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Rajasegar Chandran
Rajasegar Chandran

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Debugging Rules: Keep an Audit Trail

Debugging proves to be a challenging task that often demands extended and uncertain periods for resolution. Thus, the objective revolves around minimizing the necessity for extensive debugging. Skillful programmers acknowledge that they invest an equal amount of time in debugging as they do in actual coding, prompting them to extract lessons from their errors. Each identified bug serves as an opportunity to grasp methods for averting analogous issues in the future or swiftly identifying them if they arise once more.

"There is no branch of detective science which is so important and so much neglected as the art of tracing footsteps"

Occasionally, the seemingly trivial aspects can hold the essential clue to triggering a bug. Elements that appear unimportant to the QA person could hold significance for the troubleshooter. Likewise, what appears evident to the QA person might elude the person attempting the fix. Therefore, meticulous attention to every detail is crucial, as there's a possibility that seemingly insignificant factors could carry hidden importance.

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Write down what you did, in what order, and what happened

Maintain a record of actions taken. While delving into an issue, document your procedures, their sequential arrangement, and the ensuing outcomes. Consistently adhere to this practice. Think of it as akin to embedding instruments within the software or hardware - here, you're incorporating instrumentation into the testing process. This approach enables you to discern each undertaken step and its corresponding outcome. Such meticulous tracking aids in pinpointing the precise step deserving of attention during the debugging phase.

The Devil is in the Details

Recognize that every detail possesses potential significance. Regrettably, although the worth of maintaining an audit trail is commonly acknowledged, the extent of required specificity often isn't, leading to the omission of critical information. What type of system was in operation? How did the sequence of events unfold prior to the malfunction? And occasionally, what precisely constituted the failure itself?

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The essence lies in augmenting any debug traces or logs with supplementary conditions and symptoms that might not be explicitly present in the logs. If you can establish correlations between symptoms and timestamps, the efficacy is enhanced further.

Maintain a precise and uniform approach when articulating descriptions. You can't commence the process of problem-solving until you have a firm grasp on the fundamental symptoms. Another noteworthy aspect is not solely comprehending what transpired, but also quantifying the extent of the occurrence. The pivotal element resided within a detail that one would typically overlook. Yet, a disposition to scrutinize and meticulously document every aspect is imperative.


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Drawing connections between symptoms and other symptoms or debug data proves highly advantageous. In systems characterized by intercommunication among multiple devices, maintaining records for both systems, complete with accurately synchronized timestamps, holds significant value. This reservoir of information is tremendously beneficial. Numerous bugs have been unearthed through the process of correlating symptoms with human timelines.

Audit Trails for Design are also Good for Testing

Exerting control over tools is paramount for precisely reproducing a version, and ensuring its presence is imperative. Unidentified deviations in tools can result in exceedingly peculiar outcomes.

The Shortest Pencil is longer than the longest memory

Relying on your memory for specifics is inadvisable; instead, document them in writing. Placing trust solely in your memory leads to several eventualities. You'll inevitably overlook the details that seemed inconsequential in the moment, which ironically turn out to be pivotal.

Additionally, you'll omit details that might not have held significance for you but could hold importance for others tackling different issues later on. This approach limits your ability to effectively convey information unless done verbally, causing unnecessary time wastage for everyone, assuming you're present to discuss it. Furthermore, retaining a comprehensive recollection of events, their sequence, and their interrelationships becomes an intricate challenge. This information, however, is fundamental.

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Document the details by putting them in writing. Opt for digital documentation in a simple and easy to consume format to facilitate the creation of backup copies, seamless attachment to bug reports, effortless distribution to others, and the potential for subsequent analysis through automated tools. Jot down your actions and their corresponding outcomes. Preserve your debug logs and traces, and supplement them with contextual incidents and impacts that might not be explicitly captured. Record your hypotheses and solutions. Leave no aspect undocumented.

Write it down. No matter how horrible the moment , make a memorandum of it.

Keep a notepad by your desk

One factor leading programmers into a quandary during debugging sessions is delving excessively into fruitless routes. Compile a roster of strategies to attempt, and if a particular method proves ineffective, transition to the subsequent alternative.

Maintaining an audit trail during debugging offers several key advantages:

  1. Comprehensive Tracking: An audit trail chronicles your investigative steps, enabling you to retrace your actions and decisions. This tracking ensures transparency and accountability in the debugging process.

  2. Efficient Collaboration: Sharing an audit trail with colleagues or teammates enhances collaboration. Others can comprehend your thought process, aiding in quicker problem resolution and minimizing duplicated efforts.

  3. Accurate Reproduction: An audit trail facilitates the recreation of issues in controlled environments. By following the documented steps, you increase the likelihood of replicating the problem accurately, leading to more effective troubleshooting.

  4. Diagnosing Root Causes: Analyzing the audit trail helps you pinpoint the exact moment or sequence of events that triggered the bug. This insight is invaluable in identifying underlying issues and formulating precise solutions.

  5. Holistic Understanding: The trail captures not only the immediate actions but also the context and environmental conditions. This comprehensive understanding is crucial for grasping the bigger picture of the problem.

  6. Learning and Improvement: Reviewing past audit trails enables you to learn from previous experiences. Understanding the path taken to identify and rectify issues can help you avoid similar pitfalls in the future.

  7. Adaptable Problem-Solving: With an audit trail, you can easily switch between different approaches without losing your progress. If one avenue proves unsuccessful, you can retrace your steps and pursue alternate solutions.

  8. Effective Documentation: The audit trail serves as documentation of your debugging efforts. This documentation can be used for future reference, training new team members, and building a knowledge base.

  9. Optimized Time Management: Instead of aimlessly retracing your steps, you can refer to the audit trail to quickly resume your investigation. This prevents wasted time and expedites the resolution process.

  10. Data-Driven Insights: By recording observations, hypotheses, and results, you're gathering data that can provide insights into recurring issues, patterns, and potential improvements in the development process.

In summary, maintaining an audit trail during debugging promotes transparency, collaboration, and systematic analysis. It's an indispensable practice that enhances problem-solving efficiency and contributes to overall software quality.

If the process of hunting for a bug continues for an extended period, you'll find it challenging to keep a clear record of your attempted solutions and the insights you've gained. By documenting your testing procedures and outcomes, the chances of missing crucial details or mistakenly assuming you've explored a certain avenue diminish. The act of jotting down your thoughts will enhance your recall of the issue when facing a similar situation in the future, and it will also be valuable when articulating the problem to another person.

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