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Debugging Android Applications : Eclipse Java Editor (part 5) - Traceview

1/1/2013 5:44:04 PM
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6. Traceview

Maybe the problem you’re trying to debug isn’t about functionality. Maybe your application does exactly what it’s supposed to do, but takes too long to do it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a way of seeing how the methods within your classes are interacting, and even to keep track of the relative time spent executing in each method? Traceview is a utility that allow you just that kind of visibility. It consists of two parts, one that you enable before running your program and one that you work with after the run in order to diagnose your findings:

Runtime data collection

You can enable and disable logging for your application. While enabled, routines are linked into your application that create a binary trace file on the target. The trace file records every method instantiation and the time spent in each method.

Trace analysis

If you then copy the binary trace file from the target to your host, you can run a trace analysis program that displays all the information from the file in graphical form. You can easily observe which methods are consuming most of the runtime, and drill down into those methods to find out which methods they in turn call and which of them consume the most time.

6.1. Trace data collection

The routines to perform trace data collection are provided in the Android Software Development Kit. All you have to do is:

  1. Import the Debug package (android.os.Debug) into your application.

  2. Call startMethodTracing when you want to start collecting trace information.

  3. Call stopMethodTracing when you’re done.

The tracing routines always write their trace information to a file on the target’s SD card. If you’re running on a real device, you need to plug in an SD card. If you’re debugging on the emulator, you need to create a virtual SD card and tell the emulator to use it:

  1. Create a virtual SD card with mksdcard.

    From the host command prompt, use the mksdcard utility to create a file that the emulator can use as a virtual SD card:

    $ mksdcard -l ANDROID 1024M 

    You can create the file anywhere you like, but the root directory for your project is a good place. The utility will allocate a file as big as the size you’ve given in the mksdcard command (1 GB in the example shown).

  2. Tell the emulator to use the virtual SD card.

    In Eclipse, choose Window → Preferences → Android → Launch. You’ll see a box there for emulator options. Add the following option:

    -sdcard filename

    Use the complete path to the file, so the emulator can always find it, no matter where it’s running from.

As an example of the code needed, let’s add tracing to MicroJobs and collect some data. We add tracing to as follows:


import android.os.Debug;


    public void onCreate(Bundle savedInstanceState) {

        // start trace


    // stop tracing when application ends
    public void onDestroy() {
Figure 12. Traceview Timeline Panel

Running MJAndroid now creates a file named x.trace on the virtual SD card on the target. When tracing is enabled, the Dalvik virtual machine is noticeably slower to start up and slower to run, because it is mapping the virtual SD card into memory, and collecting all the method call and timing data for you as it runs. For this example we went through a few UI operations and then closed the application.

To analyze x.trace, move it back to the host:

$ adb pull sdcard/x.trace x.trace

and start the Traceview program:

$ traceview 

For the moment at least, Traceview expects the full pathname of the trace file.

You are rewarded with a display of all the methods that were called between the time you started and stopped the trace—not just the methods in your application, but all the methods that were called. The top part of the display is the Timeline Panel, which looks something like Figure 5-12. The numbered line across the top is a timeline (in milliseconds), with each application thread listed as a separate row. Within each row, each method invocation is shown as a little colored block (a little hard to see at the startup resolution). The colors map to a list of methods shown in Figure 12.

You can zoom in on a region of interest by moving the mouse into the timeline area, clicking the left mouse button at the start time of interest, dragging to the stop time, and releasing the button. The timeline then zooms in, as shown in Figure 13. As you move the mouse from left to right, the timeline cursor shows the sequence of method calls, and the method names are called out in the upper right.

Figure 13. Traceview zoom into Timeline Panel

The bottom part of the Traceview display lists each method, in declining order by the amount of time spent in it. The first part of that list is shown in Figure 14.

Figure 14. Traceview list of methods

The columns in this display have the following meanings:


You can’t see colors here, but on the screen, the color in the color-coded box to the left of each name tracks to the timeline shown in Figure 12. The 15 colors get reused in order by inclusive time, as you go down the list.

Incl% and Inclusive

The time (and percentage of total time) spent in this method, including all the methods that it called. The times are in milliseconds, but they should be interpreted with care. Because tracing slows down execution considerably, these times do not represent the true runtimes under normal execution. They do provide accurate relative timing information when comparing the runtimes of two methods.

Excl% and Exclusive

The time (and percentage of total time) spent actually executing in this method. In other words, any time spent in nested functions is removed from these two fields. The same timing caveats apply to Exclusive times as to Inclusive.

Calls+Recursive calls

Two values: the number of times this method was called externally and the number of times it called itself.


Simply the quotient of the second column divided by the sum of the numbers in the sixth column.

When you select a method by clicking on its name in the Profile Panel, Traceview adjusts the pane to bring that method to the top of the view, and opens a list of Parent and Child methods, as shown in Figure 15. “Parents” are methods that call this method. “Children” are methods called by this method.

Figure 15. Traceview zoom into Profile Panel

Clearly, there is a lot of information available in the Traceview records. We’ll leave other features of Traceview for you to explore, such as the use of Native Tracing to trace the QEMU emulator itself, the use of the other Debug methods to get timing information, and the use of the dmtracedump utility to generate call graphs.

- Debugging Android Applications : Eclipse Java Editor (part 4) - Android Debug Bridge, Dalvik Debug Monitor Service
- Debugging Android Applications : Eclipse Java Editor (part 3) - Logcat
- Debugging Android Applications : Eclipse Java Editor (part 2) - The Debugger
- Debugging Android Applications : Eclipse Java Editor (part 1) - Java Errors
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