Setting up a Snapshot Pipeline#

Crash Handler Setup#

The Snapshot proto was designed first and foremost as a crash reporting format. This section covers how to set up a crash handler to capture Snapshots.

Generic crash handler flow

A typical crash handler has two entry points:

  1. A software entry path through developer-written ASSERT() or CHECK() calls that indicate a device should go down for a crash if a condition is not met.

  2. A hardware-triggered exception handler path that is initiated when a CPU encounters a fault signal (invalid memory access, bad instruction, etc.).

Before deferring to a common crash handler, these entry paths should disable interrupts to force the system into a single-threaded execution mode. This prevents other threads from operating on potentially bad data or clobbering system state that could be useful for debugging.

The first step in a crash handler should always be a check for nested crashes to prevent infinitely recursive crashes. Once it’s deemed it’s safe to continue, the crash handler can re-initialize logging, initialize storage for crash report capture, and then build a snapshot to later be retrieved from the device. Once the crash report collection process is complete, some post-crash callbacks can be run on a best-effort basis to clean up the system before rebooting. For devices with debug port access, it’s helpful to optionally hold the device in an infinite loop rather than resetting to allow developers to access the device via a hardware debugger.

Assert Handler Setup#

pw_assert is Pigweed’s entry point for software crashes. Route any existing assert functions through pw_assert to centralize the software crash path. You’ll need to create a pw_assert backend or a custom pw_assert_basic handler to pass collected information to a more sophisticated crash handler. One way to do this is to collect the data into a statically allocated struct that is passed to a common crash handler. It’s important to immediately disable interrupts to prevent the system from doing other things while in an impacted state.

// This can be be directly accessed by a crash handler
static CrashData crash_data;
extern "C" void pw_assert_basic_HandleFailure(const char* file_name,
                                              int line_number,
                                              const char* format,
                                              ...) {
  // Always disable interrupts first! How this is done depends
  // on your platform.

  va_list args;
  va_start(args, format);
  crash_data.file_name = file_name;
  crash_data.line_number = line_number;
  crash_data.reason_fmt = format;
  crash_data.reason_args = &args;
  crash_data.cpu_state = nullptr;


Exception Handler Setup#

pw_cpu_exception is Pigweed’s recommended entry point for CPU-triggered faults (divide by zero, invalid memory access, etc.). You will need to provide a definition for pw_cpu_exception_DefaultHandler() that passes the exception state produced by pw_cpu_exception to your common crash handler.

static CrashData crash_data;
// This helper turns a format string to a va_list that can be used by the
// common crash handling path.
void HandleExceptionWithString(pw_cpu_exception_State& state,
                               const char* fmt,
                               ...) {
  va_list args;
  va_start(args, fmt);
  crash_data.cpu_state = state;
  crash_data.file_name = nullptr;
  crash_data.reason_fmt = fmt;
  crash_data.reason_args = &args;


extern "C" void pw_cpu_exception_DefaultHandler(
    pw_cpu_exception_State* state) {
  // Always disable interrupts first! How this is done depends
  // on your platform.

  crash_data.state = cpu_state;
  // The CFSR is an extremely useful register for understanding ARMv7-M and
  // ARMv8-M CPU faults. Other architectures should put something else here.
                            "Exception encountered, cfsr=0x%",

Common Crash Handler Setup#

To minimize duplication of crash handling logic, it’s good practice to route the pw_assert and pw_cpu_exception handlers to a common crash handling codepath. Ensure you can pass both pw_cpu_exception’s CPU state and pw_assert’s assert information to the shared handler.

struct CrashData {
  pw_cpu_exception_State *cpu_state;
  const char *reason_fmt;
  const va_list *reason_args;
  const char *file_name;
  int line_number;

// This function assumes interrupts are properly disabled BEFORE it is called.
[[noreturn]] void HandleCrash(CrashData& crash_info) {
  // Handle crash

In the crash handler your project can re-initialize a minimal subset of the system needed to safely capture a snapshot before rebooting the device. The remainder of this section focuses on ways you can improve the reliability and usability of your project’s crash handler.

Check for Nested Crashes#

It’s important to include crash handler checks that prevent infinite recursive nesting of crashes. Maintain a static variable that checks the crash nesting depth. After one or two nested crashes, abort crash handling entirely and reset the device or sit in an infinite loop to wait for a hardware debugger to attach. It’s simpler to put this logic at the beginning of the shared crash handler, but if your assert/exception handlers are complex it might be safer to inject the checks earlier in both codepaths.

[[noreturn]] void HandleCrash(CrashData &crash_info) {
  static size_t crash_depth = 0;
  if (crash_depth > kMaxCrashDepth) {

Re-initialize Logging (Optional)#

Logging can be helpful for debugging your crash handler, but depending on your device/system design may be challenging to safely support at crash time. To re-initialize logging, you’ll need to re-construct C++ objects and re-initialize any systems/hardware in the logging codepath. You may even need an entirely separate logging pipeline that is single-threaded and interrupt-safe. Depending on your system’s design, this may be difficult to set up.

Reinitialize Dependencies#

It’s good practice to design a crash handler that can run before C++ static constructors have run. This means any initialization (whether manual or through constructors) that your crash handler depends on should be manually invoked at crash time. If an initialization step might not be safe, evaluate if it’s possible to omit the dependency.

System Cleanup#

After collecting a snapshot, some parts of your system may benefit from some cleanup before explicitly resetting a device. This might include flushing buffers or safely shutting down attached hardware. The order of shutdown should be deterministic, keeping in mind that any of these steps may have the potential of causing a nested crash that skips the remainder of the handlers and forces the device to immediately reset.

Snapshot Storage Setup#

Use a storage class with a pw::stream::Writer interface to simplify capturing a pw_snapshot proto. This can be a pw::BlobStore, an in-memory buffer that is flushed to flash, or a pw::PersistentBuffer that lives in persistent memory. It’s good practice to use lazy initialization for storage objects used by your Snapshot capture codepath.

// Persistent RAM objects are highly available. They don't rely on
// their constructor being run, and require no initialization.
pw::persistent_ram::PersistentBuffer<2048> persistent_snapshot;

void CaptureSnapshot(CrashInfo& crash_info) {
  PersistentBufferWriter& writer = persistent_snapshot.GetWriter();

Snapshot Capture Setup#


These instructions do not yet use the pw::protobuf::StreamEncoder.

Capturing a snapshot is as simple as encoding any other proto message. Some modules provide helper functions that will populate parts of a Snapshot, which eases the burden of custom work that must be set up uniquely for each project.

Capture Reason#

A snapshot’s “reason” should be considered the single most important field in a captured snapshot. If a snapshot capture was triggered by a crash, this should be the assert string. Other entry paths should describe here why the snapshot was captured (“Host communication buffer full!”, “Exception encountered at 0x00000004”, etc.).

Status CaptureSnapshot(CrashData& crash_info) {
  // Temporary buffer for encoding "reason" to.
  static std::byte temp_buffer[500];
  // Temporary buffer to encode serialized proto to before dumping to the
  // final ``pw::stream::Writer``.
  static std::byte proto_encode_buffer[512];
  pw::protobuf::NestedEncoder<kMaxDepth> proto_encoder(proto_encode_buffer);
  pw::snapshot::Snapshot::Encoder snapshot_encoder(&proto_encoder);
  size_t length = snprintf(temp_buffer,
  snapshot_encoder.WriteReason(temp_buffer, length));

  // Final encode and write.
  Result<ConstByteSpan> encoded_proto = proto_encoder.Encode();

Capture CPU State#

When using pw_cpu_exception, exceptions will automatically collect CPU state that can be directly dumped into a snapshot. As it’s not always easy to describe a CPU exception in a single “reason” string, this captures the information needed to more verbosely automatically generate a descriptive reason at analysis time once the snapshot is retrieved from the device.

Status CaptureSnapshot(CrashData& crash_info) {


  // Write CPU state.
  if (crash_info.cpu_state) {

    // Final encode and write.
    Result<ConstByteSpan> encoded_proto = proto_encoder.Encode();

Snapshot Transfer Setup#

Pigweed’s pw_rpc system is well suited for retrieving a snapshot from a device. Pigweed does not yet provide a generalized transfer service for moving files to/from a device. When this feature is added to Pigweed, this section will be updated to include guidance for connecting a storage system to a transfer service.

Snapshot Tooling Setup#

When using the upstream Snapshot proto, you can directly use pw_snapshot.process to process snapshots into human-readable dumps. If you’ve opted to extend Pigweed’s snapshot proto, you’ll likely want to extend the processing tooling to handle custom project data as well. This can be done by creating a light wrapper around pw_snapshot.processor.process_snapshots().

def _process_hw_failures(serialized_snapshot: bytes) -> str:
    """Custom handler that checks wheel state."""
    wheel_state = wheel_state_pb2.WheelStateSnapshot()
    output = []

    if len(wheel_state.wheels) != 2:
        output.append(f'Expected 2 wheels, found {len(wheel_state.wheels)}')

    if len(wheel_state.wheels) < 2:
        output.append('Wheels fell off!')

    # And more...

    return '\n'.join(output)

def process_my_snapshots(serialized_snapshot: bytes) -> str:
    """Runs the snapshot processor with a custom callback."""
    return pw_snapshot.processor.process_snapshots(
        serialized_snapshot, user_processing_callback=_process_hw_failures)