Real Web Developers Don’t Need Debugging Tools

Published on May 14, 2010 (↻ February 5, 2024), filed under (RSS feed for all categories).

This and many other posts are also available as a pretty, well-behaved ebook: On Web Development.

Bottom line: Try to limit your use of web dev debugging tools—like Firebug or Chrome’s Developer Tools—in order to grow your skills.

In theory, debugging tools make the developer life easier. But in practice, they also make it harder.

Typically, debugging tools save the more time the less experienced a web developer is, and the more complex a project is. But the more experienced a web developer is, or the simpler a project, the less of a need there is to use debugging tools.

The point is, debugging tools can stand in the way of a web developer becoming more experienced, and becoming more experienced more quickly. In other words, making too generous use of debugging tools means short-term gains (solving a problem faster), but long-term sacrifices (developing less of a sense and less of an understanding of the subject).

What you want to do is make short-term sacrifices (sitting on a problem for a bit longer, if necessary) for long-term gains (building up more experience, and benefiting from that experience in the long run).

Some will beg to differ. That’s fair. I like to tease at times.

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About Me

Jens Oliver Meiert, on September 30, 2021.

I’m Jens (long: Jens Oliver Meiert), and I’m a frontend engineering leader and tech author/publisher. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like Google and as an engineering manager for companies like Miro, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly and Frontend Dogma.

I love trying things, not only in web development (and engineering management), but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on I share some of my views and experiences.

If you want to do me a favor, interpret charitably (I speak three languages, and they can collide), yet be critical and give feedback for me to learn and improve. Thank you!

Comments (Closed)

  1. On May 15, 2010, 2:55 CEST, Jean-Philippe said:

    I see your point but I would say that debugging is a must. Even if the code is well though out. Be it in step by step through the code with variables watch or write to the console or alert messages.
    What could be a big help though is to evangelize the use of test units.

    Another point that is often not considered is the time we have to code a solution. There is not a lot of programmer I know that to not have to ship code on a short time frame.

    Maybe taking more time to think about a problem help shorten the time to develop it ?

  2. On May 15, 2010, 9:51 CEST, Pavel Kuts said:


  3. On May 15, 2010, 10:05 CEST, Mathias Bynens said:

    I see your point, but in some cases your statement (“Real Web Developers Don’t Need Debugging Tools”) just doesn’t fly.

    Good luck debugging someone else’s 900-line CSS files without any debugging tool 😊

  4. On May 15, 2010, 20:24 CEST, Zacky Ma said:

    I see your point, but would this post’s comments become a line of “I see your point, but…”? 😁

  5. On May 15, 2010, 21:23 CEST, Vladimir Carrer said:

    Lets say you need to go from point A to point B. You can choose to travel with a aeroplane, train or bike. With the aeroplane you will arrive faster but you will miss all the landscape. With the train you will be able to see more landscape. With the bike you will be able to see all the landscape and but the journey will be slow.

    So the real question is do you prefer the landscape or you want to go from point A to point B as soon as possible.

  6. On May 17, 2010, 7:49 CEST, Dimitar Panov said:

    The thing I don’t like is the headline of the article, but I suppose you’ve chosen it to attract more attention.
    A headline like “Real web developers know when it’s necessary to use debugging tools and when it’s not. ” will be more appropriate, but probably won’t catch as much attention.

  7. On May 17, 2010, 9:11 CEST, Niels Matthijs said:

    One thing that Firebug did for me was give me a better view of html structures. It’s a superb tool to get a good look at the DOM and to learn to look at html structures. That’s something that is lost is most html files.

    I don’t really see how these debugging tools can hamper the development of skills though. If you make sure you learn from what you see in these tools, there are only benefits. If you don’t, then it might be true that pushing yourself to work everything out for yourself is the best way to go.

  8. On May 17, 2010, 11:49 CEST, Suman said:

    Debugging tool as the name suggests should be used to find bugs in code. It does not definitely encourage writing buggy code and then debug.
    Asking not to use debugging tool is like asking banning nuclear operations worldwide. Debugging is definitely powerful method of making good code and should not be stopped.
    Personally I have learnt a lot while debugging in firebug , and I strongly believe I would not have learnt those in such quick time if I would have to change in CSS -> go back to browser -> hit refresh and try to figure out what happened.
    Speed and flexibility and also transparency (profiler , net tab) are added advantages IMHO.

  9. On May 18, 2010, 2:32 CEST, Jens Oliver Meiert said:

    Thank you guys. I believe the point came across. I’m not arguing against debugging tools. I’m just being, cheeky and provocative.

  10. On May 18, 2010, 9:27 CEST, Jens said:

    i think, with more expirience there is no need for debug tools. but if you are beginner it could be quit useful to get more knowledge and build better sites. i think its a little correction tool. like if you learn vocabulary.

  11. On May 20, 2010, 15:16 CEST, Aleks said:

    I agree with a author, In practice web debugging tools make web developing harder. But it is my poing of vew.
    I am web developer from Ukraine and I don’t use web debugging tools.

  12. On May 25, 2010, 13:18 CEST, Russ Weakley said:


    You could easily argue the opposite. A good debugging tool TEACHES developers about mistakes and allows them to learn and grow from these mistakes. Just like using a validator can help inexperienced developers, showing them where they have gone wrong.

  13. On June 1, 2010, 22:04 CEST, Eronarn said:

    Disagree completely. Firebug lets you see what your CSS is actually doing rather than just what it looks like it’s doing. Knowing this difference is crucial to good design, but it doesn’t come easily to beginners. As a novice you can learn much, much faster by using a debugger and seeing what your changes are doing instead of making a chain of blind guesses.

  14. On June 12, 2010, 17:03 CEST, Mason said:

    “In theory, debugging tools make the developer life easier. In practice, they make it harder at the same time.”

    Your article don’t present any evidence to demonstrate how a debugging tool might conceivably make coding harder. You just assert it and keep going.

    Also inherent in your statement are perhaps dozens of assumptions about the way the rest of the world codes that are likely based upon your own experiences, and are therefore largely irrelevant as general maxims.

    Kids today.

    I know it’s just your opinion, but it’d be nice if people with opinions started justifying them. That would at least prove to me that I’m not living in a country full of sheep. We really need to get critical thinking back in the school curriculum.