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How to learn about secret software bugs

Top_Secret_resized One of the more frustrating aspects of being a programmer is that sometimes users encounter problems you never hear about. It isn’t anyone’s fault – I don’t always notify people when the software I use generates an error either. It takes time and effort, and I often think “they probably already know”. 

But honestly, we don’t always know about the problems users encounter. Especially on smaller software projects with a limited number of developers and testers, we’re unlikely to test every single scenario. So the problem a user discovers may not be anything we tested for or have seen ourselves.

There is a way to find out about some of these errors. When I build new applications, I include error logging code that logs any unhandled errors to a file. I do this mainly so that when a user reports an error, I have a starting point of debugging information.

But this type of logging is also useful for learning about the problems we never hear about. My web applications include this logging, and I periodically look at the log files for errors I’ve never heard of before. In many cases, the information in the log file provides enough information to fix a bug before it is even reported by end users. (For Windows applications, the files can be automatically emailed to the programmer.)

When your programmer is building your custom application, make sure to include error logging in the list of requirements. It will help the programmer troubleshoot reported problems, and will also help them to learn about problems never reported.

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