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Quickstart: Debug with C++ using the Visual Studio debugger

Applies to: yesVisual Studio noVisual Studio for Mac


This article applies to Visual Studio 2017. If you're looking for the latest Visual Studio documentation, see Visual Studio documentation. We recommend upgrading to the latest version of Visual Studio. Download it here

The Visual Studio debugger provides many powerful features to help you debug your apps. This topic provides a quick way to learn some of the basic features.

Create a new project

  1. Open Visual Studio and create a project.

    From the top menu bar, choose File > New > Project. In the left pane of the New project dialog box, under Visual C++, choose Windows Desktop, and then in the middle pane choose Windows Console Application. Then, type a name like MyDbgApp and click OK.

    If you don't see the Windows Console Application project template, go to Tools > Get Tools and Features..., which opens the Visual Studio Installer. The Visual Studio Installer launches. Choose the Desktop development with C++ workload, then choose Modify.

    Visual Studio creates the project.

  2. In MyDbgApp.cpp, replace the following code

    int main()
        return 0;

    with this code (do not remove #include "stdafx.h"):

    #include <list>
    #include <iostream>
    using namespace std;
    void doWork()
        list <int> c1;
        const list <int> c2 = c1;
        const int &i = c2.front();
        const int &j = c2.front();
        cout << "The first element is " << i << endl;
        cout << "The second element is " << j << endl;
    int main()

Set a breakpoint

A breakpoint is a marker that indicates where Visual Studio should suspend your running code so you can take a look at the values of variables, or the behavior of memory, or whether or not a branch of code is getting run. It is the most basic feature in debugging.

  1. To set the breakpoint, click in the gutter to the left of the doWork function call (or select the line of code and press F9).

    Set a breakpoint

  2. Now press F5 (or choose Debug > Start Debugging).

    Hit a breakpoint

    The debugger pauses where you set the breakpoint. The statement where the debugger and app execution is paused is indicated by the yellow arrow. The line with the doWork function call has not yet executed.


    If you have a breakpoint in a loop or recursion, or if you have many breakpoints that you frequently step through, use a conditional breakpoint to make sure that your code is suspended ONLY when specific conditions are met. A conditional breakpoint saves time and can also make it easier to debug issues that are hard to reproduce.

    When trying to debug memory-related failures in C++, you can also use breakpoints to inspect address values (look for NULL) and reference counts.

There are different commands to instruct the debugger to continue. We show a useful code navigation command that is available starting in Visual Studio 2017.

While paused at the breakpoint, hover over the statement c1.push_back(20) until the green Run to click button Run to Click appears, and then press the Run to click button.

Run to click

The app continues execution, calling doWork, and pauses on the line of code where you clicked the button.

Common keyboard commands used to step through code include F10 and F11. For more in-depth instructions, see First look at the debugger.

Inspect variables in a datatip

  1. In the current line of code (marked by the yellow execution pointer), hover over the c1 object with your mouse to show a datatip.

    View a datatip

    The datatip shows you the current value of the c1 variable and allows you to inspect its properties. When debugging, if you see a value you don't expect, you probably have a bug in the preceding or calling lines of code.

  2. Expand the datatip to look at the current property values of the c1 object.

  3. If you want to pin the datatip so that you can continue to see the value of c1 while you execute code, click the small pin icon. (You can move the pinned datatip to a convenient location.)

Edit code and continue debugging

If you identify a change that you want to test in your code while in the middle of a debugging session, you can do that, too.

  1. Click the second instance of c2.front() and change c2.front() to c2.back().

  2. Press F10 (or Debug > Step Over) a few times to advance the debugger and execute the edited code.

    Edit and continue

    F10 advances the debugger one statement at a time, but steps over functions instead of stepping into them (the code that you skip still executes).

For more information on using edit-and-continue and on feature limitations, see Edit and Continue.

Next steps

In this tutorial, you've learned how to start the debugger, step through code, and inspect variables. You may want to get a high-level look at debugger features along with links to more information.