What's a practical use of .PDB files?

I have been reading about PDB files and how they have to do with debugging but why would I want to keep a pdb file after I ship? If there is a problem, I can just debug on my machine. What am I missing?


PDB files contain debugging information. If you keep them around at least for released versions of your software, you can debug any crashes a customer may have. You don't need to send them the PDB, simply have them collect a crash dump (.dmp) using Windows. Then, you can open up the dump in for example WinDbg and debug the issue.

To be able to properly debug, you need the symbols which are maintained in the PDB file. PDB can also be kept for release builds.

The reason it is recommended to keep PDBs is so that entire projects need not be rebuilt once again which is actually a multi day process typically on a build server. In very large projects this could be very cumbersome. Maintaining PDBs will help you to retrieve the binaries and symbols quickly from the SCM and bugs filed (if any) can be resolved faster.

We live and die by our PDB's when reconstructing, or debugging, customer crashes at my job. I have checked out crash dump files for binaries that were years and years old. Thank goodness we kept our PDB's over all those years. Without PDB's you are just going to kiss your time goodbye as you spend months debugging one crash dump. Whereas if you do have PDB's than it becomes very easy to navigate the stack while debugging a minidump.

And be sure to keep a copy of the source that corresponds with the binaries and PDB's. It's nice to use version control for that. But sometimes you don't always have that luxury for aligning everything.

.pdb files can be shipped to the customer to get accurate stack traces. Without the .pdb, all your stack traces just contain memory addresses and it's a pain to work out "manually" which functions those addresses correspond to. If you have the .pdb files, though, the debugger can reconstruct the stack trace with symbols and it makes life much easier.

Also, sometimes you can't reproduce a problem on your machine, and the only way to see what's wrong is to debug the customer's machine. It depends on your particular relationship with the customer whether that's possible, of course...

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