The word "bug" suggests something that wandered into a program. Better terminology would be that there are

  • faults, which are the result of human errors in software systems, and

  • failures, which are violations of requirements.

Some faults might never appear to an end user of a system, but failures are those faults that do. A fault might result because an implementation doesn't match design, or a design doesn't match the requirements.

Debugging is the process of discovering and fixing faults. Testing clearly is the "discovery" part, but fixing can be more complicated. Debugging can be a task that takes even more time than an original implementation itself! So you would do well to make it easy to debug your programs from the start. Write good specifications for each function. Document the AF and RI for each data abstraction. Keep modules small, and test them independently. Utilize both black box and glass box testing.

Inevitably, though, you will discover faults in your programs. When you do, approach them as a scientist by employing the scientific method:

  • evaluate the data that are available;

  • formula a hypothesis that might explain the data;

  • design a repeatable experiment to test that hypothesis; and

  • use the result of that experiment to refine or refute your hypothesis.

Often the crux of this process is finding the simplest, smallest input that triggers a fault. That's not usually the original input for which we discover a fault. So some initial experimentation might be needed to find a minimal test case.

Never be afraid to write additional code, even a lot of additional code, to help you find faults. Functions like to_string or format can be invaluable in understanding computations, so writing them up front before any faults are detected is completely worthwhile.

When you do discover the source of a fault, be extra careful in fixing it. It is tempting to slap a quick fix into the code and move on. This is quite dangerous. Far too often, fixing a fault just introduces a new (and unknown) fault! If a bug is difficult to find, it is often because the program logic is complex and hard to reason about. You should think carefully about why the bug happened in the first place and what the right solution to the problem is. Regression testing (i.e., recording only test cases that originally failed but now pass) is important whenever a bug fix is introduced, but nothing can replace careful thinking about the code.

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