debugging a project

Oftentimes programs will not function as expected because the programmer possibly forgot to initialize a variable, made a mistake setting conditions such that a loop will never terminate, or did not account for a method call that returns null. Fixing these errors takes very little time, but finding the error in the code can be a very difficult task. The concept of debugging aims at speeding up the locating process of programming flaws.

Debugging allows the programmer to set break points in the code. When executing the program in debug mode, Eclipse will run the program normally, but it will pause (not stop) execution at the first break point. The programmer can then observe the state of all currently declared variables. Moreover, the programmer can step through the code to see how the next instructions will affect the variables. Execution can be resumed and the program will either terminate normally, or Eclipse will stop at the next break point it detects.

setting break points

In order to set a break point, simply right click on the gray margin to the left of the line of code in the editor. A small context menu should open, which will allow you to add a break point. To start the debugging process go to Run > Debug As > Java Application.

The Debugging perspective

Once you have started the debugging process, Eclipse will switch to the debugging perspective. This perspective may seem complex and confusing at the beginning, but this should not discourage you from using it. Here are the key elements you should be familiar with:

  • Debug view
The most interesting part of the debug view is the toolbar (marked in blue).
  1. Resume - will result in normal execution of the program until the next break point
  2. Suspend - will pause execution and allow you to view state of variables
  3. Terminate - will terminate execution of the program
  4. Step Into - if you are at a method call (e.g., Math.pow(200) ) and you would like to know what the method does you should use Step Into
  5. Step Over - if you only care about what a method will return or how it will change your variables use Step Over
  6. Step Return - will finish the method you are currently in and return to the point the method was called from

These six buttons will allow you to navigate the program execution while you can observe what values methods return and how the affect your variables.

  • Variables view (marked in blue on the right side)
This view simply shows all variables that are currently defined in the context of your program.
  • Editor view
You will see the program line the debugger is currently at. If the execution of your program takes you to a different class, Eclipse will open up the corresponding .java file automatically.
  • Console view (bottom blue rectangle)
Much like the console view in the Ambient perspective it will show output of the program that's running and allow for user input.


Last Update: 28 June 2004