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Last updated: May 08, 2023

Testing whether the App is Debuggable


Static Analysis

Check AndroidManifest.xml to determine whether the android:debuggable attribute has been set and to find the attribute's value:

    <application android:allowBackup="true" android:debuggable="true" android:icon="@drawable/ic_launcher" android:label="@string/app_name" android:theme="@style/AppTheme">

You can use aapt tool from the Android SDK with the following command line to quickly check if the android:debuggable="true" directive is present:

# If the command print 1 then the directive is present
# The regex search for this line: android:debuggable(0x0101000f)=(type 0x12)0xffffffff
$ aapt d xmltree sieve.apk AndroidManifest.xml | grep -Ec "android:debuggable\(0x[0-9a-f]+\)=\(type\s0x[0-9a-f]+\)0xffffffff"

For a release build, this attribute should always be set to "false" (the default value).

Dynamic Analysis

adb can be used to determine whether an application is debuggable.

Use the following command:

# If the command print a number superior to zero then the application have the debug flag
# The regex search for these lines:
$ adb shell dumpsys package com.mwr.example.sieve | grep -c "DEBUGGABLE"
$ adb shell dumpsys package com.nondebuggableapp | grep -c "DEBUGGABLE"

If an application is debuggable, executing application commands is trivial. In the adb shell, execute run-as by appending the package name and application command to the binary name:

$ run-as id
uid=10084(u0_a84) gid=10084(u0_a84) groups=10083(u0_a83),1004(input),1007(log),1011(adb),1015(sdcard_rw),1028(sdcard_r),3001(net_bt_admin),3002(net_bt),3003(inet),3006(net_bw_stats) context=u:r:untrusted_app:s0:c512,c768

Android Studio can also be used to debug an application and verify debugging activation for an app.

Another method for determining whether an application is debuggable is attaching jdb to the running process. If this is successful, debugging will be activated.

The following procedure can be used to start a debug session with jdb:

  1. Using adb and jdwp, identify the PID of the active application that you want to debug:

    $ adb jdwp
    16346  <== last launched, corresponds to our application
  2. Create a communication channel by using adb between the application process (with the PID) and your host computer by using a specific local port:

    # adb forward tcp:[LOCAL_PORT] jdwp:[APPLICATION_PID]
    $ adb forward tcp:55555 jdwp:16346
  3. Using jdb, attach the debugger to the local communication channel port and start a debug session:

    $ jdb -connect com.sun.jdi.SocketAttach:hostname=localhost,port=55555
    Set uncaught java.lang.Throwable
    Set deferred uncaught java.lang.Throwable
    Initializing jdb ...
    > help

A few notes about debugging:

  • The tool JADX can be used to identify interesting locations for breakpoint insertion.
  • Usage of basic commands for jdb can be found at Tutorialspoint.
  • If you get an error telling that "the connection to the debugger has been closed" while jdb is being bound to the local communication channel port, kill all adb sessions and start a single new session.