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Explains Microsoft's techniques for developing bug free C programs and provides practical approaches to the prevention and automatic detection of ...
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Experience Level: All
Explains Microsoft's techniques for developing bug free C programs and provides practical approaches to the prevention and automatic detection of errors. Focus is on an in-depth analysis and exposition of not-so-obvious coding errors in the sample code provided. The theme is to answer the questions 'How couild I have automatically detected this bug' and 'How could I have prevented this bug'? Chapters include programmer attitudes, techniques and debugging methodology. A particularly revealing chapter is "Treacheries of the Trade", should be required reading for all C maniacs. The author has been a professional programmer for seventeen years and draws heavily (and candidly) on actual coding prblems and practices based on years of experience at Microsoft. t
Would you expect those ball players to have a winning season if they grumbled all day about having to practice? What if they were constantly angry because their salary was a meager $1.2 million per year or were always worried about being traded or cut? These concerns have nothing to do with playing ball, but they have everything to do with how well the players perform.
You can use all of the suggestions in this book to help eliminate bugs, but if you have "buggy" attitudes or coding habits that cause bugs, you're going to have a tough time writing bug-free code.
In this chapter, I'll talk about some of the most common barriers to writing bug-free code. All are easily correctable; often all you need to do is become aware of them.
"Steve, what do you mean when you say 'the bug went away'?"
"Well, you know, I went through the steps in the bug report, and the bug didn't show up."
My manager leaned back in his chair. "So what do you suppose happened to that bug?"
"I don't know," I said. "I guess it already got fixed."
"But you don't know that, do you?"
"No, I guess I don't," I admitted.
"Well don't you think you had better find out what really happened? After all, you're working with a computer; bugs don't fix themselves."
That manager went on to explain the three reasons bugs disappear: The bug report was wrong, the bug has been fixed by another programmer, or the bug still exists but isn't apparent. His final words on the subject were to remind me that, as a professional programmer, it was my job to determine which of the three cases described my disappearing bug and to act accordingly. In no case was I to simply ignore the bug because it had disappeared.
That advice was valuable in the days of CP/M and Apple IIs when I first heard it, it was valuable in the decades before that, and it's still valuable today. I didn't realize how valuable the advice was until I became a project lead myself and found that it was common for programmers to happily assume that the testers were wrong or that somebody had already fixed the bug in question.
Bugs will often disappear simply because you and the tester are using different versions of the program. If a bug doesn't show up in the code you're using, dig up the version the tester was using. If the bug still doesn't show up, notify the testing team. If the bug does show up, track it down in those earlier sources, decide how to fix it, and then look at the current sources to see why the bug disappeared. Very often, the bug still exists but surrounding changes have hidden it. You need to understand why the bug disappeared so that you can take appropriate steps to correct it.
Too Much Effort?
Programmers sometimes grumble when I ask them to drag out older sources to look for a reported bug; it seems like a waste of time. If it seems that way to you, consider that you're not reverting to earlier sources on a whim. You're looking at those sources because there is an excellent chance that there is a bug and looking at those older sources is the most efficient way to track it down.
Suppose you isolate the bug in those earlier sources and find that the bug has indeed been fixed in the current sources. Have you wasted your time? Hardly. After all, which is better, closing the bug as "fixed" or labeling it as "nonreproducible" and sending it back to the testing group? What will the testers do then? They certainly can't assume that the bug has been fixed-their only two options are to spend additional time trying to reproduce the bug or to leave it marked as nonreproducible and hope that it was fixed. Both options are a lot worse than tracking down the bug in earlier sources and closing the bug as "fixed."
I'm sure that sounds backwards to current Microsoft programmers because projects aren't run that way anymore; there were too many problems with that approach, and the worst was that it was impossible to predict when you would finish the product. How do you estimate the time it takes to fix 1742 bugs? And of course, there aren't just 1742 bugs to fix - programmers will introduce new bugs as they fix old ones. And (closely related) fixing one bug can expose other, latent, bugs that the testing group was unable to find because the first bug was getting in the way.
And those weren't the only problems.
By finishing the features before fixing the bugs, the developers made the product look like it was much further along than it actually was. Important people in the company would use the internal releases, see that they worked except for the occasional bug, and wonder why it was taking Development six months to finish a nearly final product. They wouldn't see out-of-memory bugs or the bugs in features they never tried. They just knew that the code was "feature complete" and that it basically appeared to work.
Fixing bugs for months on end didn't do much for morale either. Programmers like to program, not to fix bugs, but at the end of every project they would spends months doing nothing but fixing bugs, often under much pressure because it was obvious to everybody outside Development that the product was nearly finished. Why couldn't it be ready in time for COMDEX, MacWorld Expo, or the local computer club meeting?
What a mess.
Then a run of buggy products, starting with Macintosh Excel 1.03 and ending with the cancellation - because of a runaway bug list - of an unannounced Windows product, forced Microsoft to take a hard look at the way it developed products. The findings were not too surprising:
None of these points is uniquely suited to Microsoft development; they are general points that apply to any software development. If you are not already fixing bugs as you find them, let Microsoft's negative experience be a lesson to you. You can learn through your own hard experience, or you can learn from the costly mistakes of others.
Posted April 28, 2012
This is one of the best books on programming ever written. Maguire concentrates on how to eradicate bugs early in the cycle. At first what he says seems so simple. But these ideas are so powerful, and so well presented, that I'd give a copy to every programmer I know if I could afford to.
Don't worry that his examples are in C. The ideas transcend the source language. If half of the programmers followed half of his suggestions half of the time, the software industry would undergo a revolution in quality. There is no silver bullet, but these suggestions are so practical. It's just a matter of adopting a few good habbits.
This book will be a classic. Scratch that. It *is* a classic.
If you're a programmer, it belongs on your shelf beside _Programming Pearls_, _Code Complete_, and Knuth.
Posted December 8, 1999