What are Programming Bugs?

We have all encountered them at one time or another: bugs, both the multi-legged creepy crawlers and programming bugs, often referred to as software bugs. A software bug is nothing like a pesky worm or virus. Instead, it's an error or mistake that causes a computer program to misbehave. These bugs are generally the result of mistakes made by the programmer either in the design or the source code. Some are caused by compilers that generated invalid code.

The Impact

The impact of programming bugs tends to vary and could have a wide range of impact on the software's end-user. Some are very simple, such as your word editing program that might take a little extra time loading. This is something that you might not detect for some time. Others are more serious and may cause the application to freeze or crash when performing certain actions. In this scenario, you normally receive an error message briefly detailing the problem. You also have the worst type of programming bugs, which qualify as security vulnerabilities. These are typically flaws with your operating system or web browser. Such deficiencies could open exploits for intruders and malicious software writers and can give them control of a system.

While programming bugs themselves aren't malicious, they can be very dangerous. The computer software industry has taken note of this with strides to become more efficient at development. Some of these measures include the following.

Programming Style: Although common mistakes such as typos are usually found by the compiler, a programming bug often appears when logical errors are made. Innovations in defense programming and programming style are intended to make these errors less likely and easier to notice.

Programming Techniques: Bugs generally cause problems by creating inconsistencies within the data of a running application. Various techniques are employed to immediately halt a program when inconsistencies are encountered. This is a quick procedure that enables the bug to be identified and fixed. Other methods involve attempting to correct the bug while allowing the program to continuously run.

Language Support: The language being used is essentially the base of all programming bugs. Many programming languages these days come equipped with features that help programmers effectively handle flaws and common errors. One such function is exception handling. Additionally, some of the newer languages have purposely excluded features that are more liable to lead to programming bugs. For instance, the popular Java programming language doesn't support functions such pointer arithmetic.

Aside from the world of computing, programming bugs are quite serious as they relate to other devices. In the 1980s, a critical error in the code controlling radiation therapy was the direct cause of death for a few cancer patients. In the mid 1990s, the European Space Agency's Ariane 5 rocket exploded less than a minute following the launch. A $1 billion prototype was destroyed due to a programming bug in the on-board guidance software application. A Royal Air Face Chinook went crashing into the Mull of Kintyre in 1994. The crashed that killed 29 people was first dismissed as an error on the pilots, but it was later speculated that the aircraft's engine control computer may have contained a programming error.

As an end-user, the best way to handle bugs is to report them. When you receive these error messages, take note of them and follow up with the recommended action to get the issue resolved.


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