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Effective Debugging: 66 Specific Ways to Debug Software and Systems

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Effective Debugging: 66 Specific Ways to Debug Software and Systems


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• The in-depth, best-practice guide to debugging modern applications and systems: broader coverage than any other book!
• Technology-neutral, widely-applicable coverage of the entire debugging landscape, packed with open source code examples
• 52 concise, full-color, step-by-step sections: principles, strategies, mindsets, behaviors, concrete techniques, tools, tips/tricks, and more
• Covers debugging workflows and automation, runtime and compile time debugging, revision control, and command line tools
• Includes expert guidance on debugging multithreaded, asynchronous, and embedded device code


  • Copyright 2016
  • Dimensions: 7" x 9-1/8"
  • Pages: 256
  • Edition: 1st
  • Book
  • ISBN-10: 0-13-439479-8
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-13-439479-4

Every software developer and IT professional understands the crucial importance of effective debugging. Often, debugging consumes most of a developer’s workday, and mastering the required techniques and skills can take a lifetime. In Effective Debugging, Diomidis Spinellis helps experienced programmers accelerate their journey to mastery, by systematically categorizing, explaining, and illustrating the most useful debugging methods, strategies, techniques, and tools.

Drawing on more than thirty-five years of experience, Spinellis expands your arsenal of debugging techniques, helping you choose the best approaches for each challenge. He presents vendor-neutral, example-rich advice on general principles, high-level strategies, concrete techniques, high-efficiency tools, creative tricks, and the behavioral traits associated with effective debugging.

Spinellis’s 66 expert techniques address every facet of debugging and are illustrated with step-by-step instructions and actual code. He addresses the full spectrum of problems that can arise in modern software systems, especially problems caused by complex interactions among components and services running on hosts scattered around the planet. Whether you’re debugging isolated runtime errors or catastrophic enterprise system failures, this guide will help you get the job done—more quickly, and with less pain.

Key features include

  • High-level strategies and methods for addressing diverse software failures
  • Specific techniques to apply when programming, compiling, and running code
  • Better ways to make the most of your debugger
  • General-purpose skills and tools worth investing in
  • Advanced ideas and techniques for escaping dead-ends and the maze of complexity
  • Advice for making programs easier to debug
  • Specialized approaches for debugging multithreaded, asynchronous, and embedded code
  • Bug avoidance through improved software design, construction, and management


Author's Site

Please visit the author's site at spinellis.gr/debugging.

Sample Content

Online Sample Chapter

General-Purpose Methods and Practices

Table of Contents

Figures xi

Listings xiii

Preface xv

Acknowledgments xxiii

About the Author xxviii

Chapter 1: High-Level Strategies 1

Item 1: Handle All Problems through an Issue-Tracking System 1

Item 2: Use Focused Queries to Search the Web for Insights into Your Problem 3

Item 3: Confirm That Preconditions and Postconditions Are Satisfied 5

Item 4: Drill Up from the Problem to the Bug or Down from the Program’s Start to the Bug 7

Item 5: Find the Difference between a Known Good System and a Failing One 9

Item 6: Use the Software’s Debugging Facilities 12

Item 7: Diversify Your Build and Execution Environment 17

Item 8: Focus Your Work on the Most Important Problems 20

Chapter 2: General-Purpose Methods and Practices 23

Item 9: Set Yourself Up for Debugging Success 23

Item 10: Enable the Efficient Reproduction of the Problem 25

Item 11: Minimize the Turnaround Time from Your Changes to Their Result 28

Item 12: Automate Complex Testing Scenarios 29

Item 13: Enable a Comprehensive Overview of Your Debugging Data 32

Item 14: Consider Updating Your Software 33

Item 15: Consult Third-Party Source Code for Insights on Its Use 34

Item 16: Use Specialized Monitoring and Test Equipment 36

Item 17: Increase the Prominence of a Failure’s Effects 40

Item 18: Enable the Debugging of Unwieldy Systems from Your Desk 42

Item 19: Automate Debugging Tasks 44

Item 20: Houseclean Before and After Debugging 45

Item 21: Fix All Instances of a Problem Class 46

Chapter 3: General-Purpose Tools and Techniques 49

Item 22: Analyze Debug Data with Unix Command-Line Tools 49

Item 23: Utilize Command-Line Tool Options and Idioms 55

Item 24: Explore Debug Data with Your Editor 57

Item 25: Optimize Your Work Environment 59

Item 26: Hunt the Causes and History of Bugs with the Revision Control System 64

Item 27: Use Monitoring Tools on Systems Composed of Independent Processes 67

Chapter 4: Debugger Techniques 71

Item 28: Use Code Compiled for Symbolic Debugging 71

Item 29: Step through the Code 76

Item 30: Use Code and Data Breakpoints 77

Item 31: Familiarize Yourself with Reverse Debugging 80

Item 32: Navigate along the Calls between Routines 82

Item 33: Look for Errors by Examining the Values of Variables and Expressions 84

Item 34: Know How to Attach a Debugger to a Running Process 87

Item 35: Know How to Work with Core Dumps 89

Item 36: Tune Your Debugging Tools 92

Item 37: Know How to View Assembly Code and Raw Memory 95

Chapter 5: Programming Techniques 101

Item 38: Review and Manually Execute Suspect Code 101

Item 39: Go Over Your Code and Reasoning with a Colleague 103

Item 40: Add Debugging Functionality 104

Item 41: Add Logging Statements 108

Item 42: Use Unit Tests 112

Item 43: Use Assertions 116

Item 44: Verify Your Reasoning by Perturbing the Debugged Program 119

Item 45: Minimize the Differences between a Working Example and the Failing Code 120

Item 46: Simplify the Suspect Code 121

Item 47: Consider Rewriting the Suspect Code in Another Language 124

Item 48: Improve the Suspect Code’s Readability and Structure 126

Item 49: Fix the Bug’s Cause, Rather Than Its Symptom 129

Chapter 6: Compile-Time Techniques 133

Item 50: Examine Generated Code 133

Item 51: Use Static Program Analysis 136

Item 52: Configure Deterministic Builds and Executions 141

Item 53: Configure the Use of Debugging Libraries and Checks 143

Chapter 7: Runtime Techniques 149

Item 54: Find the Fault by Constructing a Test Case 149

Item 55: Fail Fast 153

Item 56: Examine Application Log Files 154

Item 57: Profile the Operation of Systems and Processes 158

Item 58: Trace the Code’s Execution 162

Item 59: Use Dynamic Program Analysis Tools 168

Chapter 8: Debugging Multi-threaded Code 171

Item 60: Analyze Deadlocks with Postmortem Debugging 171

Item 61: Capture and Replicate 178

Item 62: Uncover Deadlocks and Race Conditions with Specialized Tools 183

Item 63: Isolate and Remove Nondeterminism 188

Item 64: Investigate Scalability Issues by Looking at Contention 190

Item 65: Locate False Sharing by Using Performance Counters 193

Item 66: Consider Rewriting the Code Using Higher-Level Abstractions 197

Web Resources 207

Index 211


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