GCC Profiling

This article assumes you are using a Debian-based Linux machine (e.g. Ubuntu).


To use profiling, the program must be compiled and linked with the -qg profiling option:

We will use an called profiling_test.c (full code can be found at https://github.com/mbedded-ninja/BlogAssets/tree/master/Programming/ProfilingGprof):

We will then compile it with the command:

This creates what is called an instrumented executable. It contains additional code which records the time spent in each function.

WARNING: If gprof does not appear to produce any output, it may be because of a bug in GCC versions 5 and 6. As a workout, provide the additional flag -no-pie to compilation and linking. Make sure there is only one hyphen at the start of the argument (NOT --no-pie).

When run, the program will produce a file gmon.out in the same directory as it is run. You can pass your program to gprof to display the profiling results:

You can see above that approximately 60% of the time was spent calculating the Fibonacci sequence, while 30% was spent looping 100 million times. If this was a real life scenario, you could now start to optimise your code!

If you find text hard to analyze, see the gprof2dot section below on how to create a visualization of the above results.

The above command will write the profiling results to the terminal. Instead, if you wish to write the results to a file, use the following command:

Clean Exiting

gmon.out is only written to if your C/C++ program exits cleanly, that is, it either calls exit() or returns from main().

Here is the relevant info from the gprof manual:

The profiled program must call “exit”(2) or return normally for the profiling information to be saved in the gmon.out file.

Your program doesn’t count as a clean exit if it is running in a Linux terminal and Ctrl-C is pressed! However, there is a way to fix this, by catching the Ctrl-C signal and writing to the file before exiting…

Note that you must compile and link with the -ldl option for dlsym to be found.


gprof2dot is a tool that can create a visualization of the gprof output. TO install gprof2dot:

To install graphviz (which is needed if you are going to make “dot” graphs like below):

To create a dot graph image:

This created the below image for the example code above:

A profile of the execution time of the example code. Graph was created using gprof and the gprof2dot tool.




Posted: November 17th, 2017 at 11:07 am
Last Updated on: November 29th, 2017 at 12:29 pm