How to debug with ltrace

This is part of the Semicolon&Sons Code Diary - consisting of lessons learned on the job. You're in the unix category.

Last Updated: 2022-05-26

What would you do if strace does not give you the info you need for debugging, if it seems like it's hiding some of the action from you?

Advi Grim in his Ruby Tapas screencasts wanted to use strace to see the calls to getenv (a command for getting environment variables) when running ruby bundle.

But this failed to surface any useful info? Why?

Because getenv is a library call, not a system call.

System calls and library calls are similar in that their functionality is provided to your application by the execution environment. The difference is that system calls are implemented in kernel, whereas library calls are implemented in user space.

Thus the distinction:

How to run ltrace

Basically you need to tell it what library call to monitor and then the binary in question.


e.g. ltrace -e genenv bundle

Gotcha: If you try running with bundle as above (the bundle command being written in Ruby) it will fail since ltrace wants a binary.

How to get around this? Well the ruby command is a binary, so we modify the call to ltrace to use Ruby with the bundle command as an argument:

$ ltrace -e getenv ruby /usr/local/bin/bundle