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Mike Riley

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Debug It! Book Review

January 17, 2010

A recent article I read regarding the decline of the use of specific debugging tools sparked my interest in the latest software bug hunting best practices and trends.  The article's hypothesis was that debugging tools were becoming less important due to the increase in test harnessing at a project's outset.  Read on to see if Debug It! author Paul Butcher agrees.

Debug It!: Find, Repair, and Prevent Bugs in Your Code follows the same advice format as other Pragmatic Bookshelf titles similar to The Passionate Programmer and Land the Tech Job You Love.  Instead of listing large blocks of code and debugging output, the book extols the exceptional qualities of being an effective software debugging expert.  

The book is dividing into three parts: The Heart of the Problem (dealing with identifying, reproducing, diagnosing, fixing and preventing future bugs), The Bigger Picture (bug tracking and prioritization), and Debug-Fu (dealing with special cases like backwards compatibility, debugging concurrencies, setting up the ideal debugging environment, using assertions and anti-patterns).  The author provides an clear, conversational style to each topic, keeping what could have been a very dry presentation lively and engaging.  His frequent stories of his own situations also made me relate much more closely to his situation and made me pay more attention to his outcome and advice.  Thoughts of, "Oh yeah, I've been there," were followed by "I wonder how he dealt with that problem," and occasionally punctuated by "Good idea. I will have to try that."  While some of the advice was obvious (at least to readers like me who have been writing code in some form over the last 25 years), others (especially in the Debug-Fu section) were relevant and timely.  For example, the brief sections on concurrency and the Heisenbugs (inspired by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, since it's "a bug that 'goes away' the instant you start looking for it" were insightful and much appreciated.

It's clear that the author's years of debugging experience were superbly distilled into this collection of high impact advice.  While the debate of test harness versus debugging tools was not discussed, there's no doubt that a combination of testing and leveraging the debugging knowledge imparted by this book will yield positive results.




Title:  Debug It!: Find, Repair, and Prevent Bugs in Your Code
Author: Paul Butcher
Publisher: The Pragmatic Bookshelf
ISBN: 978-1-93435-628-9
Pages: 232
Price: $34.95 US

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