Java11 Java Debugging Best Practices for 2023

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As developers build increasingly complex Java applications, the need for effective debugging becomes paramount. Like most programming languages, Java debugging tends to focus on identifying runtime errors, logic issues, and performance bottlenecks. Effective debugging not only helps in fixing problems but also enhances the overall software development process. To that end, this guide will present some best practices for Java debugging to help you identify and fix issues more efficiently.

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Use Integrated Development Environments (IDEs)

Don’t write code on a word processor. Instead, get yourself a quality IDE like IntelliJ IDEA, Eclipse, or NetBeans. These tools offer a comprehensive set of debugging features, including breakpoints, variable inspection, and step-by-step execution. Then, familiarize yourself with the debugging capabilities of your chosen IDE to enhance your productivity.

Eclipse IDE Review
Example of Eclipse IDE for Java

Leverage Logging Frameworks

Incorporate logging frameworks like Log4j or java.util.logging into your code. Logging is a highly effective way to capture runtime information. Logging frameworks support different log levels (debug, info, warn, and error), which allow you to strategically trace the execution flow and identify potential issues. Here’s a code sample using log4j:

import org.apache.log4j.Logger;

public class MyClass {
   private static final Logger LOGGER = Logger.getLogger(MyClass.class);

   public void myMethod() {
      LOGGER.debug("Entering myMethod");
      // Your code here
      LOGGER.debug("Exiting myMethod");

Set Meaningful Breakpoints

Rather than indiscriminately placing breakpoints throughout the code, you should strategically position them at points where you anticipate issues or want to closely examine the program’s behavior. Aligning breakpoints with specific functionalities or critical sections of code allows you to focus your debugging efforts on the most relevant areas, saving time and avoiding information overload. Additionally, incorporating conditional breakpoints based on specific conditions or variable values will halt execution only when certain criteria are met, providing a targeted approach to problem-solving. This practice not only accelerates the debugging process but also enhances the precision and effectiveness of identifying and resolving issues within the Java codebase.

Read: Advantages and Disadvantages of Java

Understand and Use Exception Handling

Implement robust exception handling to gracefully handle errors. Log exceptions with meaningful messages and stack traces. This practice helps in identifying the root cause of issues and accelerates the debugging process. Often, this can be as simple as adding a try/catch block:

try {
   // Code that may throw an exception
} catch (Exception e) {
   LOGGER.error("An error occurred: " + e.getMessage(), e);

Unit Testing for Debugging

Write comprehensive unit tests using frameworks like JUnit or TestNG. Automated tests serve as executable documentation and help catch issues early in the development process. Regularly run tests to ensure that new code changes do not introduce regressions. Tests can be run automatically as part of an automated build process within most IDEs. Here’s some code that tests the MyMath class’s add() method:

import org.junit.Test;
import static org.junit.Assert.assertEquals;

public class MyMathTest {
   public void testAddition() {
      assertEquals(4, MyMath.add(2, 2));

Read: Top Java Debugging Tools

Use Version Control Effectively

Integrate your development workflow with version control systems like Git. Version control helps you track changes, revert to previous states, and collaborate effectively. When debugging, you can isolate issues by examining changes made between different commits. Becoming adept at version control is an art unto itself, so plan on spending a significant amount of time familiarizing yourself with concepts such as cherry picking, merging, branching, and many others.

Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD)

Implement CI/CD pipelines to automate testing and deployment processes. Automated testing in CI/CD pipelines catches bugs early and provides rapid feedback to developers. This approach ensures that code changes are continuously integrated, tested, and deployed to production.

We have a list of the Top CI/CD Tools to help you choose the right pipeline software.

Profile Your Application

Utilize profiling tools such as YourKit or VisualVM to identify performance bottlenecks and memory usage issues. Profiling is useful for providing insights into which parts of your code are resource-intensive, thereby helping you optimize critical sections.

Memory Analysis and Garbage Collection

While Java developers don’t need to judiciously manage memory like C and C++ programmers do, it’s helpful to at least have a basic understanding of garbage collection in Java. You can use tools like Eclipse Memory Analyzer (MAT) or jvisualvm to perform in-depth memory analysis. Keep an eye on heap usage, identify memory leaks, and optimize your code accordingly.

Document Your Code and Share Knowledge

Unfortunately, documentation seems to fall to the bottom of both developer and organizational priorities. That is a shame because documenting code helps new developers understand the logic and greatly facilitates debugging. For those reasons, teams should strive to share knowledge through internal wikis or documentation repositories to ensure a collaborative development environment. Also, make some effort to keep the documentation up-to-date. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to align obsolete documentation with current functionality.

Community Resources and Support

It’s important to engage with the broader Java development community. Participate in forums, attend meetups, and follow online communities. Platforms like Stack Overflow and GitHub discussions provide valuable insights and solutions to common Java debugging challenges.

Final Thoughts: Mastering Java Debugging

Mastering Java debugging is an ongoing process that involves adopting the right tools, practices, and a mindset of continuous improvement. By incorporating these best practices into your development workflow, you can efficiently identify, isolate, and resolve issues in your Java code. Effective debugging not only improves the quality of your software but also enhances your overall development skills.

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