Why Programs Fail

1st Edition

A Guide to Systematic Debugging

Authors: Andreas Zeller
Paperback ISBN: 9781558608665
eBook ISBN: 9780080481739
Imprint: Morgan Kaufmann
Published Date: 11th October 2005
Page Count: 480
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Why Programs Fail is about bugs in computer programs, how to find them, how to reproduce them, and how to fix them in such a way that they do not occur anymore. This is the first comprehensive book on systematic debugging and covers a wide range of tools and techniques ranging from hands-on observation to fully automated diagnoses, and includes instructions for building automated debuggers. This discussion is built upon a solid theory of how failures occur, rather than relying on seat-of-the-pants techniques, which are of little help with large software systems or to those learning to program. The author, Andreas Zeller, is well known in the programming community for creating the GNU Data Display Debugger (DDD), a tool that visualizes the data structures of a program while it is running.

Key Features

  • Winner of a 2006 Jolt Productivity Award for Technical Books
  • Shows how to reproduce software failures faithfully, how to isolate what is important about the failure, and to discover what caused it
  • Describes how to fix the program in the best possible way, and shows how to create your own automated debugging tools
  • Includes exercises and extensive references for further study


Software developers.

Table of Contents

About the Author

1 How Failures Come to Be
1.1 My Program Does Not Work!
1.2 From Defects to Failures
1.3 Lost in Time and Space
1.4 From Failures to Fixes
1.5 Automated Debugging Techniques
1.6 Bugs, Faults, or Defects?
1.7 Concepts
1.8 Tools
1.9 Further Reading
1.10 Exercises

2 Tracking Problems
2.1 Oh! All These Problems
2.2 Reporting Problems
2.3 Managing Problems
2.4 Classifying Problems
2.4.1 Severity
2.4.2 Priority
2.4.3 Identifier
2.4.5 Notification
2.5 Processing Problems
2.6 Managing Problem Tracking
2.7 Requirements as Problems
2.8 Managing Duplicates
2.9 Relating Problems and Fixes
2.10 Relating Problems and Tests
2.11 Concepts
2.12 Tools
2.13 Further Reading
2.14 Exercises

3 Making Programs Fail
3.1 Testing for Debugging
3.2 Controlling the Program
3.3 Testing at the Presentation Layer
3.3.1 Low-level Interaction
3.3.2 System-level Interaction
3.3.3 Higher-level Interaction
3.3.4 Assessing Test Results
3.4 Testing at the Functionality Layer
3.5 Testing at the Unit Layer
3.6 Isolating Units
3.7 Designing for Debugging
3.8 Preventing Unknown Problems<BR id=""CRL


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© Morgan Kaufmann 2006
Morgan Kaufmann
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About the Author

Andreas Zeller

Andreas Zeller is a full professor for Software Engineering at Saarland University in Saarbruecken, Germany. His research concerns the analysis of large software systems and their development process; his students are funded by companies like Google, Microsoft, or SAP. In 2010, Zeller was inducted as Fellow of the ACM for his contributions to automated debugging and mining software archives. In 2011, he received an ERC Advanced Grant, Europe's highest and most prestigious individual research grant, for work on specification mining and test case generation. His book "Why programs fail", the "standard reference on debugging", obtained the 2006 Software Development Jolt Productivity Award.

Affiliations and Expertise

Saarland University, Saarbruecken, Germany


“James Madison wrote: ‘If men were angels, no government would be necessary.’ If he lived today, Madison might have written: ‘If software developers were angels, debugging would be unnecessary.’ Most of us, however, make mistakes, and many of us even make errors while designing and writing software. Our mistakes need to be found and fixed, an activity called debugging that originated with the first computer programs. Today every computer program written is also debugged, but debugging is not a widely studied or taught skill. Few books, beyond this one, present a systematic approach to finding and fixing programming errors.” —from the foreword by James Larus, Microsoft Research "Andreas Zeller seeks to equip you with a comprehensive arsenal of techniques and the appropriate mind-sets for employing them." Rick Wayne, Software Development, January 2006