Testing and debugging are important steps in programming. Loosely, you can think of testing as verifying
that your program works and debugging as finding and fixing errors once you’ve discovered it does not.
Writing test code is an important (and sometimes tedious) step. Many software libraries have “regression
tests” that run automatically to verify that code is behaving the way it should.
Here are four strategies for testing and debugging:
1. When you write a class, write a separate “driver” main function that calls each member function,
providing input that produces a known, correct result. Output of the actual result or, better yet,
automatic comparison between actual and correct result allows for verifying the correctness of a class
and its member functions.
2. Carefully reading the code. In doing so, you must strive to read what the code actually says and does
rather than what you think and hope it will do. Although developing this skill isn’t necessarily easy, it
3. Using the debugger to (a) step through your program, (b) check the contents of various variables, and
(c) locate floating point exceptions and segmentation violations that cause your program to crash.
4. Judicious use of std::cout statements to see what the program is actually doing. This is useful for
printing the contents of a large data structure or class, especially when it is hard to visualize large
objects using the debugger alone.
Points and Rectangles
The programming context for this lab is the problem of determining what 2D points are in what 2D rectangles.
For rectangles, we will assume they are aligned with the coordinate axes, as shown in the figure below. This
makes it easy to represent and to test if a point is inside. Our code will store points in rectangles and
determine which points are in which rectangles. This is a toy example of problems that must be addressed
in graphics and robotics.
Figure 1: Example of a rectangle aligned with the coordinate axes — the only type of rectangle considered
here. The rectangle is specified by its upper right corner point, (17, 9), and its lower left corner point, (4, 3).
The point (9, 3.5) is inside the rectangle, whereas the point (8, 10) is outside.
Please download the following 3 files needed for this lab:
Examine the provided files briefly. Point2D.h defines a simple, self-contained class for representing point
coordinates in two-dimensions. No associated .cpp file is needed because all member functions are defined
in the class declaration. Rectangle.h and Rectangle.cpp contain the start of the Rectangle class.
We have placed an intentional bug in the Rectangle class! Please read the code now to see if you can find
it. Do not worry if you can not. If you do find the bug, do not fix it!
First, complete the implementation of the Rectangle.cpp class. Look through Rectangle.h and Rectangle.cpp
to determine what functions need to be added. Then, compile these files and remove any compilation errors
(but do not fix runtime logic bugs in the provided code).
Next, create a new file named test_rectangle.cpp. Create a main function within this file. In the main
function, write code to test each of the member functions. For example, write code to create several rectangles,
and print their contents right after they are created. Write code that should produce both true and false
in the function is point within. In fact, if there is non-trivial logic in any function, the test code should
call the function several (or even many) times with varying inputs to test all the possible branches or paths
through the conditionals and loops to ensure every line of code is run at least once. Write code to add points
(or not) to a rectangle. Write code to find what points are contained within the bounds of both rectangles.
To complete this checkpoint, show a TA your test cases and the error(s) that those test cases reveal.
After doing this you should be able to spot that there is an error in the provided code (as well as, perhaps,
errors in your own code). Even if you know where the bug or bugs occur, please do not fix them yet.
Now, we will practice using the debugger to find and fix errors. Today we’ll learn how to use the gcc/g++
command line debugger, gdb from the GNU/Linux, MacOSX, or Cygwin terminal. NOTE: On Mac OSX, you
are probably actually using the llvm/clang++ compiler, so you’ll use lldb instead of gdb in the instructions
below. If you’re using Windows and you didn’t already install gdb for Cygwin, you’ll need to upgrade
Cygwin to grab that package. Many introductory gdb debugging tutorials can be found on-line; just type
gdb tutorial into your favorite search engine. Here are a couple:
After you learn and demonstrate to your TA the basics of debugging with gdb/lldb you are encouraged
to explore other debuggers, for example, the debugger built into your IDE, but we do not provide those
instructions. You may also want to try a graphical front end for gdb: http://www.gnu.org/software/ddd/
After today’s lab you can use your favorite search engine to find basic instructions for other debuggers and
figure out how to do each of the steps below in your debugger of choice.
Note that in addition to a standard step-by-step program debugger like gdb/lldb, we also recommend the use
of a memory debugger for programs with dynamically-allocated memory, or anytime you have a segmentation
fault or other confusing program behavior. Information about memory debuggers is available here:
After today’s lab, you should be comfortable with the basics of debugging within your preferred development
environment. Keep practicing with the debugger on your future homeworks, and be prepared to demonstrate
debugger skills when you ask for help in office hours.
1. Run your program that has tests for the basic member functions. Even though the program will compile
and run, it will not give the correct output. You may be suspicious about a place in your code where
the error occurs. It is time to start the debugger.
2. Getting started: When you plan to use the gdb (or lldb) debugger to investigate your program you
will need to build your executable differently. Specifically you need to link the code with the -g option
to add debug information (including, source code line numbers!) to the executable. For example, to
compile & link all of your files for this lab type:
g++ -Wall -g Rectangle.cpp rectangle_test.cpp -o rect_test
In order to start gdb type
This puts you into the command-line debugger. Type help in order to see the list of commands.
There are several commands for setting breakpoints. You can set a breakpoint by specifying a function
name or a line number within a file. For example
sets a breakpoint at the start of the main function. You can also set a breakpoint at the start of a
member function, as in
Finally, to set a breakpoint at a specific line number in a file, you may type:
Set a breakpoint at some point in your code just before (in order of execution!) you think the first error
might occur. Finally, in order to actually start running the program under control of the debugger,
you will need to type run at the gdb command line.
3. Stepping through the program: You can step through the code using the commands next (move
to the next line of code), step (enter the function), and finish (leave the function). The command
continue allows you to move to the next breakpoint.
4. Examining the content of variables: You can use print to see the values of variables and expressions. You can use the command display to see the contents of a particular variable or expression
when the program is stopped.
5. Program flow: The command backtrace can be used to show the contents of the call stack. This
is particularly important if your program crashes. Unfortunately, the crash often occurs inside C++
library code. Therefore, when you look at the call stack the first few functions listed may not be your
code. Find the function on the stack that is the nearest to the top of the stack that is actually your
code. By typing frame N, where N is the index of the function on the stack, you can examine your code
and variables and you can see the line number in your code that caused the crash. Type info locals
and info args to examine the data in the function. Type list to see the source code.
6. Breakpoint on Variable Change: The last powerful debugger feature you will find out about today
is variable monitoring. Create an instance of a Point2D object called pt in your main function and
change its coordinates using the set member function of Point2D. You will now monitor the change
of this point using the debugger.
You can use the command watch to halt the program when a variable or expression changes. For
example, type watch p.m_x. You can try the the rwatch command which allows you to break on a
read of the value (not just a change).
Continue to experiment with these different debugger operations and only when you feel comfortable
showing off all these features put your name in the queue for checkoff for this checkpoint. The
TA/mentor will be asking you to demonstrate these features, especially how you can make the debugger
pause when a variable is changed. You will also be asked questions about the other steps in debugging.
Programmers are often called on to debug other programmer’s code. It can be a frustrating experience if the
code is not clearly written.
Please download this additional file:
Compile this file along with your corrected versions of Points2D.h, Rectangle.h, and Rectangle.cpp. It
should compile without errors. If you are using clang++ on Cygwin, you may need to add the option
-fno-exceptions option to the compile command as follows:
clang++ -Wall -g -fno-exceptions Rectangle.cpp buggy_rectangle_test.cpp -o buggy_rect_test
Run the program. If your corrections for checkpoints 1 & 2 are correct, this buggy test program should
produce a segmentation fault. Run the compiled program with gdb. Using backtrace, locate and correct the
error causing the segmentation fault. The problem will probably not be at position #0 in the backtrace, but
rather somewhere higher in the stack.
To complete this checkpoint and the entire lab, correct the source of the segmentation fault, and be
prepared to demonstrate how you found the error.