Configure CMake debugging sessions

Native CMake support is available in Visual Studio 2017 and later.

All executable CMake targets are shown in the Startup Item dropdown in the General toolbar. To start a debugging session, just select one and launch the debugger.

CMake startup item dropdown

You can also start a debug session from Solution Explorer. First, switch to CMake Targets View in the Solution Explorer window.

CMake targets view button

Then, right-click on any executable and select Debug or Debug and Launch Settings. Debug automatically starts debugging the selected target, based on your active configuration. Debug and Launch Settings opens the launch.vs.json file and adds a new debug configuration for the selected target.

Customize debugger settings

You can customize the debugger settings for any executable CMake target in your project in a file called launch.vs.json. There are three entry points to this file:

  • Select Debug > Debug and Launch Settings for ${activeDebugTarget} from the main menu to edit the debug configuration specific to your active debug target. If you don't have an active target selected, this option will be grayed out.

  • Navigate to Targets View in Solution Explorer. Then, right-click on a debug target and select Debug and Launch Settings to edit the debug configuration specific to your selected target.

  • Right-click on a root CMakeLists.txt and select Debug and Launch Settings to open the Select a Debugger dialog box. The dialog allows you to add any debug configuration, but you must manually specify the CMake target to invoke via the projectTarget property.

To reference any key in a CMakeSettings.json file, preface it with cmake. in launch.vs.json. The following example shows a simple launch.vs.json file that pulls in the value of the remoteCopySources key in the CMakeSettings.json file for the currently selected configuration:

  "version": "0.2.1",
  "defaults": {},
  "configurations": [
      "type": "default",
      "project": "CMakeLists.txt",
      "projectTarget": "CMakeHelloWorld.exe (Debug\\CMakeHelloWorld.exe)",
      "name": "CMakeHelloWorld.exe (Debug\\CMakeHelloWorld.exe)",
      "args": ["${cmake.remoteCopySources}"]

When you save the launch.vs.json file, Visual Studio creates an entry for the new name in the Startup Item dropdown. You can edit the launch.vs.json file to create multiple debug configurations, for any number of CMake targets.

Launch.vs.json reference

There are many launch.vs.json properties to support all your debugging scenarios. The following properties are common to all debug configurations, both remote and local:

  • projectTarget: Specifies the CMake target to invoke when building the project. Visual Studio autopopulates this property if you enter launch.vs.json from Debug > Debug and Launch Settings for ${activeDebugTarget} or Targets View.

  • program: Full path to the program executable on the remote system. You can use the macro ${debugInfo.fullTargetPath} here.

  • args: Command-line arguments passed to the program to debug.

Launch.vs.json reference for remote Linux projects

The following properties are specific to remote debug configurations. You can also execute custom gdb commands to send commands directly to the underlying debugger, and enable MIEngine logging to see what commands get sent to gdb, what output gdb returns, and how long each command takes.

  • cwd: Current working directory for finding dependencies and other files on the remote machine. The macro ${debugInfo.defaultWorkingDirectory} can be used. The default value is the remote workspace root unless overridden in CMakeLists.txt. This property is only used for remote configurations; currentDir is used to set the current directory of the launching app for a local project.

  • environment: Additional environment variables to add to the environment for the program with this syntax:

  "environment": [
        "name": "ENV1",
        "value": "envvalue1"
        "name": "ENV2",
        "value": "envvalue2"
  • pipeArgs: Command-line arguments passed to the pipe program to configure the connection. The pipe program is used to relay standard input/output between Visual Studio and gdb. The command ${debuggerCommand} launches gdb on the remote system, and can be modified to:

    • Export the value of the environment variable DISPLAY on your Linux system. In the following example, this value is :1.
    "pipeArgs": [
        "export DISPLAY=:1;${debuggerCommand}",
    • Run a script before the execution of gdb. Ensure execute permissions are set on your script.

      "pipeArgs": [
  • stopOnEntry: A boolean that specifies whether to break as soon as the process is launched. The default is false.

  • visualizerFile: A .natvis file to use when debugging this process. This option is incompatible with gdb pretty printing. Also set showDisplayString when you set this property.

  • showDisplayString: A boolean that enables the display string when a visualizerFile is specified. Setting this option to true can cause slower performance during debugging.

  • setupCommands: One or more gdb command(s) to execute, to set up the underlying debugger.

  • externalConsole: A boolean that specifies whether a console is launched for the debuggee.

  • miDebuggerPath: The full path to gdb. When unspecified, Visual Studio searches PATH first for the debugger.

  • remoteMachineName: The remote Linux system that hosts gdb and the program to debug.

The following properties can be used to separate your remote build system from your remote debug system. For more information, see Specify different machines for building and debugging.

  • remoteMachineName: The remote Linux system that hosts gdb and the program to debug. This entry doesn't need to match the remote Linux system used for build specified in CMakeSettings.json. Press Ctrl+Space to view a list of all remote connections stored in the Connection Manager.

  • disableDeploy: Indicates whether build/debug separation is disabled. When enabled, this feature allows build and debug to occur on two separate machines.

  • deployDirectory: The directory on the remote debug machine (specified by remoteMachineName) that the executable will be copied to.

  • deploy: An array of advanced deployment settings. You only need to configure these settings when you want more granular control over the deployment process. By default, only the files necessary for the process to debug will be deployed to the remote debug machine.

    • sourceMachine: The machine from which the file or directory will be copied. Press Ctrl+Space to view a list of all the remote connections stored in the Connection Manager.

    • targetMachine: The machine to which the file or directory will be copied. Press Ctrl+Space to view a list of all the remote connections stored in the Connection Manager.

    • sourcePath: The file or directory location on sourceMachine.

    • targetPath: The file or directory location on targetMachine.

    • deploymentType: A description of the deployment type. LocalRemote and RemoteRemote are supported. LocalRemote means copying from the local file system to the remote system specified by remoteMachineName in launch.vs.json. RemoteRemote means copying from the remote build system specified in CMakeSettings.json to the different remote system specified in launch.vs.json.

    • executable: Indicates whether the deployed file is an executable.

Attach to a remote process

You can attach to a process running on your Linux system by setting processId to the Process ID to attach the debugger to. For more information, see Troubleshoot attaching to processes using GDB.

Debug on Linux using gdbserver

Visual Studio 2019 version 16.5 Preview 1 or later supports the remote debugging of CMake projects with gdbserver. For more information, see debugging Linux CMake projects with gdbserver.