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Preventing Bugs Before They Occur

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Submitted on: 1/22/2015 1:48:00 AM
By: Ravage (from psc cd)  
Level: Beginner
User Rating: By 12 Users
Compatibility: VB 6.0
Views: 946
 
     Wow, I'm writing another tutorial for Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. I hope that this tutorial will help like all my others did. In this tutorial, I will attempt to explain how to prevent bugs before they occur. How, you may ask? Well, I will explain to you bug preventing techniques like using Option Explicit, applying the KISS and SMILE principles, taking advantage of Object-Oriented Programming, using Comments and Coding Conventions, and following Coding Conventions by using Variable and Routine names and avoiding certain statements. I will also throw in what I call the Ten Commandments of being a Lazy Programmer. Is being a 'Lazy Programmer' good? Well, yes it is and you'll find that out soon enough! Maybe some of you are already 'Lazy Programmers'. So, without further eddo, lets begin!

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PREVENTING BUGS BEFORE THEY OCCUR


PREVENTING BUGS BEFORE THEY OCCUR

Perhaps the best way to fix a bug is to keep the bug from happening in the first place. For the most part, the techniques for preventing bugs are common sense things (or would be common sense if common sense were common) that most programmers would do if they took the time to think about it. But let's face it, with increasing demands on our time, we don't always have the time we need to pay such attention to detail!

USING OPTION EXPLICIT

Most programming languages in use today require that you declare a variable before you use it. In some languages, declaring variables is done to make it easier to write the compiler. With other languages, programmers declare variables just for documentation purposes; others do it simply because it was always done that way. But I've found that declaring a variable does two things: it ensures that you get the variable type you want, and it prevents you from misspelling the variable's name. Sometimes, finding a misspelled variable can be very difficult, since Clock and C1ock look the same to you and me but not to the compiler. By default, Visual Basic will create a variable automatically the first time you use it. To disable this feature, you need to include Option Explicit at the top of each module in you program. For new projects, you can set the Visual Basic IDE option Require Variable Declaration (in the Options dialog box). For existing projects, you can simply enter Option Explicit into the Global Declaration section of any module. The big limitation of Option Explicit is that it applies only to a given module, not to the entire project. So in a complex project with a lot of forms and classes, you need to ensure that each module has Option Explicit included.

APPLYING THE KISS PRINCIPLE

A long time ago, I learned about the old KISS (Keep It Simple, Stu--pid) principle. In the case of Visual Basic, the idea is that, in the long run, an overly complex program will cause more problems than a simple program. A simple program is easier to understand, thus making later modifications and debugging a whole lot easier (especially if someone else is doing those modifications). A simple program may even be more efficient, since it is not carrying around a lot of baggage caused by extra features that aren't used. The simple-is-better philosophy does not always work, however. A heap sort is more complex than a bubble sort, but the results are often worth it. Yet, true believers in the KISS principle will say that using a prepackaged sort routine will give you even better results with less code to go wrong.

APPLYING THE SMILE PRINCIPLE

Like very complex programs, large blocks of code can also lead to problems. Someone once told me that if you can't see an entire subroutine or function, then it's too large. I call this the SMILE (Simple Makes It Lots Easier) principle. Typically, I'll try to fit the entire routine in about 30 lines. So, if I can't fit the code into that 30 lines, I'll divide the code into a few private subroutines and call them from the original. Occasionally, I find that I want to use a large subroutine. This usually happens when I have many assignment statements or subroutine calls, or I have a Select Case statement or If ... Then ... ElseIf statement with many individual conditions. In the first situation, I try to group the statements into meaningful chunks. In the second situation, I try to limit myself to less than a dozen statements in each of the individual cases.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF OBJECT-ORIENTED PROGRAMMING

Object-oriented programming means many things to many people (especially those in the marketing department). The answer to the question "Is Visual Basic object-oriented?" doesn't really matter. What matters is that when you break your program into chunks, you programs become more reliable. By using well-defined interfaces, you are forced to think about how the chunk will be used. Since you can't cross boundaries and change a particular value inside a chunk even though you think it's safe, you may need to include an additional interface in the future. But at least you will know all of the code that could possibly modify the chunk's data. So if the chunk's data gets corrupted, this approach simplifies the debugging process considerably. The other advantage of chunks is that they are easy to build and easy to test by themselves. Once they have been tested, you can build other components using these chunks. Since your chunks communicate through well defined interfaces, you can check for invalid parameters and trap more errors before they occur. Of course, you also get the fundamental advantage of object-oriented programming. When you need to change an object's architecture, your existing program will continue to work without changes, as long as the interfaces continue to work the same way. Also, you can use the object in more than one place, which will help to reduce your overall programming effort.

USING COMMENTS AND CODING CONVENTIONS

Comments and coding conventions are also important to minimizing problems in you code. While these things may not prevent bugs per se, they will help the next person who comes along to understand what you did and why you did it. Then if something should go wrong, it will be easier for that next person to rectify the problem. There is more to writing comments than simply repeating what is obvious from reading the code. Writing good comments takes a little time and some thought, but the end result should be useful to anyone (including yourself) who may read those comments in the future.

FOLLOWING CODING CONVENTIONS

Coding conventions are another useful tool for preventing bugs. Coding conventions come in a couple of forms: they provide rules for naming variables and routines, and they identify which statements you want to avoid while programming. Both forms combine to create a style that must be comfortable for you to use.

VARIABLE AND ROUTINE NAMES

Microsoft recommends a rather complex way to prefix variables. While this convention conveys a lot of information about your variables, it makes them somewhat unreadable and definitely difficult to remember. Even though Microsoft makes this suggestion, you might notice that the properties for things like the TextBox and ListBox controls refer to the Text property rather than the strText property. The same goes for the rest of the properties and methods for the other controls and objects. I suggest that you use meaningful names but leave the type information off the variable name. Subroutines and functions are two places where the more descriptive you make the name, the less likely you are to use the wrong one. Properties, methods, and events in your own user controls should also be descriptive. After all, when you compile your program into machine code, it doesn't matter in the least whether you used two characters or twenty characters!

STATEMENTS TO AVOID

Visual Basic includes a variety of different statements, many of which overlap other statements in terms of functionality. I strongly suggest that you choose a subset of these statements and use them, while ignoring the others. This means you'll need to remember the syntax for fewer statements, and you'll become more comfortable with the ways that you use those statements. For instance, you can use For/Next, Do Until/Loop, Do While/Loop, and While/Wend to perform loops in your code. There is no reason to use all four. I suggest you pick one style and use it consistently. Personally, I prefer the Do While/Loop structure, but I find myself using the For/Next anytime I'm dealing with a collection of objects (For Each), or when I need to perform a process a fixed number of times (For I = 1 to 10). I never use the Do Until/Loop or the While/Wend statements. I also recommend avoiding the Gosub/Return statement and the GoTo statement. Both are holdovers from BASIC's early days. Gosub/Return isn't really needed in Visual Basic, where you can declare real subroutines, and GoTo is against every structured programming rule ever written. I've debugged many programs written by various programmers who used the GoTo statement, and I've frequently found it faster to rewrite the entire program rather that try to fix it.

BEING A LAZY PROGRAMMER

After reading about the KISS and SMILE principles, object-oriented programming, and comments and coding conventions, you may be wondering, "What does this have to do with debugging my programs?" The answer is that following good, solid programming practices is key to creating programs that require less debugging and that can more easily be debugged. As long as I'm on my soapbox, I'm going to suggest a general philosophy that will help you eliminate bugs before they become bugs. I call it the Lazy Programmer approach. Here are the Ten Commandments of a Lazy Programmer:

1.) Think about what you want to do before you write any code.

2.) Make it work the first time - you prefer not to do it again.

3.) Don't make a program more complicated than necessary because this may introduce more problems into the program in the long run.

4.) Write modular programs because they are easier to test and debug.

5.) Use a wide variety of tools to reduce the amount of work required to create the program and to increase the reliability of the final product.

6.) Reuse code where possible, since the code has already been written and is known to work properly.

7.) Write the least amount of code to solve the problem.

8.) Use a lot of comments for complex code, and make sure that you provide a good overview of how the program functions.

9.) Use good coding conventions so that comments aren't necessary for simple tasks.

10.) Use Visual Basic to write Windows programs.

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