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  • Dissecting Application Errors in Microsoft Windows
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Dr. Watson is a program error debugger that gathers information about status the computer when an Application Error occurs. When an error is detected, Dr. Watson creates a Log file (Drwtsn32.log) and a crash dump file (usually user.dmp). These files can be used to find out what happened when the Application Error occurred. For Dr. Watson to be able to detect these errors it needs to be installed as a "default debugger" in Windows. Dr. Watson is the default debugger in most Microsoft Windows versions, but can be changed by a user or other programs. 


Enabling Dr. Watson

To enable Dr. Watson and install it as a default debugger, the following command needs to be entered at the command prompt:
> drwtsn32 -i

Locating crash dump files To see what crash dumps are created, start Dr. Watson without any arguments:
> drwtsn32

The following window should appear: 

The Crash Dump field shows the location of the crash dump files. To locate and retrieve the crash dump files, navigate to the folder that is specified in the Crash Dump field. Create Crash Dump File must be checked in order for Dr. Watson to create the dump file.

The Application Errors list at the bottom of the Window shows all the errors that Dr. Watson has caught. Sometimes on Windows 2000 however it might create a dump file at the location that is specified in Crash Dump even though it doesn't specify anything in Application Errors.

Disabling Dr. Watson

Disabling Dr. Watson as a default debugger needs to be done by editing the registry:
  1. Click Start and Run, type regedit.exe in the Open box and then click OK.
  2. Locate and delete the following registry key:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\AeDebug\Debugger

Crash dump on Windows 2008 and up

You can also create a dump if a program crashes and the crash dump was not enabled (>= Windows 2008) But it needs a message box that comes up (e.g. unhandled exception...). Don't close this box. Then press CTRL+ALT+DEL and open the Task Manager and right click on the process and select Create Dump file.

Additional Resources:

Microsoft TechEd Blog: Capturing Application Crash Dumps
Sysinternals procdump: a command line utility to create process dumps from running applications (no crash required)
Creating a crash dump in Windows 2008 or Windows Vista SP1 and later