Real Web Developers Don’t Need Debugging Tools
Post from May 14, 2010 (↻ December 12, 2016), filed under Web Development.
This and many other posts are also available as a pretty, well-behaved e-book: On Web Development.
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 people will beg to differ. That’s fair. I’m always around to challenge and push.
About the Author
Jens Oliver Meiert is a technical lead and author (sum.cumo, W3C, O’Reilly). He loves trying things, including in the realms of philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com he shares and generalizes and exaggerates some of his thoughts and experiences.
If you have any thoughts or questions (or recommendations) about what he writes, leave a comment or a message.
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 ?
On May 15, 2010, 9:51 CEST, Pavel Kuts 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 😊
I see your point, but would this post’s comments become a line of “I see your point, but…”? 😁
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Have a look at the most popular posts, possibly including:
- How to Relocate, the Alternative Guide
- CSS Validation and Vendor Extensions: Throw Warnings, Not Errors
Perhaps my most relevant book: CSS Optimization Basics (2018). Writing CSS is a craft. As craftspeople we strive to write high quality CSS. In CSS Optimization Basics I lay out the, at least some of the most important aspects of such CSS.
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