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10 effective debugging techniques for developers

Date
September 25, 2023
Hot topics 🔥
Tech Insights
Contributor
Pavel Bazhenov
10 effective debugging techniques for developers

Unlock higher coding efficiency with our top 10 debugging strategies, essential for every developer’s toolkit.

Key Takeaways

  • Debugging represents a significant and challenging phase in the software development lifecycle, often consuming more time than the initial code creation.
  • Mastery in debugging techniques is crucial for all developers, as bugs are an inevitable part of coding projects.
  • Effective debugging involves a detailed process, including understanding error symptoms, identifying the cause, and fixing the error.
  • Top debugging techniques include understanding the problem, backtracing, using debugging tools, setting breakpoints, binary search, rubber ducking, log analysis, clustering bugs, taking breaks, and learning from each debugging session.
  • These strategies can significantly enhance a developer’s efficiency and problem-solving skills, turning debugging from a burden into a valuable learning opportunity.
  • Planning and understanding your code’s purpose before writing can prevent many bugs, saving time and effort in the debugging process.

Catching bugs

No matter your level of experience in programming, encountering bugs in your code is inevitable. Addressing these issues effectively demands a systematic approach, considerable patience and a good debugging strategy.

Debugging is a critical component of software development, often representing the most time-intensive and challenging phase of the coding lifecycle. Interestingly, developers tend to allocate more time to debugging and maintaining code than to its initial creation.

Discover the best debugging techiniques that can elevate your programming efficiency and refine your development workflow.

What is debugging?

Debugging entails the meticulous process of identifying and rectifying errors in software code, which can lead to unexpected behavior. Mastering debugging strategies is crucial for developers, given the inevitability of bugs in any coding project.

But it’s not a situation of proficiency. Even experienced programmers spend a lot of their time debugging. While experience plays a role, a deep comprehension of debugging techniques can significantly enhance your coding efficiency.

Challenges in the debugging process

Before we explore debugging techniques, let’s take a quick look at the outline of a typical debugging process.

Examine the error symptoms

The first step is to successfully identify and understand the symptoms of the issue in your code, such as crashes, error messages, or unexpected behaviour.

Identify the cause

Once the symptoms have been identified, you must then find out the root cause of the problem. This is done by tracing the code’s execution and discovering the specific lines that are creating the issue.

Fix the error

Now that the issue has been identified, it’s time to make the necessary changes or corrections to remove the problem and ensure that the code works correctly.

As you can see, debugging is a detailed process that takes patience and focus. Think of it as finding a needle in a haystack – only that riffling through the digital haystack can potentially cause the displacement of vital elements that could jeopardise the entire ecosystem, creating more needles. To do this effectively, you’ll need a debugging strategy.

10 of the best debugging techniques

To ensure your needles don’t multiply, let’s explore 10 effective debugging strategies to help you become a master at debugging.

1. Understanding the problem

Before you start making changes to your code, it’s vital to fully understand the problem you’re trying to solve. Debugging without knowing the problem will lead to a lot of wasted time and ineffective solutions. Try to reproduce the issue and gather as much information as you can about its behaviour.

2. Backtracing

Backtracing, or backward debugging, involves starting from the point where the problem first began and working backwards through the code to find out how and why it happened. This technique is useful if you’re dealing with complex issues that are difficult to trace forward.

3. Using debugging tools

There a hundreds of great debugging tools available in your programming language and environment of choice for you to leverage. These tools help give valuable insights into how your code is functioning, including variables and memory usage, which help save a lot of time. Popular debugging tools like Chrome DevTools, Testsigma, Airbrake, and dbForger are a good place to start depending on your tech stack. Take a look at some of the best debugging tools out there.

4. Breakpoints and stepping

It’s a good idea to set breakpoints in your code where you think the issue might be hiding. A breakpoint is where you’re able to temporarily stop the execution of your program to give you time to inspect the state of its functionality. Then, use the stepping technique to move through each line of code to study variables and data structures for problems. This entails manually inspecting each line of code at a time before moving up or down to the next.

When faced with a complex problem, consider narrowing down the scope of the issue into manageable portions. Binary search is where you divide the code into halves and systematically narrow down the location of the bug. Techniques such as commenting out code, using print statements, or isolating components can help you isolate the problem area quickly.

6. Rubber ducking

Many developers find that explaining the problem to someone else – even an object like a rubber duck – can help you identify the issue yourself. The act of articulating the problem out loud or written down forces you to think critically about it. This process often leads to the discovery of new insights and solutions.

7. Log analysis

It’s a good idea to place log analysis statements in strategic areas of your code to provide valuable information for your debugging investigation. By understanding more about your code’s execution flow and the values of variables at different stages, you are better equipped to identify the issue. Check out great log analysis tools like Sematext Logs, SolarWinds Loggly, and Splunk.

8. Clustering bugs

It’s easier to herd sheep if they’re all in one location, right? The same goes for bugs. If you receive many error reports, it’s better to group them into classes of related bugs as bugs in the same class will often share common causes or similar patterns. Fixing one bug from a class is likely to resolve others or at least give insights into how to fix them.

9. Take breaks

The debugging process can be mentally taxing, especially when you’re stuck on a problem. Taking breaks and stepping away from the code for a while can clear your mind and give you the opportunity to let thoughts and ideas simmer. This can potentially lead to breakthroughs because returning with a fresh perspective often helps you see the problem from a different angle.

10. Take notes for learning

As you embark on your debugging journey (of which there will be plenty), it is not a bad idea to document the process and the solutions you discover. This serves as a valuable resource for future debugging challenges you might encounter. Think of it as an experiential chat code to your debugging endeavours.

It’s important to remember that debugging is a prominent aspect of your career as a developer, so embrace it as a learning opportunity rather than a burden. Each debugging experience will help you grow as a developer and enhance your overall problem-solving skills.

Bonus tip

Don’t write bugs into your code in the first place, silly! We’re kidding, but also not. You see, it’s important to plan before you start writing code. Figure out what you want to do and how you’re going to do it and sketch out a neat algorithm. Make sure it makes sense to you: decide what data structures you’re going to use and what rules you’re going to follow. Trust us, all that brainstorming and planning upfront will save you a ton of time down the road.

Summary

Debugging is an important part of software development and mastering these effective debugging techniques is essential for every successful programmer. By understanding the problem at the onset, you will be better able to develop a strategy to resolve it. Making these approaches part of your go-to debugging strategy will help you become a more proficient debugger.

Remember that debugging is not just about fixing errors – it’s also about understanding your code deeper to become a more skilled developer.

Pavel Bazhenov

Pavel is one of our front-end wizards, or as he says it, an implementer of really cool designs for WeAreBrain and our clients. His secret skill: take broken things and bring them back to life.

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