Goldenseal Pro Progress- Back to Databasics (May 3)

Back in 1999, we started using real data to test beta versions of Goldenseal accounting software. There was an unpleasant surprise. Intermittently, the software gave mystery NeoAccess errors, then crashed with a corrupted database. The only recourse was to trash the file and start over. We reported the bugs to NeoAccess support, but by then they had stopped answering emails.

We considered switching to a different database library, but couldn’t find anything better. Out of desperation, our staff spent half a year rewriting the NeoAccess code to make it more reliable. We found and fixed at least two serious bugs. Most likely, the rewrites accidentally fixed a few more. After that, the code ran well enough for a version 1.0 release.

The database still had rare problems, so we added a bunch of diagnostic commands to better understand what was happening inside the file. With their help, we tracked down a few more subtle bugs, and squashed the last of them in 2004.

Now that we are testing Goldenseal Pro with our own real data, we’re seeing database bugs again. The software adds many thousands of records just fine, but sometimes it has failed after deleting or changing them. This time around, bugs are entirely expected, since it’s brand new code getting its first stress test. The schedule has 2 weeks allocated for database bug fixes, and so far that seems about right.

Fortunately, the new database code is much cleaner and more understandable. Bug fixes usually take hours instead of months.

Up until now, we have been able to step through the database code in the debugger to find and fix problems. However, as the amount of data increases, the bugs grow more obscure (and harder to duplicate). So, we just added some diagnostic commands again. Being able to see interior details helped catch the deletion bug. Right now Goldenseal Pro is working fine, although there are almost certainly more bugs lurking.

You might wonder why we don’t just write bug-free code to start with. And yeah, we agree, that would sure be nice. Having perfect code in the first run would save everyone a lot of time.

What prevents that is the same reason that construction projects have punch lists. Why first drafts have tyops and bad grammar. Why cars aren’t perfect, even after 130 years of engineering. Complex things are difficult, and creators can’t anticipate every possible problem. Frequently, errors need to occur at least once, before you even know they’re a problem. Not to mention, just plain old random omissions and mistakes.

Since we can’t write perfect code, we spend a lot of time testing and debugging. The software gets closer and closer to perfect.

Right now Goldenseal Pro is in that rough polishing stage. Polishing is a slow, grinding process that takes time before it produces something shiny.

Dennis Kolva
Programming Director


Author: Dennis Kolva

Programming Director for Turtle Creek Software. Design & planning of accounting and estimating software.