A rearguard effort to make jdb almost usable
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rlwrap-jdb is a rearguard effort to make jdb almost usable. It uses to rlwrap not to add not only command-line editing and history, but (using rlwrap's nifty filter mechanism) handy aliases, command repetition, and completion of breakpoints and variables.


  rlwrap-jdb [OPT]... [RLWRAP-OPT]... PROG [ARG]...
Run PROG with command-line editing and history as well as handy aliases,
command repetition, and completion for jdb.  Note PROG doesn't have to be
jdb; it could be an application startup script, a mvn exec:exec invocation,
etc. that eventually calls jdb.

  --find-breakpoints    Find breakpoints for completion, saving to
                        --breakpoints-file if given.  CLASSPATH must be set.
  --breakpoints-file F  File containing breakpoints, generated with
                        list-java-breakpoints or --find-breakpoints.
  --main-class C        The main class to debug.  This is not essential, and
                        rlwrap-jdb can often figure it out itself.

RLWRAP-OPTs must be specified ofter OPTs, and are passed to rlwrap.  Default
rlwrap options:
  --command-name jdb
  --break-chars :
  --histsize 5000
  --wait-before-prompt -40

Within jdb, you can use use all normal commands with history and command-line editing. In addition, rlwrap-jdb adds these aliases (also in the on-line help):

b <class id>.<method>[(argument_type,...)]
                          -- set a breakpoint in a method
b <class id>:<line>       -- set a breakpoint at a line
b                         -- set a breakpoint at the current line
d <breakpoint>            -- clear a breakpoint in a method or at a line
B <breakpoint>            -- clear a breakpoint in a method or at a line
s                         -- step (starts VM if not running)
r                         -- step up
n                         -- next (starts VM if not running)
c                         -- cont (starts VM if not running)
p <expr>                  -- print
x <expr>                  -- dump
bt                        -- where
T                         -- where
l [line number|method]    -- list
h                         -- help
q                         -- quit

Hit return to repeat the last next, step, step up, or cont.

The aliases are inspired by gdb and the Perl debugger.


rlwrap-jdb can complete variable names (method arguments, locals, and fields) in the p (print) and x (dump) commands, and breakpoints in the b (stop) commands. If you hit tab before starting to type the breakpoint, it will complete to the current class, making it easy to break within the same class.

For breakpoint completion, either pass --find-breakpoints to rlwrap-jdb, or generate a breakpoints file ahead of time by running list-java-breakpoints and passing the file to rlwrap-jdb with --breakpoints-file F. Either way, ensure that the $CLASSPATH environment variable includes all the classes for which you want breakpoints. Examples:

CLASSPATH=... rlwrap-jdb --find-breakpoints jdb C

CLASSPATH=... list-java-breakpoints > breakpoints-file
rlwrap-jdb --breakpoints-file breakpoints-file run-my-app

You may prefer to generate the breakpoints file ahead of time if there are a lot of classes to scan.

Breakpoint completion is not ideal, because the completion list may be too long (eg., if you type b com<TAB> you will get all methods under the com package). I am looking for a way to support partial completion.

I also recommend adding to your ~/.inputrc:

$if jdb
    set show-all-if-unmodified On

This avoids needing to hit tab twice to get completions. (You can get rid of the $if/$endif if you want this for all applications.)


Nothing to build. You can just copy rlwrap-jdb, rlwrap-jdb-filter, and list-java-breakpoints into your bin directory.

To run, you need rlwrap, Perl, and a few Perl modules. I think the only module that does not come bundled with Perl is Archive::Zip, which is only needed for finding breakpoints in JARs. You can install it as libarchive-zip-perl on Debian-based systems.


The magic lives in the rlwrap filter, rlwrap-jdb-filter, written in Perl and using the RlwrapFilter module, which comes with rlwrap and is well-documented.

If you want to syntax check the filter with perl -c, copy RlwrapFilter.pm to the current directory so it can be found by the filter. However, you will run across the problem that RlwrapFilter hijacks the error hooks. I suggest applying RlwrapFilter.pm.patch to the local copy. This is only for development, and there is no reason to modify the installed RlwrapFilter.pm.


  • Partial completion of breakpoints (probably requires deeper integration into readline).
  • Allow multiple breakpoints files.
  • More completions, eg. for clearing breakpoints.
  • Replay a session.

Please report bugs and requests as GitHub issues, or send me email.

Related Work

Nobody seems interested in a simple but usable command-line debugger for Java. Here is a Stack Overflow thread that seeks such a thing, without turning up any options.

Not that surprising--the benefits of an integrated debugger are great. But small and simple has its place too.


rlwrap-jdb is licensed under the GNU General Public License, version 2 (the same license as rlwrap).


Andrew Pimlott, andrew@pimlott.net