Why are we running the debug code?


Dead weight

As every developer will tell you, when you build the application you can create a debug-version of the app. This has extra code added in that provides ongoing telemetry so that, if the application fails, the developer can see where, why and when the crash occurred.

Before the application is delivered to the users the debug code is removed making the application smaller, faster and it consumes fewer of those precious cpu-cycles.

That is the code debugger. What about the human debugger?

A big chunk of every application is code that will never be executed. This is code that is designed to help the users when they make an error. This code is the validation statements and actions and the compensating code to unwind changes that now cannot be committed.

A customer told me recently that they have to complete a form with six entries, one of which is pre-filled. They have to fill in this form, perhaps, once a month. The data is usually the same each time it is completed. This, to them, was tedious and in need of automation. Processing thousands of forms might seem as though something was being achieved but the real work is in dealing with the exceptions.

So what does this mean for computing?

Here is a the first program I ever wrote. It is in FORTRAN. It calculates the area of triangle using the semi-perimeter method.

      PROGRAM main
     
C     This program calculates the area of a triangle using 
C     the Semi-Perimiter method
C 
C     By Kevin Parker 
C                                                               
C     Area = SQRT( SP (SP - A) * (SP - B) * (SP - C) )
C     SP   = (A + B + C) /2                                                          
   
C     Variable definitions                                                           
      REAL sidea, sideb, sidec, sp, aot
      INTEGER n

C     Get the lengths of the three sides
      WRITE (unit=*, fmt=1001, advance="no")"Enter length of A: "
      READ (unit=*, err=91, fmt=1002) sidea
      WRITE (unit=*, fmt=1001, advance="no")"Enter length of B: "
      READ (unit=*, err=92, fmt=1002) sideb 
      WRITE (unit=*, fmt=1001, advance="no")"Enter length of C: "
      READ (unit=*, err=93, fmt=1002) sidec

C     Validate the data  
      IF (ABS(0.0 - sidea) < 0.000001) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side A is zero'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (ABS(0.0 - sideb) < 0.000001) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side B is zero'
        STOP
      END IF
  
      IF (ABS(0.0 - sidec) < 0.000001) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side C is zero'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sidea < 0) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side A is negative'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sideb < 0) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side B is negative'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sidec < 0) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: length of side C is negative'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sidea > sideb + sidec) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: A is > than lengths of B + C'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sideb > sidec + sidea) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: B is > than lengths of C + A'
        STOP
      END IF

      IF (sidec > sidea + sideb) THEN
        PRINT *, 'Invalid triangle: C is > than lengths of A + B'
        STOP
      END IF

C     Calculate the area
      sp = (sidea + sideb + sidec) / 2.0
      aot = (sp * (sp - sidea) * (sp - sideb) * (sp - sidec)) ** 0.5

C     And the result is
      WRITE (unit=*,fmt=1003) "Area of triangle ", sidea, ", ", sideb, 
     & ", ", sidec, " is ", aot

      STOP

91    PRINT *, 'Invalid data entered for side A'
      STOP
92    PRINT *, 'Invalid data entered for side B'
      STOP
93    PRINT *, 'Invalid data entered for side C'
      STOP
  
1001  FORMAT(a)
1002  FORMAT(f6.2)
1003  FORMAT(a,f6.3,a,f6.3,a,f6.3,a,f8.3)
1004  FORMAT(a,f9.6,a)
1005  FORMAT(a,i8,a)

      END PROGRAM main

Notice how much of the code is in red? All that code is code that, in the normal course of events, will never be executed. Once the user knows how to use the application they don’t make data entry errors so why validate the data.

In fact in this simple application the extra code increases the executable size by 10% and the run time by 40%. And the cpu cycles consumed to run are also increased by 40%.

Imagine telling your boss you can save 40% of the cpu cycles on your processors. And what if everything ran 40% faster. How much would that improve the user’s satisfaction with the system?

So am I advocating ripping out the validation code? No, not really. What I am proposing is that we might design the application such that it detects the user and determines if the user is an advanced one or a novice. If the user is an expert skip all the validation, if they’re a novice test everything until they become an expert.

Just a thought.

About Kevin

In the past year Kevin has spoken at 20 conferences and seminars on a range of leading IT topics, including methodologies, business analysis, quality assurance techniques, governance, open source issues, tool interoperability, release management, DevOps, Agile, ITIL, from the mainframe to distributed platforms to the web, mobile, wearable and embedded systems. He is a much sought after speaker, recognized around the world for his provocative and entertaining style. Kevin is a 40 year industry veteran, holder of three technology patents and today is VP of Worldwide Marketing and Chief Evangelist at leading Application Development and Deployment vendor Serena Software. In the past decade he has been crossing the globe and has met with over 4,000 people. At Serena he works closely with industry analysts, the press, customers, partners and employees to exchange ideas about industry direction and business issues. He was born and educated in the UK and lives and works in the Bay Area, California.
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One Response to Why are we running the debug code?

  1. Thank you for sharing. Great content.

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