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Debugging ET:Legacy and SDL for an access violation

Most of my day today went to debugging an ET:Legacy crash issue, which I found to be happening within the SDL library.

ET:Legacy, a community continuation of the development of the Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory source code recently released its first stable version 2.71. I was already using and recommending the pre-releases 2.71 RC4, as a lot of improvements were already in there. Especially for ATI users with driver issues with older OpenGL versions like W:ET uses – causing low and inconsistent FPS – could be solved by using ET:L.

Surprisingly, from RC4 to release version, they made a switch from SDL1 to SDL2 (now that was not really an release candidate then). This obviously changed some stuff. And one of those things was that I was not able to start ET:L any more.

The ET:L README provides compilation instruction which made it pretty easy to set up a build and development environment locally – even though the instructions themselves were not really optimal (with multiple alternatives).

Once compiled, using Visual Studio and attaching its debugger to the running process made it possible to debug – even without a (VS) project file. This gave first clues, but did not provide an SDL stack trace, where the access violation was thrown.

The SDL2 sources provide a file VisualC.html which contain instructions for compilation, which also made it pretty easy to compile a debug DLL with. I was then able to just replace the ET:L SDL library files, recompile, and debug again. Now with a complete stack trace.

I created an ET:L bug ticket with my findings.

Subsequently, I created a minimal program that would still cause the access violation in SDL. This made it pretty clear, that itā€™s an issue with SDL itself. I thus created a bug ticket on the SDL bug tracker.


Talking with some of the people from ET:L and SDL live on IRC freenode was good as well of course. Especially since Iā€™m not familiar with SDL, and what it actually guarantees or is robust against, or what it expects the user to just do correctly or in the correct order.

I also love that my Visual Studio installation is no longer a feature-reduced cripple “community edition”, but a full featured one – after their licensing policy change last year.

It took me several hours to work on this, but I got to know the SDL a bit, just as ET:L, and maybe this is a start for a more productive week. I have been wanting to program on FOSS projects (in my free time) again for a long time now, but time is limited. Maybe this week I can still get some of my stuff for Mumble done.