PureBasic Survival Guide XI - Debugger
PureBasic Survival Guide
a tutorial for using purebasic for windows 5.11

Part 0 - TOC
Part I - General
Part II - Converts
Part III - Primer I
Part IV - Primer II
Part V - Advanced
Part VI - 2D Graphics I
Part VII - 2D Graphics II
Part X - Assembly
Part XI - Debugger
Part XII - VirtualBox
Part XIII - Databases
Part XIV - Networking
Part XV - Regular Expressions
Part XVI - Application Data
Part XXVII - Irregular Expressions
Part XXIX - Projects

Part XI - Debugger
v2.01 29.04.2013

11.1 Oh bugger...
11.2 Configure
11.3 Use
11.4 Debug Output
11.5 Variable Viewer
11.6 Watch List
11.7 Memory Viewer
11.8 Profiler
11.9 The Esoteric Process...


11.1 Oh (de)bugger...

Debuggers are an interesting aspect of programming. They're supposed to help you finding and solving bugs. Without a doubt debuggers are one of the fields where developers of programming languages put a lot of effort in. It's a pity though that users may not always appreciate them.

Then again, in a perfect world, all our code should be bug-free :-)

The following picture shows my old setup (using an older PureBasic 4.xx version, don't recall which one) using two screens at 1280x1024 next to each other. On the left screen there's the main PureBasic Editor window, on the right screen you'll spot four smaller windows:

Programming is a lot more fun if you have sufficient screen real estate :-) The experts may notice the continuous taskbar, which is visible on both monitors. You can either use MultiMon (free) or UltraMon (not free but better). Another nice tool is WinSplit for those that prefer a single large screen over a dual monitor setup, or use Windows 8.

Since then the debugger has seen some serious changes... And I haven't got a clue about all options and possibilities but small wonder, as first I'm not that good, and second in 4.51 we now have 10 (!) different windows all related to the debugger...

11.2 Configure

In a perfect world, all our code should be bug-free. In reality, it never is. Debugging is supposed to make your life easier. Sometimes it actually does. But you need to know how to set it up :-)

Turning the debugger on / off is simply done through the 'Use Debugger' icon in the toolbar. For all other settings, go to File / Preferences / Debugger. (It would be nice to have a few shortcuts to toggle the different debugger windows, but alas...) Here are my settings (though they tend to change):

    Type Integrated Check the help file for the other flavours and what they do.
    Warning Level Display With 4.30 several changes have deprecated certain functions. This alerts those rewriting / updating older code.
    Memorize positions on Remember where you've put the windows last time.
    Keep on top on If you're using them, then have them shown...
    Bring to front on
    Display timestamp on
    Stop at program start off This would start your program and immediately stop execution. You could accomplish the same by putting a CallDebugger statement at the beginning of your source.
    Stop before end off This is the same as putting a CallDebugger as the last executed line of your program.
    Kill after an error off Allows you to immediately edit your code after an error. Unfortunately (with PureBasic 4.20) this means that all debugger windows will be closed as well. This is similar to pressing the 'skull' icon after an errror, which also closes all debugger windows.
    Keep error marks on Marks the error line.
    Clear errorlog off
Individual settings
    Debug Output
       Display hex off
        Add timestamp on
        Display in error logg off
        Use custom font off
        Start on According to the PureBasic developers the slow down this causes may be unnoticable.
    Asm Debugger
        Registers in hex off
        Stack in hex off
        Update stack trace on Not that I have a clue what it does, this is just the default setting :-)
    Memory Viewer
        Display in hex off
        One column only off
    Variable Viewer
        Display in hex off
Default Windows
  Data Breakpoints off
  Debug Output off
  Watchlist off
  Variable Viewer off
  Profiler off
  Procedure CallStack off
  Memory Viewer off
  Library Viewer off
  Purifier off
  Ams Debugger off

Bringing up the debugger and its windows

First of all, do not forget to turn the debugger on, either via Debugger / Use Debugger, or with the 'Use Debugger' button on the toolbar.

When you're editing, you will see that the 'Kill Program' button on the toolbar stays grey. Once your program runs, it turns red and you can click on it to kill your program. The buttons directly left of it allow you to halt your program, step through it line by line, or continue normally.

There are two ways to bring up the debugger windows:

  • Open selected windows whenever you run / compile. To select those windows goto File / Preferences / Debugger / Default Windows and take your pick. If you expect a long, repeated debugging session ahead of you, you might just open up a few default windows to save you clicking...
  • Select the appropriate debugger windows once your program has halted (that's not the same as ended!) you can open up any debugger window via the Debugger menu.
There are several ways to halt your program:
  • By setting a (code) breakpoint by using [F9] on a specific line.
  • By setting a data breakpoint using Debugger / Data Breakpoints.
  • By using the CallDebugger statement in your source code.
  • Whenever the debugger encounters an error (such as divide by zero).
  • By pressing the 'Stop' button on the toolbar whilst your program is running.

11.3 Use

First the easy approach: code an error, turn the debugger on, watch it in action :-)

; pb 4.50
b = 0
a = 1 / b
An error is shown at the bottom of the PB IDE. Obviously the error would not be caught with the debugger disabled, and your program would crash.

Disable the debugger for a section of the source

You can selectively disable the debugger for sections of your code:

Obviously, it would be unwise to comment out any errors :-) so here's a working example, there's no problem disabling the working section of the code, but we do want to catch the 'divide by zero'::
; pb 4.50
b = 0
a = 1 / b


There are two controlled ways to halt the execution of your program through the source. The first one is adding the following command:

The second one is simply pressing [F9] in the editor. This would add a breakpoint to your code. You can clear these breakpoints by hitting [F9] again. Execution of your program will halt on the line with the breakpoint, just before executing the code on that line.

In both cases any debugger windows that are open (especially the Variable Viewer) will be updated the moment execution stops.

Stepping through

Now your program is halted you can use any of the open debugger windows, abort, continue running your program, or even step through your program, using the icons in the PB IDE button bar (Stop, Continue, Step, etc.).  On every step, the debugger windows are updated.

Messages to the Debug Output window

You can also send messages to the Debug Output window using the Debug command.

Debug "debugging..."
Debug 12+8
The Debug command has some quirks... more about that in the next section.

11.4 Debug Output

In a perfect world, all our code should be bug-free... In reality, it (probably) never is. Let's start with an image of the 'Debug Output' window. This window will be shown whenever we send something to it using the Debug statement. First, make sure you have enabled the debugger through the menu Debugger / Use Debugger, and run the following complex code:

b = 0
a = 1 / b
You should get an error message, but the debugger window may not open... Yet the debugger is doing its job. Look at the bottom of the editor, you should see something like:
[16:46:14] [ERROR] Division by zero forbidden.
If you try to run the same program with the debugger switched off, you'll get Windows throwing a warning at ya'... Unless you were running Windows 98, in which case you may either have to reboot... or Windows does that for you ;-)

Let's assume we'd like to know what actually caused the crash, we'd like to know what value b has. With the debugger enabled, we can output the value of the varable b to a special debugger window:

b = 0
Debug b
a = 1 / b
In the window 'Debug Output' we'll see the content of variable b, which is (big surprise) zero. A small variation would look like this:
b = 0
Debug "b="+Str(b)
a = 1 / b
The command Debug can only display variables, numbers, or strings, so we created our own string using Str(). Here's how the Debug Output window looks like:

As you can see, you can put pretty much anything behind a Debug statement, but keep in mind it's only executed with the compiler switched on! Try the following with debugger on and debugger off:

Global a
Procedure IncA()
  a = a+1
a = 1
Debug IncA()
IncA() is only executed with the debugger ON. If the debugger is switched off, the line will not be executed at all.

A second thing to keep in mind is that new values are NOT assigned to a variable when using the Debug statement. This can cause very hard to trace bugs, which are (frankly) caused by our own stupidity... Let's say we wrote the following code, which works fine with and without the debugger (always shows 2)...

a = 1
a = a+1
Now, for some reason, we'd like to know the value of a, so smart (and lazy!) as we are, we add the Debug statement like this:
a = 1
Debug a = a+1
... and suddenly the output stays 1, no matter what! To avoid these kind of problems it's better to do it like this:
a = 1
a = a+1
Debug a

11.5 Variable Viewer.

<< werkpunt >>

Do not confuse this one with the 'other' Variable Viewer which is accessible through the menu Tools / Variable Viewer. The debugger Variable Viewer window shows the values of all variables, arrays and linked lists in your program.

The top section lists all variables that are in the 'root' of your program (ie. not declared inside a procedure) and those that are declared global (regardles if that has been done in- or outside a procedure). The bottom section lists all locally (within a procedure) declared variables which are non-global.

Duh. That's confusing :-) Let's try that again...

The bottom section lists everything defined within a procedure, with the exception of the Global keyword. The top section lists the rest.

Duh. Still confusing :-) Here's an example, run this and you will see an error:

Procedure abc()
  ; local
  Protected a.i, b.i
  b = 0
  a = 1 / b
; global
Global b.i
b = 17
Debug "b="+Str(b)
; call abc() and cause an error
Go into the IDE's menu and pick Debugger / Variable Viewer. The following window will pop up:

On the top half you'll find a list of global variables, the bottom half shows the local variables. Sww the PureBasic help file for what the coloured icons mean.

Note that the Variable Viewer is NOT real-time. It will only update on a breakpoint, or when stepping through your code with the debugger, or if you hit the 'Update' button. If your code is running flawlessly, nothing will change in the variable viewer window. You can check that by running the code below.

First run it, the line CallDebugger will switch to 'step' mode so you can step through your code line by line. Bring up the Variable Viewer window via Debugger / Variable VIewer, then use the step button on the IDE toolbar to step through your code. Watch the value of your variable a change every time it passes the line a = a+1. Now hit the 'continue' button on the IDE's toolbar. Though your code is running, nothing seems to happen. If you hit the Update button you'll see how fast a has been increasing!

a = 1
  a = a + 1
Don't forget to check out PureBasic's help file as well!

11.6 Watch List.

The Watch List window serves pretty much the same purpose as the Variable Viewer window, but it's realtime.

First have the debugger open up the Variable Viewer and Watch List windows by default by going into File / Preferences / Debugger / Default Windows, then run the code below.

a = 1
  a = a + 1
You can add variables to the Watch List. Add the variable 'a' and the Watch List will show you the value of 'a' in real-time. The Variable Viewer will only update if you're in 'step' mode, or if you hit the Update button.

A little trick to make it easier adding variables is to add a breakpoint [F9] to the line where your variable is first used or defined. Then, when the debugger halts on that line, you pick the proper variable in the Variable Viewer and add it to the Watch List. In 4.20 you couldn't watch strings in real time, but in 4.51 you can!

11.7 Memory Viewer.

The Memory Viewer allows a quick peek at an area in memory. Unfortunately it does not automatically update, and you're only allowed to monitor one specific area. It's probably best used in combination with breakpoints. It may often be faster to use a Debug statement and some code of your own making.

An interesting aspect of the memory viewer is its support of (certain) expressions... Run the following:

a.s = "Abracadabra"
... then bring up the Memory Viewer, and set range to
... and hit 'Display'. I tried @ and Len() and the regular +-/* and they were supported.

Note: you have to enter a 'range'. Here's how not to do it:

The above would specify a range from @a (whereever that would be in memory) up to (absolute) memory location number 5. If you want to disply 5 bytes, you should use:
The '+5' would in effect display @a to @a+5, which is what I wanted. Yep, I did fall in that trap myself :-(

11.8 Profiler.

The Profiler in 4.20 shows a graph with all lines in your code. Every time a line is executed, it increases a counter. You can easily spot what part of your code has been executed most. Note that this only counts the number of times a line has executed, it does not show how much TIME that line, section of code, or procedure, has taken.

11.9 The Esoteric Process...

I hate debugging!

Unfortunately, sometimes one doesn't have a choice. One of my ongoing projects is CodeCaddy, which has seen several incarnations since 2005. With the arrival of PureBasic 4.31 I decided to convert it to full Unicode (okay, mostly Unicode, but at least enough to make it work :-))...

CodeCaddy relies heavily on my 'shared include' called x_lib.pb (which is simply a collection of procedures that I often use, and it's included with the CodeCaddy source). I've tried to rewrite the x_lib file in such a way that it would work with current and future versions of PureBasic, on 32 and 64 bit platforms. (As I don't have a 64 bit setup here I couldn't test the latter, sorry.) Whilst doing that, I cleaned up some things, removed old stuff, shuffled some parameters, and did other things I should not have done. The end result: CodeCaddy wouldn't work with the new and updated x_lib unless I did a major rewrite on CodeCaddy as well...

So be it. So I started updating / rewriting CodeCaddy to use the x_lib, and to become Unicode aware. And another week passed by... Whilst I suffered all stages of ever so painful debugging. Some were caused by converting from 3.81 to 4.xx to 4.31, some were caused by moving from Ascii to Unicode... Some were logic mistakes (and those are the worst) that for some reason did not show up before, or (even worse) that did show up but disappeared again... to re-appear again...

So, how do you make your life less painful? Why am I bringing this up? Debugging, in any form, can be painful. Very painful. So here are some tips to make it easier...

  1. Use proper (sensible) variable names that mean something ten years later.
  2. Document your code. Document your code. Document your code.
  3. Keep things simple. Break expressions into smaller pieces. Stick to one statement per line.
  4. Learn your tools. Understand the means you have available, such as the Debug statement, and PureBasic's debugger, and how they could affect your program.
  5. Work your way up. Make sure all building blocks (procedures) work fine before you tackle the bigger things.
  6. Isolate and identify the problem. Do not assume anything.
  7. Continuously check for regression bugs.
That last one deserves a little more attention.

Regression bugs.

With a collection of routines that interact and depend on each other, each rewrite / improvement / bugfix may break something else elsewhere in your code. So what I've started doing is write a program that uses each and every procedure from my 'shared include', with different parameters and verifying the output. Every time I run into a bug I add another test to that test-program. With every new release of PureBasic, or every change in the 'shared include' I run my test program again, testing, testing, testing. And by doing so I uncovered a number of bugs that fixed my issues with CodeCaddy, but I also ran into (and fixed!) serveral bugs I was not even aware of, but which might have caused me serious problems in future versions of CodeCaddy, or in other projects.

Morale? Test. Test. Test.