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Debugging Tips: How to Troubleshoot and Fix Your Code

There are a lot of jargon and terminologies to master in the programming world. It will take time for computer programmers to master them. Though, it is important to have a basic understanding of the fundamentals such as troubleshooting and debugging. These are two different concepts that programmers must be able to distinguish. 

Troubleshooting is the broader process while debugging is its subset. To fix an error, the cause should be identified first. This process of identifying the issues or problems that have occurred is troubleshooting. Once the cause of the error is determined, the next step is to replace the incorrect syntax to finally fix the problem. Software programs can have a code error or bug which should be removed through debugging. Thus, debugging is the process of analyzing and fixing bugs such as software errors. 

During the debugging process, the developer replicates the failure to know the cause and prevent it from occurring again through modifying, adding, or deleting code. The first step is called fault localization where errors are identified as well as their exact location. Afterwards, you must analyze the error by employing the right approach. This is a crucial step since the possibility of solving one error leading to another one remains.

After analyzing the identified error, move on to other errors which involve test automation where you’ll need to write test cases based on the test framework. Fault repair or bug fixing then commences as you unit test all the code you’ve applied the changes to. All test cases must pass the test otherwise you need to resolve whatever didn’t go through. Finally, fix all the bugs and validate the test scripts which mark the last stage of the debugging process. This will be complex work but fixing all errors at every stage would save time and energy since it allows developers to avoid the use of complicated codes while acquiring easy interpretations.

There are actually common coding issues that programmers face which require them to troubleshoot and debug. Coding errors can be inevitable no matter the skill level and take many forms such as typos and accidental oversight. Some of the main coding errors include runtime error where the computer crashed due to something that has confused its system, syntax error wherein the code was incorrectly typed, and logic error where the program runs successfully but doesn’t behave as desired. These can cause frustrations indeed but there are definitely ways to address them with enough patience and some basic coding that can be done by beginners too. This is why the significance of having a good grasp of the fundamental concepts and debugging strategies cannot be overstated. Before looking into different debugging strategies, let us first go through common debugging errors below.

  • Typos – an error can be a misspelled function, name of a variable, or anything that prevents your code from working properly.
  • Case sensitivity – when declaring a variable or function in one case, note that it has to be referenced the same way whenever you use it again. For instance, funcOne() and FuncOne() are two different functions.
  • Missing quotes/ parenthesis – several quotes are used in the programming world which is why you should remember to close the quotes when you open them which also applies to parenthesis.
  • Directing to the wrong location – you basically need the right path to the location you want to go to when accessing another file from a webpage so be extra mindful that you’re pointing to the right direction. 
  • Wrong number of brackets – these are used for loops, functions, and conditional statements which can get confusing as you might need to use brackets within brackets.

The solution to most errors above is to be detail-oriented and take time to review the codes before running them to avoid bugs. These can lead to main types of bugs such as syntax, semantic, and runtime errors. Here are some strategies that could help you when you’ve come across bugs.

  • Experience – there is really no better way to know bugs when you’ve already stumbled upon them, allowing you to apply similar solutions to resolve them.
  • Learning strategy – you must first understand your system well before finding errors and thus take time to learn everything you can about the software. 
  • Forward analysis – involves tracking a program forward using print statements or breakpoints at different points.
  • Backward analysis – involves tracking a program backward from the location where errors have occurred to identify the region of the faulty code.

Since the whole process of debugging is not intuitive especially for those who are just beginning to code, we have also come up with the following tips that could help fix your codes. 

Read and Google the error message.

Don’t give up just yet when an error pops out. Read it first since most errors are usually descriptive and thus you’ll be able to identify what went wrong. The error message will show a clear message that is often accurate, even pointing out the line number it got to in your program before crashing which is a good starting point to hunt the bugs. Once done doing that basic step and you’re still lost, know that there is no shame in not knowing what to do next. 

Keep Going!
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You can simply copy and paste the last line of the stack trace into Google to figure out the error message. More often than not, other people have already come across your problem and have already found a solution which would basically be helpful to you too. There is no certainty if you’ll get the answer that you need but at least you tried! If things have become too frustrating for you, chill and quickly do a walking meeting to refresh your mind. Get the break that you need. 

Divide when in doubt.

Rooms for possible errors grow as you code. It will be more challenging to pinpoint where the errors are as the lines of your project continue to increase. When the error message and stack trace is not being helpful anymore, it’s time to do a binary search where you split something in half to hone the misbehaving section. Running the first half of the code and commenting the second half out would help in catching the bug in your script. If the first half is clear, the problem is most likely in the second half. Keep calm and repeat the process to ultimately hone a line or two that gives your program some bugs. 

Try what already works.

Nobody starts great in any profession. Thus, it’s alright to start with an existing structure or somebody else’s code especially when you’re in doubt. It will not only save you stress but also be able to efficiently tweak it that suits your needs. You can also go back to Google to search for available scripts similar to what you’re trying to achieve. However, don’t get too excited and run the code first before making any changes to your project. 

There are tons of open source debuggers that could help you sort out your code as well. They help with quality assurance and even keep track of reported software bugs. Here are some open source debuggers you can check out for yourself:

  1. React Native Debugger – standalone app for debugging React Native apps
  2. LLDB – new generation, high-performance debugger
  3. Valgrind – memory debugger and profiler
  4. GDB – GNU Debugger
  5. Delve – source level debugger for the Go programming language
  6. Firefox JavaScript debugger – enables you to step through JavaScript code and examine or modify its state to help track down bugs
  7. WDW – OpenWatcom debugger
  8. Radare2 – free toolchain for easing low level tasks which is composed of libraries
  9. Microsoft visual studio debugger – helps you observe the run-time behavior of your program and find problems
  10. WinDBg – multipurpose debugger that is included in Debugging Tools for Windows

Call a friend.

When you’ve already done everything that you know but nothing worked, it is time to go ask for help. Feeling hopeless is understandable at this point. It’s totally fine to bask in your exhaustion for a while but you must have entered the world of programming with the knowledge that nothing comes easily. You learn from your mistakes and grow with the help of others. Once you’re ready to ask someone to help you fix your code, prepare a comprehensive description of what you’ve done so far to form the right question. You should be able to explain your goal, have your stack trace ready, show the misbehaving code, and share the solutions you’ve tried as well as why you think they have all failed. There might be another time when you’ll need to ask someone again for help so knowing what exactly to share with them could save time for both of you. 

Programmers of all levels encounter and make coding problems from time to time. Aside from patience, it takes continuous practice to get better at identifying and fixing different bugs. There’s no need to beat yourself up when you seem to encounter a dead end because there will always be codes and even colleagues who can help you find your way through. Until then, hang in there. 

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