Lesson 15: Dev Processes & Tools

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Code Analysis

Code analysis tools are some of the most important tools in a developer’s arsenal when it comes to finding and fixing bugs. Code analysis tools come in two flavors:

  • Static Analysis

    A tool performs static analysis if it works without running your code. Static analysis tools such as linters and type checkers are usually the first line of defense against bad code because they can be automatically run by Continuous Integration every time code is pushed to a remote repository.

    Static analysis can be an incredibly valuable tool in situations where it’s very important that the code works perfectly every single time, such as in missile defense systems or stock trading.

  • Dynamic Analysis

    Dynamic Code Analysis tools actually run your code and verify it by watching how the program acts, where it fails, how it uses resources such as processor time and memory, how long it takes to finish running, and if your tests are adequate enough.

Debugging Tools

Debuggers are interactive dynamic analysis tools that are used to inspect your code as it runs.

  • Print (broken) variables.
  • Read and reports error messages.
  • Highlight (incorrect) syntax.

Even if you’ve never used a debugger before, chances are that at some point you’ve debugged your code by using print statements to check the contents of your variables at different points throughout your program (Also called “printf debugging”). If you find yourself doing this often, however, it’s usually more efficient to learn how to use a proper debugger.

CLI Debugging Tools

C/C++ Tools

  • GDB

    Used to inspect and debug everything in a C program from variables to why it encountered a fatal failure. Generally called the swiss-army-knife of debugging, a great tool to use in programming, allows you to set ‘break points’ where the program stops mid-run and you can see what it’s doing.

  • Valgrind

    Valgrind is a program that keeps track of a program’s memory usage and reports on any definite or potential memory leaks. For example:

    $ valgrind ./tests/bin/lexer_tests
    ==6703== Conditional jump or move depends on uninitialised value(s)
    ==6703==    by 0x4018C1: print_token (lexer.c:36)
    ==6703==    by 0x4011F7: test_get_tok (lexer_tests.c:54)
    ==6703==    by 0x4008CD: main (lexer_tests.c:8)
    ==6703== LEAK SUMMARY:
    ==6703==    definitely lost: 192 bytes in 8 blocks
    ==6703==    indirectly lost: 162 bytes in 10 blocks

Python Tools

  • PDB

    PDB is a Python debugger that comes default in the Python Standard Library. It’s similar to GDB and other debuggers, but with the added features of being able to easily extend its functionality and run Python code directly inside the debugger interface.

NodeJS Tools

  • node debug

    Barebones debugger that comes with NodeJS. Possible to use for simple debugging tasks like setting breakpoints and stepping through code, but not much past that.

  • Node Inspector

    A more fully-featured NodeJS debugger.

Web Consoles

Web Consoles are useful tools built directly into your browser for debugging and modifying website HTML, CSS, and Javascript on the fly.

You can access the web console (which is the javascript-specific part) using the following commands:

Firefox Console
  • Ctrl+Shift+K (Command+option+k) in Firefox
  • Ctrl+Shift+I (Cmd+opt+I) in Chrome


Linters inspect your code and flags suspicious usage. This can be to enforce a style guide or to flag code which will probably not compile or break the program when it is running.

  • flake8 (Python)
  • rubocop (Ruby)
  • splint (C)
  • jshint (NodeJS)
src/times.js: line 407, col 20, Expected '{' and instead saw 'return'.
src/times.js: line 415, col 49, Missing semicolon.
src/times.js: line 407, col 58, 'error' is not defined.

Code Coverage

Code Coverage is the process of running your tests and keeping track of which lines, logic branches, and files are used in the test suite. Code coverage programs keep tabs on the lines of code (or not run) in each of your tests and outputs a report showing a percentage of your codebase that is run during the test suite, as well as a more detailed list of which lines, methods, and logic-branches are tested in your suite.

This is useful because it demonstrates how much your tests are actually doing (proving your program does what it should) and proves if you’re carrying around a bunch of dead code. In general a good target-coverage is 80% of your code should be tested in your test suite. 100% coverage is all but impossible.

Name                      Stmts   Miss  Cover   Missing
my_program.py                20      4    80%   33-35, 39
my_other_module.py           56      6    89%   17-23
TOTAL                        76     10    87%

Integrated Development Environments (IDE)

Debugging in Minecraft

IDEs are programs used to help developers get their job done by integrating many essential tools into one ecosystem.

Most IDEs act as a debugger, text editor, linter, syntax hi-lighter, and even a version control GUI. These are useful features to combine into one; instead of learning many tools you only need to learn one, largely click-button-based tool.

IDEs can also drastically simplify a complicated ecosystem by tracking dependencies and hiding boiler-plate code from the developer. In Java it is almost unheard of to program without an IDE because setting up source code by hand is so tedious and error-prone.

  • Netbeans (Java)
  • Visual Studio (.NET)
  • PyCharm (Python)
  • Eclipse (Many)
  • Atom (Many)

Style Guides

XKCD Code Quality comic

Code is read much more than it is written. If we assume this is true then we can conclude that it’d be nice for our code to look good, or at least be consistent (a book is hard to read when it keeps changing tenses and time-line)

Style Guides are rules for formatting your code in a consistent way. This is to avoid differences in aesthetic as well as functional style of a program. They are always a nice thing to have for larger projects and are absolutely necessary for projects with large teams of contributors.

Style Guides, when enforced correctly, make the code-base of a project more readable and understandable. Instead of formatting blocks in a mish-mash of ways and designing functions sometimes do one thing or sometimes do many things the code is consistent and easier to manage.

Example: Real-World Style Guides

The Linux kernel style guidelines are actually fun to read:

“First off, I’d suggest printing out a copy of the GNU coding standards, and NOT read it. Burn them, it’s a great symbolic gesture.”

Linux Kernel Coding Style

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory style guidelines are very short and are concerned with automated tooling to do code analysis:

“All loops shall have a statically determinable upper-bound on the maximum number of loop iterations.”

JPL Coding Standard

Dependency Isolation

Dependency isolation is the process of – wait for it – isolating the dependencies of a project. This is a surprisingly hard problem and many consider it largely unsolved.

The root of the issue is that you might be developing two programs: FooFOSS and BarEnterprise. They both depend on the library bazUseful but one depends on version 1.1.7 and the other depends on the more stable 1.0.1a. You can’t just install the most recent one and call it good, you’ve got to figure something else out instead.

TODO: Python Virtualenvs

The way Python handles the issue is with Virtual Environments (venvs). Venvs should not be confused with Virtual Machines which are completely different.

You have to activate a venv to be inside the venv. Once you have done that your environment is told “When you want to use this library, look in this directory only.” Then all of your dependencies are placed in that directory thus isolating your dependencies.

It isn’t a perfect system but it works for the Pythonista ecosystem and hasn’t been replaced yet.

Setup and enter the virtual environment.

$ virtualenv <virtualenv name>
New python executable in /path/to/<venv name>/bin/python
Installing setuptools, pip, wheel...
$ source <venv name>/bin/activate

Install a package. This installs it in the current working directory and so does not ask for root permissions.

(<venv name>) $ pip install flask

To list all packages in the venv:

(<venv name>) $ pip freeze

Deactivate (leave) the venv.

(<venv name>) $ deactivate

Other Examples

Many other languages attack the dependencies issue in smarter and less smart ways. Whether each solution is more or less intelligent than the others is a popular topic for both friendly and unfriendly debate over the internet.

Creates a node_modules directory and tracks dependencies in package.json.
Dependencies are tracked via git repositories and using the go get command.
Dependencies and versions are specified in Cargo.toml. All compiled code (and dependencies) are stored in a target directory.

Development Servers

A Carbon Copy of the Production Environment(s)

Development servers are used to test that your code works in a real environment, with a real server, and real data. You shouldn’t throw your code up on a production website to see if it works, so a development server is as close to the real thing as you can get.

Further Reading