The Art of Effective Debugging

Learn How to Identify, Troubleshoot, and Fix Bugs Quickly and Efficiently in Your Codebase

As a professional software developer, you will often find yourself working with code written by someone else. It may be challenging to comprehend it entirely, but you must maintain it and incorporate new features on top of it.

Your responsibility is to ensure that any additions you make do not break existing functionality and that no edge-case bugs emerge due to your modifications.

I have written a quick guide on debugging mastery and this article is discussing these techniques in detail.

End users frequently report issues such as malfunctioning functionality or discrepancies between expected and actual values. The process of investigating even a small bug can sometimes consume an entire day, and the ultimate culprit may be something as trivial as a trailing space in user input. This can be incredibly frustrating and appear to be an unnecessary waste of time and resources. However, having strong debugging skills can save you a great deal of time and energy in the long run.

Before investigating an issue properly, it is important to remember these steps:

  1. Replicate and reproduce the error: Try to replicate the issue and reproduce the error on your own system. This will help you better understand the problem and identify its root cause.
  2. Keep a record of all issues: Maintain a record of all the issues you encounter, as you may have encountered similar issues in the past and can refer to previous solutions. You can also create FAQs for frequently occurring issues.
  3. Request snapshots and sufficient detail from the user: Ask the user to provide a snapshot of the issue they are facing. This can help you better understand the issue and identify its root cause.
  4. Determine if the user is at fault: Often, the issue may be caused by the user’s actions or misunderstanding of the product. In this case, you can note it down as a user training issue.
  5. Identify the root cause of the issue: If the issue is genuine, you need to dive deeper into the root cause of the error. Start by determining whether it is a front-end or back-end issue.

Investigation Technique

Database Investigation: Once you have identified the potential source of the issue, it is important to narrow it down further. If the user is seeing incorrect values, check the database to see if the stored values are incorrect. If the database entries are incorrect, the write or update APIs to the database may be the culprit. If the database has the correct state, the issue may be with the read/get APIs that compute values on the fly.

Identifying the problem in the database can be a crucial task. Having expertise in writing complex SQL queries can be beneficial, as you may need to join multiple tables or delve into multiple stores to find the root cause.

Unit Tests: Once you have narrowed down the problem to a few APIs, investigate the computation flow. If you feel that a particular method has complex logic, it is recommended to write detailed unit test cases with various edge cases. Unit tests can help identify issues with the method.

Debugger: If the end-to-end flow is too long and complex, use a debugger. However, replicating the production environment and scenario can be time-consuming and arduous. Once the debugger is in place, it can help you narrow down the problem to the method/function level.

Loggers: If the actual state at some point is hard to determine, consider adding a logger at that point. Logging the program state at a particular point can save you a lot of time during debugging. Ensure that you have proper loggers in place throughout the program.

Keep Notes: It is important to document your findings as they will help you and others in the future. It can be challenging to recall how you fixed a bug when revisiting it after an extended period.

Don’t overlook simple solutions: Sometimes the simplest solutions can be the most effective. Don’t discount the possibility that the issue could be caused by something trivial, like a typo or a misplaced character. These types of errors can be easy to miss but can cause significant issues.

Collaborate with your team: Debugging can be a collaborative effort. Reach out to other members of your team who may have more experience in the relevant code or technologies. They may be able to offer fresh insights or alternative approaches to solving the issue.

Remember to always replicate and reproduce the error, narrow down the issue, and use tools like unit tests and debuggers to help you find the root cause of the problem. Additionally, keeping detailed notes of your findings can be extremely helpful in the future. With practice and perseverance, you can become an expert at debugging and tackling any software issue that comes your way.

Debugging is a skill that requires a detective-like mindset and a passion for investigation.

Thanks for reading 🙂

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