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7.2 Tracing macro calls

It is possible to trace macro calls and expansions through the builtins traceon and traceoff:

Builtin: traceon ([names…]
Builtin: traceoff ([names…]

When called without any arguments, traceon and traceoff will turn tracing on and off, respectively, for all currently defined macros.

When called with arguments, only the macros listed in names are affected, whether or not they are currently defined.

The expansion of traceon and traceoff is void.

Whenever a traced macro is called and the arguments have been collected, the call is displayed. If the expansion of the macro call is not void, the expansion can be displayed after the call. The output is printed to the current debug file (defaulting to standard error, see section Saving debugging output).

$ m4 -d
define(`foo', `Hello World.')
⇒
define(`echo', `$@')
⇒
traceon(`foo', `echo')
⇒
foo
error-->m4trace: -1- foo -> `Hello World.'
⇒Hello World.
echo(`gnus', `and gnats')
error-->m4trace: -1- echo(`gnus', `and gnats') -> ``gnus',`and gnats''
⇒gnus,and gnats

The number between dashes is the depth of the expansion. It is one most of the time, signifying an expansion at the outermost level, but it increases when macro arguments contain unquoted macro calls. The maximum number that will appear between dashes is controlled by the option ‘--nesting-limit’ (or ‘-L’, see section Invoking m4). Additionally, the option ‘--trace’ (or ‘-t’) can be used to invoke traceon(name) before parsing input.

$ m4 -L 3 -t ifelse
ifelse(`one level')
error-->m4trace: -1- ifelse
⇒
ifelse(ifelse(ifelse(`three levels')))
error-->m4trace: -3- ifelse
error-->m4trace: -2- ifelse
error-->m4trace: -1- ifelse
⇒
ifelse(ifelse(ifelse(ifelse(`four levels'))))
error-->m4:stdin:3: recursion limit of 3 exceeded, use -L<N> to change it

Tracing by name is an attribute that is preserved whether the macro is defined or not. This allows the selection of macros to trace before those macros are defined.

$ m4 -d
traceoff(`foo')
⇒
traceon(`foo')
⇒
foo
⇒foo
defn(`foo')
⇒
define(`foo', `bar')
⇒
foo
error-->m4trace: -1- foo -> `bar'
⇒bar
undefine(`foo')
⇒
ifdef(`foo', `yes', `no')
⇒no
indir(`foo')
error-->m4:stdin:9: undefined macro `foo'
⇒
define(`foo', `blah')
⇒
foo
error-->m4trace: -1- foo -> `blah'
⇒blah
traceoff
⇒
foo
⇒blah

Tracing even works on builtins. However, defn (see section Renaming macros) does not transfer tracing status.

$ m4 -d
traceon(`traceon')
⇒
traceon(`traceoff')
error-->m4trace: -1- traceon(`traceoff')
⇒
traceoff(`traceoff')
error-->m4trace: -1- traceoff(`traceoff')
⇒
traceoff(`traceon')
⇒
traceon(`eval', `m4_divnum')
⇒
define(`m4_eval', defn(`eval'))
⇒
define(`m4_divnum', defn(`divnum'))
⇒
eval(divnum)
error-->m4trace: -1- eval(`0') -> `0'
⇒0
m4_eval(m4_divnum)
error-->m4trace: -2- m4_divnum -> `0'
⇒0

See section Controlling debugging output, for information on controlling the details of the display. The format of the trace output is not specified by POSIX, and varies between implementations of m4.


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