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How To Debug a Remote Java Application

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The importance of being able to debug a Java application that is deployed remotely, in another country or city, cannot be understated. Recently I was working with a Java application that was bugging me when it was running in another country (USA) but it works fine when I run it on my desktop here in India. Of course, there is no connection with the geography except that the connection is slower. Every time I had a problem which is time consuming to reproduce on my desktop, I would login to that computer remotely through VNC client, reproduce the problem, get the logs, diagnose, and test it again there. You may ask, "Why don't you create a similar setup of that remote machine next to your desktop?" Trust me, there's a reason why I can't do it and I won't have a setup anytime sooner. Don't let that distract you about what I am trying to say, just forget it and assume I have to test it on a remote machine that resides in the same Intranet.

I was a having a conversation with one of my coworkers on phone about a particular problem and he said, "It will be slow but why don't you debug and see it?" My face turned red and I felt a little ashamed, I knew what he was talking about. He is a smart guy, I knew for sure he was not asking me to switch my whole development environment to some remote machine sitting on the other side of the globe. I hung up the phone, I walked to his desk and asked him. "Did you say debug?" He generously showed me how to do it. In fact, he thought that I don't know what is debugging and he explained me everything -- all that Step-Into, Step-Over, Step-Out stuff with it's shortcuts.

It was easy for me to jump and say, "Dude! I know how to debug" but that would have been a wrong thing to do at that time. I know many people who come for help to me do this. So I quietly listened to him and gently said, "Yep, I'm familiar with that."

In case you have never done this before --here is how you do it. I will show how to do this using the Eclipse IDE, and I am very sure you are smart enough to figure out for your development setup.

Let's say you have your application compiled into a jar called myapp.jar and this will be running remotely on a machine called (or some IP). Your development machine is Now to debug the myapp.jar that is running remotely from your desktop machine, there are two steps you have to follow:

  1. Start the application and tell the JVM that it will be debugged remotely
  2. Configure your IDE on your desktop to be able to debug that remote application

Starting the Application with Remote Debugging Enabled

java -Xdebug -Xrunjdwp:transport=dt_socket,address=8998,server=y -jar myapp.jar

The above command says: start myapp.jar + start a server socket at port 8998 and publish the debugging messages using the Java Debug Wire Protocol (jdwp) there.

Other than address, server, and transport there are other sub options available for -Xrunjdwp option -- for example: suspend. I will leave that for you. Let's move on to step 2, that is configuring Eclipse.

Configuring Eclipse to Debug a Remotely Running Application

I will just show the screenshots without writing much, it's just intuitive that way.

  1. Start Eclipse
  2. Go to Run -> Debug Configurations

  3. Create a new Remote Java Application configuration

  4. Configure the remote application's details

  5. If you would like to have this launch configuration in your favorites menu
  6. Don't forget to click Apply

Cool, isn't it? That it. Happy remote debugging! :)

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Sudhakar Ramasamy replied on Wed, 2008/04/30 - 12:51pm

Nice post. Especially useful for newbie java programmers. I remember when I was getting started with Java EE using Glassfish and needing the ability to debug an EJB.

The Glassfish admin console has a checkbox where you can check debug and then configure the remote debug launch configuration for the EJB or Web application in Eclipse to connect to the Glassfish instance's debug port. Now deploy your app and all break points in your source code will stop execution! Pretty need.

Jeevan Joseph replied on Wed, 2008/05/14 - 5:33pm

There s alot you can do with the JVMTI and JDI apis too.

In you scenario, if you had found that the error/bug was a small soding error, say an inverted if condition, or a missing null check,

JDI allows you to "inject" a new classfile in to your runing appication and test the changes, thus saving you the time of re packaging and re deployment, or worse am appserver restart, if hot deployment is not supported.

try the open source tool classghost for this :

John Kroubalkian replied on Fri, 2008/08/22 - 6:35pm

Great post.  Thank you very much!

Javin Paul replied on Mon, 2011/04/11 - 5:28am in response to: Sudhakar Ramasamy

Indeed Nice article In my experiece Remote Debugging is very useful for troubleshooting production issues on large enterprise application, specially  if your applicaiton is live and you don't have proper development environment setup in your dev box.


Java remote debugging in Eclipse Tips

Ashwini Kalmutt replied on Tue, 2011/09/27 - 4:09am

hello i am new to java programming.

i need to debug the code which is on remote machine file system in the form of jar file.

the program should be compiled by java 1.4 version. so after that i load on remote machine.

i followed the steps as u said. but i am getting the following error

Failed to connect to remote VM. Connection refused. Connection timed out: connect
at Method)
at org.eclipse.jdi.internal.connect.SocketTransportService$


can anyone help me out


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