a2trace: Debug and profile cc65 Apple2 programs with MAME


The MAME debugger works correctly but is really limited for Apple II development. It can not import symbols, and it does not track any memory banking, so all we’re left with are hexadecimal addresses than you painstakingly match to your exports, not even being sure you’re reading your code, the ROM or the other Language Card memory page.

In order to track and fix the cc65 bug I found earlier this month, this was not going to cut it. So I set out to create a better tool to follow and understand my Apple 2 programs and my bugs, starting with what cc65 offers me: a .dbg file, and a .lbl file. Both of them contain mapping of symbols and exports to addresses. The .lbl file, aimed at VICE users, is easier to start with because it is a simple address/export pairs file. The .dbg file has a bit more information, namely the sizes of said symbols. It also lists non-exported symbols, which is more complete.

As it soon became obvious that I absolutely did not want to take a dive into MAME’s C++, QT code, I went with parsing the trace files it generates instead, and wrote a2trace. I cannot stress enough that this tool is limited to my very own need: to debug a program that a) has been built using cc65, b) for the apple2enh platform, and c) running under MAME.

How to use a2trace:

Start MAME with -debug to show the debugger window. Get ready to launch your program, and before, begin tracing CPU execution with the following MAME debugger’s command:

trace program.tr,maincpu,noloop,{tracelog "A=%02X,X=%02X,Y=%02X ",a,x,y}

Run your program until you hit your bug or complete your run.

You can now interpret the program.tr log with a2trace:

a2trace -d program.dbg -t program.tr > parsed-program.tr

(If needed, add -x 0x803 or the correct value for your program’s start address: if you started the trace before the previous program’s execution, say, your program.SYSTEM file, the trace would not begin in your program but in the calling one.)

You will now have a file with debug information next to what MAME’s virtual 6502 executed:

On the left, MAME’s output; after the first semicolon, the address’s symbol, the instruction with interpreted operand, and if applicable, the corresponding source code’s location.

If necessary, you can use a2trace in conjunction with MAME instead of after, using the -f parameter. This will allow you to have the annotated program log visible in a window, while using MAME’s debugger to set watchpoints, breakpoints, dump memory, or whatever you need to squash this bug!


You can also profile your code using the same « program.tr » trace file and a2trace, using the -p parameter:

a2trace -d program.dbg -t program.tr -p > program.callgrind

You can now open this file with KCachegrind and figure out where your program spends time. You should get something like this:

KCachegrind’s view of my Mastodon client’s execution


The tool is available at my Apple2 GitHub repository; Installing it should be a matter of:

git clone git@github.com:colinleroy/a2tools.git
cd a2tools/src/a2trace
make && sudo make install

Hope this helps!

Note: the tool badly supports the IIgs’ 65816. It can provide a bit of help, but memory banks are not supported; The new instructions are not supported so profiling does not work at all.