When it comes to writing software, maintaining software, or simply trying to understand software, a debugger is one of the most powerful tools that we can use.
But when it comes to WordPress, it seems that it’s less common. Personally, I’m not sure why:
- I don’t know if it has to do with the nature of open-source,
- if has to do with the convenience of echo and var_dump that are built into the language,
- or if I’m just missing other developers who talk about it.
Regardless, if an IDE doesn’t have a built-in debugger, it’s not too difficult to set up Xdebug and get started using it. And once you do start using it, you learn much more about how a given piece of software performs regardless of if you wrote it or if someone else wrote it.
Yes, I’ve written on this topic before, but I recently stumbled across an article that I found to be a really good break down of how to shift one’s thinking into a mindset for debugging.
A Mindset For Debugging
This is going to sound a bit like a book review or a cliff notes version of someone’s work. That’s because it’s supposed to and I’ll cover why later in the article.
So here’s the gist: In The Debugging Mindset, the author covers about eight points about debugging and intelligence. I think all of them are relevant and worth a read, but I won’t cover them all here.
Instead, the ones I think worth highlighting and at least briefly touching on are:
- Debugging is Inherently Difficult. “Bugs occur when [programmers] have assumed correctness in their implementations and by definition do not know where they went wrong. The only way programmers can hope to solve such bugs is through knowledge acquisition.”
- Teaching Debugging Skills. “Those most effective at debugging draw from extensive experience, as well as refined problem-solving skills. They also employ generalized strategies for problem-solving instead of treating every individual bug as a new, specific case.”
- A Note on Tools and Environments. “Since bugs occur because of an incomplete mental model, the philosophy of relying entirely on tools, runtime environments, and languages to catch bugs seems self-defeating. It’s almost as if we are saying that we can’t possibly be smart enough to understand these bugs, so why even bother?”
Clearly, there’s a lot of psychology to debugging. But if this research exists around this particular topic in computer science, why aren’t those of us who are programming on a daily basis employing any of this?
We can get better at what we’re doing through practice and by using some of the material mentioned in the article.
A Post on Someone Else’s Article?
Why write an entire post about someone else’s article? I know. It’s not something I regularly do, but this is a bit different.
First, it’s one thing to share it on Twitter but those types of shares go flying by when someone else shares a thought.
Secondly, if an article feels too long to read at a given time, it might be overlooked. And when that happens to really good material – especially when it’s something that I think could benefit those who are working in our industry – then I think it’s worth sharing.
And, as I stated at the beginning of this post, developing a mindset for debugging is key. In my experience, it comes after you’re used to using a debugger long enough.
In short, you start to think like the debugger.
But if you’re able to shortcut that particular step by even a little bit, why wouldn’t you? And that’s what I think is great about the aforementioned article: It presents the information on a mindset of debugging well enough such that those who use it prior to using a debugger may be better prepared for it.
Above all else, though, it’s far more productive, useful, and powerful to use a debugger than some of a language’s built-in facilities for examining data structures.
And I’d think it’s important to share that with those of us working in WordPress.