Book review – Debug It!: Find, Repair, and Prevent Bugs in Your Code


I bought Release it! some time ago, and it was a really good book. Now Pragmatic Programmer released a new book in their ‘do it!’ series – Debug it!, so when I got a change to snap a copy, I did, and I’m here to let you know that it is a remarkable book.

First of all, I think the title might be a little misleading for some people. It is about debugging in a broader sense than most people define it. If for you debugging equates dealing with debugger, you won’t find much of that in this book. The book talks about debugging as in getting the bugs out of your software (and doing your best to make sure they won’t come back).

The book is divided into three parts:

The first part, which accounts for almost half of the book, talks in great detail about four stages of dealing with bugs in your code – reproduction, diagnostics, actual fix and reflecting over reasons why the bug was there in the first place. There is not much earth shattering here, and when reading this part you’ll (hopefully) think to yourself – “yeah, I knew this” and “sure, it makes perfect sense”. The fact that this all common sense, and rules of thumb are gathered in one place though, and backed up by concrete discussion and good anecdotes helps you organize your workflow when dealing with misbehaving code. The fact that what you felt under your skin is said out loud makes you stop and realize there’s deeper meaning to all this.

Second part is relatively small, but concentrates on very important topic – working with people. That includes both, working with QA department and users as well as working with bug tracking systems. It discusses what makes a good bug report, what it should contain, what it should not contain etc. This part was a revelation, and if I could I would make it mandatory to read for all my clients, and people submitting bugs to OSS projects I contribute to. Then it moves to pragmatic approach towards working with bugs (hey, it’s a Pragmatic Bookshelf book after all). It talks about perfectionist attitude of bug-free software, and working with software that is riddled with bugs, which was interesting to read in the context of Tim’s post.

The final part, is a loosely connected group of topics, though it is as valuable as the previous ones. It talks about special cases, like service releases, about building the ideal debugging environment, which I found particularly interesting as this is topic close to my heart, although I would disagree with the author, who discourages extensive use of branching is source control. We also get a chapter on how to make software easy to debug. The book ends with list of anti-patterns along with discussion about how to remedy them.

I know that this book influenced the way I work now, and there aren’t many books I could say something like this about. It discusses extremely important part of software engineer’s profession, and does it very well. If you call yourself a pragmatic programmer I think you should read this book.

Posted 08-30-2009 2:00 AM by Krzysztof Koźmic
Filed under:



Patrick Smacchia wrote re: Book review – Debug It!: Find, Repair, and Prevent Bugs in Your Code
on 08-31-2009 5:55 AM

IMHO Design by Contract + very high test coverage ratio is the ultimate way to diagnose most bugs.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like the book talk about that :o/

Paul Butcher wrote re: Book review – Debug It!: Find, Repair, and Prevent Bugs in Your Code
on 08-31-2009 2:18 PM

@Krzysztof: Very many thanks for taking the time to write this review - I greatly appreciate your kind comments, and am delighted that you found the book helpful.

@Patrick: I agree with you, and in fact the chapters on "The Ideal Debugging Environment" and "Teach Your Software to Debug Itself" discuss how testing and automatic verification of assumptions with assertions can help both prevent and diagnose bugs. I did discuss DbC in an early draft, but that didn't make the cut for the final version as we felt that it was getting a little to far away from the core subject of debugging.

You can read an extract from the "Teach Your Software to Debug Itself" chapter on the book's home page:

About The CodeBetter.Com Blog Network
CodeBetter.Com FAQ

Our Mission

Advertisers should contact Brendan

Google Reader or Homepage Latest Items
Add to My Yahoo!
Subscribe with Bloglines
Subscribe in NewsGator Online
Subscribe with myFeedster
Add to My AOL
Furl Latest Items
Subscribe in Rojo

Member Projects
DimeCasts.Net - Derik Whittaker

Friends of
Red-Gate Tools For SQL and .NET


SmartInspect .NET Logging
NGEDIT: ViEmu and Codekana
NHibernate Profiler
Balsamiq Mockups
JetBrains - ReSharper
Web Sequence Diagrams
Ducksboard<-- NEW Friend!


Site Copyright © 2007 CodeBetter.Com
Content Copyright Individual Bloggers


Community Server (Commercial Edition)