Debugging Unicorns and Rainbows

September 28th, 2010

This is a favorite topic of mine. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like all the other rubyists out there get to work on fresh code bases that are well tested using all the latest tools.

Well, sadly, that’s not my situation. We’re on Rails 1.2. Yeah. And tests? Well we’ve got them. And at one time they actually worked. *sigh*

So, debugging is very important to me. And in episode #24, Ryan tells how to decode the stack trace. And this is a very valuable resource. But honestly, I couldn’t survive without my IDE debugger.

Now, apparently no self respecting rubyist uses a debugger. First reaction I get from folks is, “We have tests”. Well, yay for you. Then I hear, “Well, you can always use script/console and puts statements.” And indeed, this is very helpful.

For example, you have the simple method below:

def my_broken_method(greeting)
greeting + ', ' + User.current.login

Let’s say you’re getting an unexpected name and want to checkout what User.current is really returning. Well, just add a puts like this:

def my_broken_method(greeting)
puts User.current
greeting + ', ' + User.current

And then from the command line you call script/console:

>> script/console
>> my_broken_method('Hello')

You should see something like:

#"2010-04-28 14:40:49.277067-04", "updated_at"=>"2010-09-28 17:18:25.755037-04""firstname"=>"Liana", "password"=>"ff1ec54a58581b7aa7ce3e9c9ee93c3599ae", "login"=>"lleahy"}>
=> "Hello, lleahy"

And from this, I can tell that I may actually want to use User.current.firstname instead of User.current.login.

Now this is okay for simple, direct debugging. I use it all the time. But sometimes you need to step through code, line by line to track down a problem. And when things get really scary, I rely on my trusty debugger.

Command line enthusiasts will sometimes use ruby-debug. This tool will allow you to “set a breakpoint, inspect variables, change the code and more”.

If this works for you, great. Me? I’m a visual, gui kind of gal. I’m not afraid to admit it. Yeah, I took the Vim class. And I do use vim when I’m working on the server. But for intensive programming I simply prefer using Netbeans.

I got started with Netbeans back when I was stuck on a Windows machine and couldn’t get my hands on Textmate. And since then, I’ve grown so attached to my debugger (and the visual source control cues that rock hard) that I can’t seem to ween myself off an IDE no matter how many plugins I try to integrate into vim.

Truth is, it doesn’t matter which tool you use as long as you use it productively. Likely, I’ll eventually switch to vim because somehow I’m “less than” because I don’t live my life on the command line. Doesn’t matter that I can write up a scary sql query with double digit table joins before you can say ‘foreign key’.

Sure the gui tools can be a crutch but as long as I understand the magic beneath, why can’t I have my unicorns and rainbows?

Entry Filed under: Professional,Railscasts Project,Ruby on Rails

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