Your Automatisms Betray You

March 11, 2009

Yesterday someone dropped on the IRC channel where my fellow programmers, computer enthusiasts, and I hang out to get help to find a bug. He uses one of the paste sites (like pastebin.ca, pastebin.com, or rafb.net), pastes his piece of offending code, and so we get a look at the code. Of course, I go over the short program, notice a mistake in the scanf but it took me a full two minutes to notice the loop:

for (c=0; c++; c<n )
 {
   ...
 }

That kind of bug always takes a while to find because we don’t read what’s actually written, but what we think is written, unless we pay the utmost attention to the code—what we should be doing anyway, but do not always. Usually, you zero in on that kind of bug rapidly, as you guide your search from the bug’s symptoms which leads you to defect’s approximate location. If you’re like me—write a little, test a lot—you find those bugs right away most of the times. However, even if you zero in rapidly, you still get a coarse-grained location: module, class, function.

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