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Debugging: The 9 Indispensable Rules for Finding Even the Most Elusive Software and Hardware Problems Paperback – September 23, 2002

4.7 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"...get this book.Its stories and examples are amusing and instructive." -- Test & Measurement World

"..a short but invaluable work dedicated to helping you hunt down pesky problems online and off." -- New.Architect magazine, February 2003

"I have printed out his rules and expect I'll lend this book out frequently." -- Dr.Dobb's Journal,Gregory V. Wilson, San Francisco, CA Feb. 2003

"It's not often you find a classic,but I think I've found a new classic for software and computer hardware developers." -- Slashdot.com, David A.Wheeler

"Unlike most books about debugging, this book isn't a technical manual. It's easy to follow and logical approach and progression." -- IEEE Software magazine

..the book lays out sensible strategies and tactics, clearly based on years of experience and reflection. -- EDN Access October 3, 2002

Fun, charming, motivating, and instructive, Debugging is a good gift for your friendly computer fixer. -- GlobeTechology.com February 2003

Problem-solvers everywhere can benefit from this straight-forward guide to fixing glitches in systems and software. -- Richmond, VA TIMES-- Dispatch Dec. 16,2002

Written by an experienced, down-to-earth engineer, it offers exactly what's needed when stuck in the technology trenches-fast, street-smart advice. -- BIZLIFE June 2003

Review

IEEE Software magazine: "Unlike most books about debugging, this book isn't a technical manual. It's easy to follow and logical in approach and progression. The author elegantly presents the concepts and makes the debugging task unintimidating but, at the same time, points out that the major task is learning to apply his rules. Debugging not only makes the subject area easy to understand; it's an excellent example of how you can present the art of debugging in a way that's meaningful and exciting. This book should be required reading for all technology college students. It explains the logic you need in the real world, logic that so many students don't learn before graduation. After reading this book, I got excited about debugging and went out to look for something to test the nine﷓rule approach on.""

Slashdot.com, David A. Wheeler: “It's not often you find a classic, but I think I've found a new classic for software and computer hardware developers. It's David J. Agan's Debugging….It's hard to bottle experience; this book does a good job. This is a book I expect to find useful many, many, years from now….I think this is a great book….Novices need to learn the fundamentals, and pros need occasional reminders of them; this book is a good way to learn or be reminded of them. Get this book.”"

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: AMACOM; 1st edition (September 23, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814471684
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814471685
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,325,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timur Shtatland on June 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is very useful for beginners and intermediate programmers. "Debugging" is full of practical advice on debugging in general. It is not tied to any particular programming language.
The book describes 9 main debugging "rules", and many smaller "sub-rules". The rules (such as "Make it fail" or "Quit thinking and look") and sub-rules (such as "Start from a known state" or "Build instrumentation in") are derived from common sense and years of experience. Many people know most of the rules, but perhaps do not systematically follow them. "Debugging" clarifies and makes a systematic review of the debugging practices, with examples taken from real life, simplified to remove the jargon.
The book is quite funny and makes enjoyable reading. I am looking forward to more: perhaps we can see more stories in the next edition, or in a companion volume, or on the debugging rules web site.
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Format: Paperback
If, after twelve years or so of work, you find yourself bringing junior team members along and filling the role of mentor or lead, you are expected to impart your accumulated experience and wisdom onto the newcomers, so that the hard-won lessons need not become a re-nvention of the wheel. The most common problem in doing this is succinctly and effectively communicating the messages. This book does exactly that, for debugging problems.

It's worth noting that the author is very careful to distinguish between troubleshooting and debugging. Getting to the root cause of a problem is debugging; fixing the painful symptom(s) is troubleshooting. The analogy used in the book is this: instead of wiping off the oil spots so you don't slip and fall, secure the machine with four bolts instead of two. Keeping the floor clean is troubleshooting. Securing the machine so it doesn't vibrate, loosen the fittings, and leak oil in the first place, is debugging.

Debugging is hard. It requires discipline, attention to detail, and patience. The toughest leap of faith for anyone trying to adhere to the system might be in slowing down and proceeding in a meticulous, measured fashion; however, it is almost always exactly what's required to zero in on a problem's root cause, and accomplish the job.

Mr. Agans liberally fills the book with real-life war stories of how each rules is applied (or not applied); in some instances he can detail a good story illustrating every single rule. The rules cover exactly enough ground, and are reinforced well by examples. There's absolutely no filler in this book, despite any incomprehsible claim to the contrary.
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Format: Paperback
David Agans does a great job of explaining how to approach debugging as a science rather than an art. If you're a novice programmer, the information here will prove invaluable; discovering how to debug effectively on your own can take many years.
Experienced programmers may consider most of the rules to be obvious; however, those same programmers might be surprised to find how many of these obvious rules they neglect to follow. I've been debugging for more than 20 years, and still learnt some useful new tricks.
Peppered throughout the text are a large number of war stories from the author's own experience with embedded systems. As well as illustrating how to (and more commonly, how not to) approach a particular problem, these are all well written and often entertaining.
Some of my favourites: how wearing the wrong shirt to work caused a new video compression chip to crash; teenagers coming home from school subtly altering the behaviour of a video conferencing system; a vacuum cleaner that made the house lights flash on and off; a noisy read/write line that led a junior engineer to mistakenly redesign an entire co-processor memory circuit; and the self-test feature on an old Pong video game.
Although most examples are hardware related, the approach described can be applied to almost any problem; indeed, several of the examples used have nothing to do with computing.
This is not a large book, but it's well laid out, easy to follow, and doesn't talk down to the reader. It's also packed with enough meat to satisfy the hungriest of programmers. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I worked with Dave Agans for over 10 years and I can tell you first hand the man knows what he's talking about. From developing hand-held controllers in the late eighties to single-board OS/2-based videoconferencing products to software collaboration tools, we have debugged problems of every ilk. Whether the problem was an FPGA bug, a faulty component in a board, a race condition in a device driver or a dangling pointer in a DLL, Dave always approached the problem with his same set of debugging rules, and they never let him down. Read this book. It's engaging and fun to read. But more importantly it will make you a better debugger, whether you're debugging hardware, software or your lawnmower.
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This book is absolutely indispensable for anyone working in any job where things occasionally work in an unexpected manner. It's concise, funny, well-written, and full of immensely useful tips on how to go about debugging problems.

One of the great things about this book is that it's generalistic in nature, not specific. Agans's decades of troubleshooting experience has given him great insight on how to go about debugging in all sorts of environments, so he lays out nine rules for approaching any problem:

Understand the System
Make it Fail
Quit Thinking and Look
Divide and Conquer
Change One Thing at a Time
Keep an Audit Trail
Check the Plug
Get a Fresh View
If You Didn't Fix It, It Ain't Fixed

[...]

Debugging isn't an art performed only by folks with some odd genetic disposition, it's a critical craft which can and must be learned. I was fortunate to have some good troubleshooters as mentors during my days working radar inflight in the Air Force, but I've fallen out of many of the good practices those folks beat^H^H^H^Hinstilled in me. Agans's book is helping me pull out of the thrash and churn mode of debugging.

This book's only 175 or so pages long and is well-worth adding to your library. Actually, substitute "a critical addition" for "well worth adding". I'm also going to make sure this book gets added to the professional development reading list I'm working on creating.
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