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The Hunt is On! How Beginners Can Find Their First Bug

by adminadda on | 2024-02-21 15:03:58 119

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 The Hunt is On! How Beginners Can Find Their First Bug


What is Finding Bugs as a Beginner About?


Finding and fixing bugs, also known as debugging, is an essential skill for anyone new to software development and testing. As a beginner, you will inevitably encounter unexpected issues and errors in your code. Learning how to methodically track down the root causes of bugs, diagnose problems, and apply fixes is crucial for writing stable, high-quality software.  


Bugs refer to defects or flaws in a program that cause it to produce inaccurate, unintended, or unexpected results. They can range from trivial typos to major logic errors that crash an entire application. Hunting down and squashing bugs is important for several reasons:


  •  It improves the functionality and reliability of your software. Users expect programs to work consistently without errors.


  •  It develops your debugging skills and makes you a better coder. Debugging is a great way to deeply understand your code.


  •  It prevents bugs from accumulating and causing bigger issues down the line. Fixing bugs early saves time and headaches.


  • It impresses employers and colleagues with your attention to detail. Solid debugging skills make you a valuable team member.


As a beginner, you'll make mistakes that lead to bugs - and that's okay! Finding and fixing bugs is all part of the learning process. This article will equip you with helpful strategies and tools for tracking down bugs efficiently as a new programmer. With practice, you'll gain the skills to smoothly diagnose issues and write resilient, high-performing code.


Learn Key Concepts and Terminology:


As a beginner, it's important to understand some key terminology related to finding bugs in code:


  • Bug - An error, flaw, mistake, failure, or fault that causes a program to unexpectedly break or produce an incorrect or unexpected result. Bugs arise when the code does not work as intended.


  • Defect- Another term for a bug. A defect is a variance between expected and actual results caused by an error or flaw in the code.


  • Troubleshooting - The process of identifying, analyzing and correcting bugs. It involves methodically testing code to pinpoint issues.


  • Debugging - Closely related to troubleshooting, debugging is the detailed process of finding and resolving bugs or defects in software. It uses specialized tools and techniques.


  • Error message - Messages generated by code execution that indicate a problem or bug. Reading error messages helps identify what went wrong. They usually contain info about the error type, location, etc.


  • Stack trace - A report of the active stack frames when an error occurs. It pinpoints where in the code the issue originated. Stack traces help debug exceptions.


  • Logging - Recording information while code executes, like notable events, errors, or output. Logs help track execution flow and identify bugs.


Having a solid grasp of these fundamentals will provide a great start to finding bugs efficiently as a beginner. Let's now go over some common bug types.


Understand Different Bug Types :


As a beginner, it's important to understand the main categories of bugs you may encounter. This will help you better identify issues when troubleshooting your code.


Coding Bugs:


Coding bugs refer to problems caused by syntax errors in your code. These may include things like:


  • Typos in variable or function names 

  • Missing semicolons, parentheses, brackets, or other punctuation 

  • Incorrect capitalization of language keywords

  • Mismatched curly braces or quotation marks


These types of errors will prevent your code from running at all, and error messages will usually point out a specific line where the problem is occurring. Carefully proofreading code and using an editor with syntax highlighting can help avoid simple coding bugs.


Logic Errors :


Logic errors occur when your code runs without errors but produces unintended or incorrect results. 


For example:


  • Using the wrong operator in a conditional statement

  • Accessing an array element outside its index range

  • Forgetting to initialize a variable before using it

  • Infinite loops caused by incorrect loop condition tests


These types of bugs can be harder to find as there is no specific error message. You'll need to debug line-by-line and trace variable values to uncover where your logic is flawed.


GUI Issues:


For apps with graphical user interfaces (GUIs), you may encounter bugs related to interface elements like buttons, menus, images not displaying correctly across devices and resolutions. Some examples:


  •  Images not loading or displaying 

  •  Buttons not responding to clicks

  •  Layouts breaking on different screen sizes

  •  Colors, fonts, themes not applying properly


GUI bugs typically require debugging across platforms and mobile devices to reproduce and fix display issues.


Identifying the general category of a bug is the first step towards narrowing down root causes and debugging more effectively as a beginner.


Read Error Messages and Stack Traces:


When a program crashes or throws an error, the error message and stack trace provide valuable clues about what went wrong. As a beginner, learning to carefully read these debugging outputs is an essential skill.


Error messages directly state the type of error that occurred. For example, a "NullPointerException" indicates you tried to use a variable that points to null. A "FileNotFoundException" means your code couldn't find the specified file.


The stack trace shows the sequence of function calls that led to the error. It starts with the earliest call at the top and ends with the direct cause of the error at the bottom. Pay attention to the class, method, and line number where the issue originated.


Error messages and stack traces can appear long and cryptic at first. But with experience, you'll quickly identify the key pieces of information. Focus on the error type, the originating line number, and skim for relevant method calls. 


Also search online for the specific error message to learn common causes and solutions. Over time, you'll build familiarity with common error types like null pointers, missing files, array out of bounds, etc. As well as which classes and methods often participate in those bugs.


With practice, reading error outputs will become second nature. You'll save considerable time by precisely pinpointing bugs instead of aimlessly debugging. So don't ignore error messages - they provide the most direct clues for diagnosing and resolving coding mistakes. Carefully reading outputs takes persistence, but will fast track your skills in finding bugs.


Use Debugging Tools:


Debugging tools are built into most IDEs and provide helpful ways to step through code, inspect variables, and pinpoint issues. Learning how to use them efficiently can greatly accelerate finding bugs as a beginner. 


Some key debugging tools include:


  • Breakpoints - You can set a breakpoint in your code by clicking on the line number margin in your IDE. When debug mode is enabled, your program's execution will pause at each breakpoint. This lets you inspect the program state at that moment.


  • Step Over - Step over code executes the current line and pauses at the next one. This is great for walking through code line-by-line.


  • Step Into - Step into descends into any function calls and pauses execution at the first line inside. This lets you follow program flow across functions.


  • Step Out - Step out runs the rest of the current function and pauses after it returns. It essentially steps back out to where you were before stepping into a function.


  • Watch Expressions - Watch expressions let you monitor variables or other values in realtime. As you step through code, watches will continuously display their current value.


  • Call Stack - The call stack shows the chain of function calls. You can click through it to jump between different points in the execution history.


  • Console - The console displays outputs like print statements, errors, and warnings. It's essential for understanding a program's runtime behavior.


Using debugging tools takes practice, but they enable far more effective debugging sessions. Set breakpoints at key locations, step through execution flows, inspect variables, and leverage the call stack and console. With experience, you'll be able to quickly diagnose many types of bugs as a beginner.


Isolate Issues with Print Statements:


One of the simplest yet most effective debugging techniques is adding print statements to your code. Print statements allow you to output variable values and messages to better understand what's happening during execution. 


When you suspect a problem in a certain part of your code, you can add print statements before and after that section to isolate where things go wrong. For example:


```python

# Calculate total price 


print("Price before tax:", price)


price_with_tax = price * 1.13


print("Price after tax:", price_with_tax)

```


This prints the price before and after applying tax, so you can pinpoint if the issue is in the tax calculation.


Some tips for effective print debugging:


  •  Print out variables before and after operations to isolate errors.

  •  Print messages like "Reached section X" to check code flow. 

  •  Print at different indent levels to structure your output.

  •  Use f-strings like `print(f"Total: {total}")` for readable output.

  • Remove debug prints when done to avoid clutter.


Adding timely print statements takes little effort and can reveal exactly where things deviate from expectations. Mastering this technique is invaluable for any beginning debugger.


Leverage Logging:


Logging is an invaluable tool for understanding the flow of your code and tracking down bugs. As a beginner, make sure to take full advantage of print and log statements to gain visibility into your program.  


When you first start debugging, it can feel like you are debugging in the dark without a flashlight. Logging gives you that flashlight to illuminate your code's execution path. Don't be afraid to log liberally as you are testing and debugging.


Print statements are the simplest way to log. You can print variable values, messages, and anything else you want to check at certain points in your code. The print output will show you the program flow and current state.


Once your programs get larger, use a logging framework like the built-in Python logging module. This allows you to log messages with different severity levels like debug, info, warning, etc. You can configure the logging to output to the console or log files.


Key tips for effective logging:


  • Log important variable values before and after key sections of code. This shows you how the values change.


  •  Use log messages like "Entering function X" and "Exiting function X" to track the flow.


  •  Log errors or warnings when they occur along with relevant state.


  •  Configure logging levels so you only see necessary info as you debug.


  •  Delete or comment out print and log calls when you finish debugging a section.


Logging takes some work up front, but pays off tremendously when you need to understand complex code and track down those tricky bugs. Embrace logging and you'll find yourself debugging much faster.


Apply Troubleshooting Strategies :


When trying to find bugs, it helps to have a systematic approach to narrow down where issues might be coming from. Here are some effective troubleshooting strategies for beginners:


  • Rubber duck debugging - Explain your code line-by-line to a rubber duck (or other inanimate object). The act of verbalizing your code logic step-by-step can help uncover gaps in understanding.


  • Edge case testing - Test your code with different edge cases - maximum, minimum, empty inputs, invalid formats, etc. Many bugs hide in extreme scenarios.


  • Print statement debugging - Print out the values of key variables at different points in your code to check if they are as expected. This helps isolate where things go wrong.


  • Simplifying code- Gradually remove parts of your code to isolate the issue. Rebuild in small pieces that you know work.


  • Researching error messages - Copy/paste error messages into search engines to find related resources. Learn from others who have faced similar issues.


  • Taking breaks- Step away for a while when stuck. Coming back with fresh eyes can reveal things you missed before. 


  • Rubber ducking with others - Explain your code and issue to another programmer. A second perspective can often uncover new insights.


  • Starting from scratch - As a last resort, re-write small problematic parts from scratch with a clean slate.


Having a toolkit of troubleshooting techniques will help methodically track down bugs, especially as a beginner. Be patient, try different approaches, and you'll improve at squashing bugs over time.


Find and Fix Common Beginner Bugs:


When learning to code, new developers will inevitably encounter some typical bugs that beginning programmers tend to make. Being aware of these common beginner bugs can help identify issues faster. Here are some of the most frequent bugs novices run into and tips on how to find and fix them:


Off-By-One Errors

These bugs occur when a loop iterates one time too many or too few. A classic example is when looping through an array from 0 to length, but failing to account for array indexing starting at 0. So looping while i < length will go out of bounds of the array. The fix is to change the loop condition to i <= length - 1.


Using = Instead of ==

It's easy to mistakenly use the assignment operator = instead of the equality operator == when comparing values in an if statement or loop condition. The code will run but not produce the expected result. Always double check for this mixup when logical checks aren't behaving as anticipated.


Forgetting Semi-Colons

JavaScript and some other languages require ending statements with a semi-colon. Forgetting them can lead to syntax errors or unintended consequences. If encountering issues, scan through the code to ensure semi-colons exist where required. Get in the habit of diligently adding them to avoid this easy-to-make slip-up.


Misspelled Variable and Function Names :


Code will break if calling a function or referencing a variable that's been misspelled elsewhere. It pays off to carefully examine all names if encountering puzzling behavior. Consider using an editor with spell check support to catch typos. Standardizing on capitalization conventions (such as camelCase) also helps avoid mixups.


Missing Return Statements:

Forgetting to add return statements in functions that are supposed to return a value is a common mistake. Remember every code path should lead to a return. Undefined will be returned implicitly if missing, often leading to confusing problems down the line. 


Basic Logic Errors:

Flawed logic can creep in anywhere from if statements to complex algorithms. Meticulously stepping through code helps uncover where the logic diverges from expectations. Tracing values in a debugger can reveal issues as well. Having test cases and sound reasoning skills are invaluable for assessing correctness too.


By learning to spot these and other common beginner bugs, new coders can develop approaches for efficiently tracking down issues. With time and practice, avoiding these mistakes will become second nature. Patience and persistence pay off when strengthening debugging skills as a coding novice.


Practice Finding Bugs:


One of the best ways to develop your debugging skills is to practice finding and fixing bugs in code examples. Here are some exercises you can work through:


Exercise 1


```python

def multiply(num1, num2):

  return num1 * num 2


print(multiply(3, 5))

```


This code has a typo that will cause it to throw an error. Try to find and fix the bug.


Exercise 2


```js

const fruits = ['apple', 'banana', 'orange'];


for (i = 0; i < fruits.length; i++) {

  console.log(fruits[i]); 

}

```


This loop has an issue that will cause it to not print the expected output. Identify and correct the bug.


Exercise 3


```java

public class Main {

  public static void main(String[] args) {

    int[] numbers = {1, 2, 3, 4};

    System.out.println(numbers[5]);

  }

}

```


The code here will throw an exception. Find the line causing the problem and fix it.


Completing hands-on exercises like these will help you gain experience spotting common bugs and get better at debugging. Don't get discouraged if it takes some practice - these skills will improve over time.


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