Dr. Watson Errors

What Are Dr. Watson Errors?

Anyone who’s used 32 bit Windows Operating Systems will have occasionally experienced a Dr Watson error – an “Exception” or a “General Protection Fault”. The result of such an error is almost invariably to crash the program that’s generated the error, losing any work in that program.

Dr Watson is actually a program that ships within Windows. It’s a type of program called a debugger – it captures data from programs that have suffered certain types of fault, and stores the data in a file.

Two versions of the Dr Watson program have shipped with Windows. The older version, drwatson.exe, shipped with Windows NT, and Drwtsn32.exe ships with Windows XP.

Both versions of the program capture error data from programs, and write it to a file called Drwtsn32.log. The file is typically written in to the System32 directory.

Historically, Dr Watson was originally just called “Watson” – but Dr was soon appended on the front after people thought that the name referred to Sherlock Holmes’s companion.


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What Kind Of Errors Are They & Are They Severe?

The errors that Dr Watson captures are best described as “deep” errors in the software that are occurring at a very low level in the program code that is being executed by the computer.

The errors caught by Dr Watson are actually generated by the Central Processing Unit (CPU) of the computer itself, and the error then signalled to the Windows Operating System.

Unfortunately for the user, they can occasionally be so severe as to require the re-starting of the computer. The errors generated fall in to three main categories :

1)The processor has attempted to access an illegal instruction
2)The processor has attempted to access invalid data or instructions.
3) The processor has attempted to access data or code that the program is not privileged to access.

There are 17 of these so-called Fatal Exception Errors that the CPU can return to Windows. The most common ones that most users will experience are Exception 5, where the CPU has attempted to access data outside a particular range of memory space available to it, and Exception 13, the “General protection Fault”, a “catch all” error for problems not dealt with by any of the other 16 error codes.

The data written to the log file is really only of use to the developers who originally wrote the software. They can use the log, in conjunction with the source code of the software, to determine exactly where the fault occurred. Then, of course, they can fix it.


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How Can I tell Which Program Caused The Exception?

From a user’s perspective, opening the log file up in a program like Notepad can tell you what particular program actually caused the Exception, and also lists the type of Exception and the address in memory where the Exception occurred.

The log also lists the other programs that were running at the same time. But without the source code and suitable tools, there’s very little a user can do with these logs.


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What Do I Do After An Exception Error?

If you experience such an error, the best thing to do is to reboot the computer. Although it is possible that you will not experience any other problems, it’s better to be on the safe side and restart Windows.

Some Exceptions are caused by particular combinations of running programs and data, whereas others are just one off “glitches”.

If the exception you are experiencing is of the first type, then you may find it recurs. In this case there is little you can do but raise the Exception with the manufacturer of the software.

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