Visual Studio Debugging Tips That Will Lighten Your Load

Howdy readers, Lafe here. About once a month, my partner in crime, Rich Seeley, has been doing technical takeovers of this blog. Here's his latest post on Visual Studio debugging.

When it comes to Visual Studio debugging there's no sense sugar coating the chore.

"None of us gets paid to debug code," notes Kaycee Anderson, program manager for the Microsoft debugging team. “We get paid to write code. So the less time we spend debugging the better off we’ll be."

This was her opening for her talk at Microsoft Build 2017 titled "Supercharge your debugging in Visual Studio 2017: Tips and Tricks." Anderson's presentation featuring 30+ tips and tricks is now available on YouTube. Better yet, you can also see her in person at VSLive! Redmond the week of Aug. 14 giving her presentation on Debugging Tips and Tricks for Visual Studio. This will be an opportunity for you to talk to her about your own debugging issues.

She starts out with a demo making use of the Visual Studio Watch window after noting that is where developers doing debugging can go to "party." For those who have not been partying in the Watch window, Microsoft explains how to get into it: "To open the Watch window, the debugger must be running or in break mode. From the Debug menu, choose Windows, then Watch, and click on Watch1, Watch2, Watch3, or Watch4. You can use the Watch window to evaluate variables and expressions and keep the results."

Even if you are not in a party mood while debugging, the Watch window appears to be a good place to hang out.

Among the new features in Visual Studio 2017, Anderson shows off the "point-and-click debugging" made possible by transforming the Run-to-Cursor feature into Run-to-Click and moved it from the context menu where it was fairly well-hidden to the editor where it is easily found as a green glyph alongside each line of code in the editor. Rather than having to jump through hoops to run the lines of your code that are having problems, Run-to-Click lets you immediately zero in on the trouble spot. So a tool that was once difficult to find and use is now readily available.

Demonstrating Run-to-Click, Anderson explained: "I always have one hand on the mouse anyway to inspect variables with data tips, so this is a good way to go 'I want to go here,' and hover over [the problem line of code]. There's no more step over, step over, step over and back and forth."

Saving all those steps will save you time in debugging.

Anderson's entire 54+ minute talk is well worth watching.

New Debugging Goodies

If you aren't ready to invest an hour into learning Visual Studio debugging tips, there is 3 New Debugging Goodies in Visual Studio 2017, which is only 12 minutes long. Here you can learn about not only Run-to-Click, but also the Reattach to Process and Exception Helper, all of which are new and improved in Visual Studio 2017.

Microsoft highlights the flexibility of Reattach to Process:

"You can use this capability to debug apps that are running on a local or remote computer, debug multiple processes simultaneously, or debug an application that was not created in Visual Studio. It is often useful when you want to debug an app, but (for whatever reason) you did not start the app from Visual Studio with the debugger attached. For example, if you are running the app without the debugger and hit an exception, you might then attach to the process running the app to begin debugging."

You can learn more about Reattach to Process from reading Attach to Running Processes with the Visual Studio Debugger from Microsoft.

As explained in a recent Code Project blog by Kamran Bilgrami, Exception Helper provides a dialog box that aids in dealing quickly with exceptions in code:

Exceptions is an ancient programming concept that every developer has to deal with in the programs they write during development, testing and production scenarios. Visual Studio has long provided facilities to inspect the exceptions but with Visual Studio 2017, its Exception Helper dialog makes that process even easier."

Emergency Debugging

Debugging isn't always a process that you work through while writing code. It can also be a problem solving tool when something goes wrong with existing software. It's the old game of find the bug, which can take on emergency status if that bug is bringing down an e-commerce app.

How To Do Production Debugging on the Fly by Bilrami is a case study in Production Debugging published on Visual Studio Magazine’s website.

Bilrami defines production debugging as "solving customer-facing issues that aren't easily reproducible."

"Take, for example, a common problem of a fast-food restaurant kiosk that goes offline with a blue screen of death," he writes. "That restaurant loses its ability to accept orders from customers, of course, but it also can disrupt workflows and bring chaos to other parts of the business operations. If the problem can be traced to a hardware issue, hardware can be quickly replaced. But in the case of software issues, replacing hardware will be of no help. Software vendors have to fix the issue, and that, in turn, requires being able to reproduce the scenario first."

For those faced with this difficult situation, Bilrami not only recommends several free tools but shows how they can help to quickly work in production debugging to help get a mission critical app up and running again.

Debugger 101

If you aren't ready to save the fast food industry but just want an overview, Microsoft provides Learn Productivity Tips and Tricks for the Debugger in Visual Studio. It covers 10 key subjects:
  1. Pin data tips
  2. Edit your code and continue debugging (C#, VB, C++)
  3. Debug issues that are hard to reproduce
  4. Change the execution flow
  5. Track an out-of-scope object (C#, Visual Basic)
  6. View return values for functions
  7. Inspect strings in a visualizer
  8. Break into code on handled exceptions
  9. Debug deadlocks and race conditions
  10. Examine payloads for web services and network resources (UWP)

For How-To instructions that you can follow along at home with your own version of Visual Studio open, Microsoft offers Feature Tour of the Visual Studio Debugger. The tour covers features available in a variety of languages including C#, C++, Visual Basic, and JavaScript.

And as the Microsoft debuggers like to say: "Party on."

Posted by Lafe Low on 07/27/2017

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