Note: What is described below applies to Windows Vista x64 (at least I used such OS). I’m not going to describe what to do with a mini dump – how to analyze it in a debugger (e.g. in Visual Studio); such information can be found in a very good article at CodeProject. What I’m going to present here is how to set up Windows Vista so that mini dumps are created when an application crashes, and enforce they are stored locally on the machine on which that happened.
I believe every developer uses debugger while product creation. However it’s also possible to debug the application after it’s delivered to the client. One of such techniques is postmortem debugging – the act of debugging the memory dump of a process, which is stored in a special file (not human readable).
Microsoft has created a special service – Windows Error Reporting. Prior to Vista, Dr. Watson was default Windows application debugger that created crash dumps. Starting with Vista, Microsoft has replaced Dr. Watson with a new, improved mechanism. In short (supposing Windows Error Reporting is enabled), if an application crashes a mini dump (representation of the state of the process) is created. Mini dump is much smaller but still provides plenty of needed information. Depending on settings, a mini dump can be sent to Microsoft for further analysis. This is default behavior which, at least in my case, resulted in no mini dumps stored locally on the machine where the crash took place.