nsExceptionHandler.cpp``.
The crash reporter figures out what application to use for reporting
dumped crashes and where to store these dump files on disk. The Breakpad
exception handler (really just a mechanism for dumping process state) is
initialized as part of this function. The Breakpad exception handler is
a ``google_breakpad::ExceptionHandler`` instance and it's stored as
As the application runs, various other systems may write *annotations*
or *notes* to the crash reporter to indicate state of the application,
help with possible reasons for a current or future crash, etc. These are
performed via ``CrashReporter::AnnotateCrashReport()`` and
For well running applications, this is all that happens. However, if a
crash or similar exceptional event occurs (such as a hang), we need to
write a crash report.
When an event worthy of writing a dump occurs, the Breakpad exception
handler is invoked and Breakpad does its thing. When Breakpad has
finished, it calls back into ``CrashReporter::MinidumpCallback()`` from
``nsExceptionHandler.cpp`` to tell the crash reporter about what was
``MinidumpCallback()`` performs a number of actions once a dump has been
written. It writes a file with the time of the crash so other systems can
easily determine the time of the last crash. It supplements the dump
file with an *extra* file containing Mozilla-specific metadata. This data
includes the annotations set via ``CrashReporter::AnnotateCrashReport()``
as well as time since last crash, whether garbage collection was active at
the time of the crash, memory statistics, etc.
If the *crash reporter client* is enabled, ``MinidumpCallback()`` invokes
it. It simply tries to create a new *crash reporter client* process (e.g.
*crashreporter.exe*) with the path to the written minidump file as an
The *crash reporter client* performs a number of roles. There's a lot going
on, so you may want to look at ``main()`` in ``crashreporter.cpp``. First,
stack traces are extracted from the dump via the *minidump analyzer* tool.
The resulting traces are appended to the .extra file of the crash together with
the SHA256 hash of the minidump file. Once this
is done a crash ping is assembled holding the same information as the one
generated by the ```CrashManager``` and it's sent to the telemetry servers via
the *ping sender* program. The UUID of the ping is then stored in the extra
file; the ```CrashManager``` will later pick it up and generate a new ping
with the same UUID so that the telemetry server can deduplicate both pings.
*crash reporter client* verifies that the dump data is sane. If it isn't
(e.g. required metadata is missing), the dump data is ignored. If dump data
looks sane, the dump data
is moved into the *pending* directory for the configured data directory
(defined via the ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_DATA_DIRECTORY`` environment variable
or from the UI). Once this is done, the main crash reporter UI is displayed
via ``UIShowCrashUI()``. The crash reporter UI is platform specific: there
are separate versions for Windows, OS X, and various \*NIX presentation
flavors (such as GTK). The basic gist is a dialog is displayed to the user
and the user has the opportunity to submit this dump data to a remote
If a dump is submitted via the crash reporter, the raw dump files are
removed from the *pending* directory and a file containing the
crash ID from the remote server for the submitted dump is created in the
If the user chooses not to submit a dump in the crash reporter UI, the dump
files are deleted.
And that's pretty much what happens when a crash/dump is written!
Plugin and Child Process Crashes
Crashes in plugin and child processes are also managed by the crash
Child process crashes are handled by the ``mozilla::dom::CrashReporterParent``
class defined in ``dom/ipc``. When a child process crashes, the toplevel IPDL
actor should check for it by calling TakeMinidump in its ``ActorDestroy``
Method: see ``mozilla::plugins::PluginModuleParent::ActorDestroy`` and
``mozilla::plugins::PluginModuleParent::ProcessFirstMinidump``. That method
is responsible for calling
appropriate crash annotations specific to the crash. All child-process
crashes are annotated with a ``ProcessType`` annotation, such as "content" or
Once the minidump file has been generated the
``mozilla::dom::CrashReporterHost`` is notified of the crash. It will first
try to extract the stack traces from the minidump file using the
*minidump analyzer*. Then the stack traces will be stored in the extra file
together with the rest of the crash annotations and finally the crash will be
recorded by calling ```CrashService.addCrash()```. This last step adds the
crash to the ```CrashManager``` database and automatically sends a crash ping
with information about the crash.
Submission of child process crashes is handled by application code. This
code prompts the user to submit crashes in context-appropriate UI and then
submits the crashes using ``CrashSubmit.jsm``.
When a process detects that it is running low on memory, a memory report is
saved. If the process crashes, the memory report will be included with the crash
report. ``nsThread::SaveMemoryReportNearOOM()`` checks to see if the process is
low on memory every 30 seconds at most and saves a report every 3 minutes at
most. Since a child process cannot actually save to the hard drive, it instead
notifies its parent process, which saves the report for it. If a crash does
occur, the memory report is moved to the *pending* directory with the other dump
data and an annotation is added to indicate the presence of the report. This
happens in ``nsExceptionHandler.cpp``, but occurs in different functions
depending on what process crashed. When the main process crashes, this happens
in ``MinidumpCallback()``. When a child process crashes, it happens in
``OnChildProcessDumpRequested()``, with the annotation being added in
Flash Process Crashes
On Windows Vista+, the Adobe Flash plugin creates two extra processes in its
Firefox plugin to implement OS-level sandboxing. In order to catch crashes in
these processes, Firefox injects a crash report handler into the process using the code at ``InjectCrashReporter.cpp``. When these crashes occur, the
ProcessType=plugin annotation is present, and an additional annotation
FlashProcessDump has the value "Sandbox" or "Broker".
Plugin hangs are handled as crash reports. If a plugin doesn't respond to an
IPC message after 60 seconds, the plugin IPC code will take minidumps of all
of the processes involved and then kill the plugin.
In this case, there will be only one .ini file with the crash report metadata,
but there will be multiple dump files: at least one for the browser process and
one for the plugin process, and perhaps also additional dumps for the Flash
sandbox and broker processes. All of these files are submitted together as a
unit. Before submission, the filenames of the files are linked:
- **uuid.ini** - *annotations, includes an additional_minidumps field*
- **uuid.dmp** - *plugin process dump file*
- **uuid-<other>.dmp** - *other process dump file as listed in additional_minidumps*
If the crash reporter subsystem is enabled, the *about:crashes*
page will be registered with the application. This page provides
information about previous and submitted crashes.
It is also possible to submit crashes from *about:crashes*.
Environment variables affecting crash reporting
The exception handler and crash reporter client behavior can be altered by
setting certain environment variables, some of these variables are used for
testing but quite a few have only internal users.
User-specified environment variables
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER`` - The opposite of MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_DISABLE, force
crash reporting on even if disabled in application.ini. You must use this to
enable crash reporting on debug builds.
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_DISABLE`` - Disable Breakpad crash reporting completely
in non-debug builds. You can use this if you would rather use the JIT
debugger on Windows with the symbol server, for example.
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_FULLDUMP`` - Store full application memory in the
minidump, so you can open it in a Microsoft debugger. Don't submit it to the
server. (Windows only.)
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_NO_DELETE_DUMP`` - Don't delete the crash report dump
file after submitting it to the server. Minidumps will still be moved to the
"Crash Reports/pending" directory.
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_NO_REPORT`` - Save the minidump file but don't launch the
crash reporting UI or send the report to the server. Minidumps will be stored
in the user's profile directory, in a subdirectory named "minidumps".
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_SHUTDOWN`` - Save the minidump and then force the
application to close. This is useful for content crashes that don't normally
close the chrome (main application) processes. This variable would cause the
application to close as well.
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_URL`` - Sets the URL that the crash reporter will submit
Environment variables used internally
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_AUTO_SUBMIT`` - When set causes the crash reporter client
to skip the UI flow and submit the crash report directly.
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_DATA_DIRECTORY`` - Platform dependent data directory, the
pending crash reports will be stored in a subdirectory of this path. This
overrides the default one generated by the client's code.
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_DUMP_ALL_THREADS`` - When set to 1 stack traces for
all threads are generated and sent in the crash ping, when not set only the
trace for the crashing thread will be generated instead.
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_EVENTS_DIRECTORY`` - Path of the directory holding the
crash event files.
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_PING_DIRECTORY`` - Path of the directory holding the
pending crash ping files.
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_RESTART_ARG_<n>`` - Each of these variable specifies one
of the arguments that had been passed to the application, the crash reporter
client uses them for restarting it.
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_RESTART_XUL_APP_FILE`` - If a XUL app file was specified
when starting the app it has to be stored in this variable so that the crash
reporter client can restart the application.
- ``MOZ_CRASHREPORTER_STRINGS_OVERRIDE`` - Overrides the path used to load the
.ini file holding the strings used in the crash reporter client UI.