The ACPI engine in the kernel can be debugged by building with CONFIG_ACPI_DEBUG and configuring /sys/module/acpi/parameters/debug_layer and /sys/module/acpi/parameters/debug_level appropriately. This can provide a wealth of data and is generally a very powerful debug state tracing mechanism. However, there are times when one wants to get a little more debug data out or perhaps just drill down on a specific core area of functionality without being swamped by too much ACPI debug. This is where tools like SystemTap are useful.
SystemTap is a very powerful tool that allows one to add extra debug instrumentation into a running kernel without the hassle and overhead of rebuilding a kernel with debug printk() statements in. It allows very quick turnaround in writing debug and one does not have to reboot a machine to load a new kernel since the debug is loaded and unloaded dynamically.
SystemTap has its own scripting language for writing debug scripts, but for specialised hackery it provides a mechanism ('guru mode') to embed C directly which can be called from the SystemTap script. The SystemTap language is fairly small and easy to understand and one easily becoming proficient with the language in a day.
The only downside is that one requires a .ddeb kernel package which is huge since it contains all the necessary kernel debug information.
Over the past week I have been looking at debugging various aspects of the ACPI core, such as fulling tracing suspend/resume and dumping out executed AML code at run time. I was able to quickly prototype a SystemTap script that dumps out AML opcodes on the Oneiric kernel - this saved me the usual build of a debug kernel with CONFIG_ACPI_DEBUG enabled and then capturing the appropriate debug and wading through copious amounts of debug data.
Conclusion: Some initial investment in time and effort is required to understand SystemTap (and to get to grips with the more useful features in 'guru mode'). However, one can be far more productive because the debug cycle is made far more efficient. Also, SystemTap provides plenty of functionality to allow very detailed and targeted debugging scripts.