TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Developer to Developer: Logging with a Purpose

Volume Number: 26
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Developer to Developer

Developer to Developer: Logging with a Purpose

A look at logging techniques in Objective-C applications

by Boisy G. Pitre

Introduction

As this article is being written, I've just returned from attending the 2010 MacTech Conference in Los Angeles, and can't say enough about how informative and well put together the event was. I particularly enjoyed meeting many of the attendees, both in the developer and IT tracks. The sessions were rich with valuable information and insights from the speakers. Take it from me, if you could not make the conference this year, I highly recommend that you make preparations to attend the next conference. Ed, Neil, and the rest of the MacTech folks did a tremendous job.

One of the sessions at the conference was given by Mark Dalrymple; it was simply entitled "Thoughts On Debugging." I found Mark's insights and experience very closely paralleled my own, especially when it comes to "caveman debugging." The philosophy on this type of debugging emphasizes the use of printf and other logging functions to both debug a program and to learn how it works by examination. The caveman aspect harkens to the fact that the developer chooses a seemingly more primitive way to catch bugs, by using logging instead of a debugger like GDB.

For this month's Developer to Developer, we'll examine logging, its applicability to debugging, and how we can take advantage of this technique to make better applications. We will then introduce a logging class that has been created and used in our own software development process here at Tee–Boy.

In The Beginning Was the Log...

Before interactive debuggers came on the scene, debugging running code was most easily accomplished by the addition of one or more output statements that could demonstrate the value of a variable at some point in the program. These statements found themselves on paper and embedded in the phosphor of amber and green terminals in days past. Even now, this ancient (in computer terms) technique still holds a great deal of value when attempting to find certain problems in our code.

Take for instance, a particularly tricky race condition in a multithreaded application that manifests itself once every 200 runs or so. Trying to pinpoint the problem using an interactive debugger could be a time-consuming task. There is the setting up of the program in the debugger itself, the setting of breakpoints in various places that are suspect, and the time spent waiting for the problem to show up. By its very nature, interactive debugging is interactive. It requires the developer to be present in order to move the flow of the program forward. When a bug manifests itself sporadically, and the exact scenario to reproduce it is uncertain, logging can often be the best recourse for resolution of the issue.

Besides being the most ubiquitous way to debug, log statements also have another advantage: they can act as a record of a program's actions while it was running. We can use logs as an audit trail to see the exact flow of the code. We can add additional value to the log output by adding the current date and time to each log statement so that we can determine the timing at various points in our program. Measuring the relative time that it takes between one log statement to the next can yield clues about how our program is running, and whether or not there may be problems ahead.

Basic Logging

As programmers, we like to get things done quickly, and that includes our debugging sessions. Oftentimes, you may find yourself in a hurry to find a particular problem, and stick a logging statement somewhere in your code. Then later, when the issue is fixed, you may forget to remove the statement, and that finds its way into production. This minimalist approach to logging is fine as long as you can remember to remove these logging statements before letting loose your product to the world. Of course, if there is little or no value for the logging statements to remain in a production version of your program, you are left with the task of having to remove them before a code freeze.

A solution to this problem that is often taken is to use a program-wide macro that will switch on and off debugging and logging statements by wrapping conditionals around them:

#ifdef DEBUG
NSLog(@"Debug statement here");
#endif

This approach works quite well on a small scale, but can get messy as well as tie up your time typing needless conditional statements over and over again for each logging line. A better approach would be to define a special macro which, when used in your code, would generate logging statements without requiring the wrapping of each statement in the conditional.

We can improve on the previous process by incorporating a macro/function based approach to logging in our programs. This will require a function that we will call DebugLog. The following code demonstrates how this can be done. When the ENABLE_LOGGING macro is defined, then the DebugLog function uses C's variable arguments functions to output any logging to the standard output path. If the ENABLE_LOGGING macro is not defined, then DebugLog resolves to a do-nothing function, and logging is simply ignored.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdarg.h>
#ifdef ENABLE_LOGGING
void DebugLog(char *fmt, ...)
{
    va_list args;
    va_start(args, fmt);
    vprintf(fmt, args);
    va_end(args);
}
#else
void DebugLog (char *fmt, ...)
{
}
#endif

By defining ENABLE_LOGGING in a global header file, such as your application's prefix header, you can get the benefit of logging at anytime and turn it off with a simple switch. Your source files remain the same; there are no #ifdef/#endif conditional wrappers to litter your source either. As a result, your code looks a lot cleaner.

Smarter Logging With the TBLog Class

The function based approach above makes interspersed logging code in our source look a lot neater than with the macro wrapping approach. However, it has a few shortcomings. First, it still requires a conditional to be set or cleared in order to turn on or off logging. Additionally, each logging statement is on equal footing; there is no way to prioritize logging statements. In many cases, we don't want to totally suppress logging, but may want minimal logging. Yet at other times we want verbose logging, or even a mix of the two.

Enter the TBLog class, an Objective-C class which brings all of these benefits to your code. Not only do we avoid wrapping conditionals, but we also get logging prioritization, plus some other benefits. The code for this class is available on the MacTech FTP site at ftp://ftp.mactech.com.

The TBLog class is a singleton class, meaning that for each application, only one actual instance of the class exists. This design pattern reinforces the notion that logging is a unified and arbitrated process in your application. In order to perform logging, we obtain the shared log object, then we send the log:level: message to that object with our logging message:

[[TBLog sharedLog] log:@"Logging message" level:TBLogLevelInfo];

With TBLog's log:level: message, we get several features "for free" including the current date and time automatically prepended to the message, as well as multiple output options for the message itself.

The first parameter is obviously the message to log, but the second parameter needs some explaining. As we noted with the macro/function based approach, there is no ranking of a log message's importance; all log lines are on equal footing. What the log level does is gives us fine grained control over which log messages are actually logged and which ones aren't.

The TBLog class provides five logging levels, and they are defined in the following table:

Log Level Name                      Usage   
TBLogLevelNone                      No logging occurs   
TBLogLevelInfo                      Logging for informational purposes   
TBLogLevelDetailed                  Logging for more detailed informational purposes   
TBLogLevelError                     Logging when an error occurs   
TBLogLevelDebug                     Logging for debugging purposes 
                                    (highest setting)   

Each level is progressively more critical in terms of priority. The lowest value, TBLogLevelNone simply suppresses that log line completely; all other levels will allow the debugging message to pass through to the console, depending upon the log level setting.

The log level setting is a global filter, dictating which messages will pass through the logging system. Since the TBLog class is a singleton class, this log setting affects the entire program. It can be set as follows:

[[TBLog sharedLog] setLogLevel:TBLogLevelDetailed];

In this case, any call to log:level: with a log level of TBLogLevelDetailed, TBLogLevelError or TBLogLevelDebug will pass its message onto the logging system. Any log message with a lower level will be suppressed. The log level can be set at any time in the program, giving you the option to see more detail when you want, or less detail. As you layout your logging in your program, you should be mindful as to which level is paired with each message. Is the message for informational purposes? If so, then it should probably be seen more often than a message that is intended for debugging. Laying out your logging strategy with these log levels and setting logging programmatically gives you a great degree of flexibility.

Another area where the TBLog class brings convenience is where the actual logging appears. For Cocoa applications, the NSLog() function is typically used, and its output is directed to the system console. The TBLog class does allow logging to the console; it also provides logging to an NSTextView object, as we'll see shortly.

By default, logging to the console is turned off. Turning on logging to the console can be achieved by turning on that specific feature with the following line:

[[TBLog sharedLog] setLogToConsole:TRUE];

Depending upon your application, you may find it useful to have a visual log which is based on the NSTextView object. This feature is built right into TBLog, and simply requires you to identify the view for logging. For example, here's how to set up logging to an NSTextView object named someTextView:

[[TBLog sharedLog] setTextView:someTextView];

An examination of the setText: code reveals that a check for what thread we are running on is made. If we are not running on the main thread when the log:level: method is called, then we use the performSelectorOnMainThread:withObject: method to update the NSTextView. By design, Cocoa applications should only update UI components on the main thread.

If you decide at some point to turn off logging to the NSTextView, this feature can be turned off by passing nil:

[[TBLog sharedLog] setTextView:nil];

Another important addition to the TBLog class is a convenient macro, TBLogFormat(), that allows you to use printf-style variable arguments:

[[TBLog sharedLog] log:TBLogFormat(@"Logging message with param %d", x) level:TBLogLevelInfo];

Ready to explore? The LogTest project, available on the MacTech FTP site, is a small Cocoa application that demonstrates the use of TBLog in an interactive manner. I highly recommend that you study the source for this project, as well as the TBLog.h header file for additional methods that you can use to determine the log level, console output state, and other features. You can also improve the design by adding other logging output options, such as to a custom file. Perhaps you would like a different set of logging levels. Feel free to extend, modify and incorporate it into your applications.

A Cautionary Note

Logging is good, but like anything else in life, too much of a good thing can be the very thing that causes us grief. Be aware that overzealous logging may end up slowing down your application in critical areas. It is not unusual in time critical areas of the code for logging to exacerbate or even mask a problem. There have been many times that I have seen this in action: just removing a set of log statements would change the behavior of a program. In general, this type of voodoo only happens with very specific time sensitive applications. Your Cocoa applications should be able to accommodate a decent amount of logging for the most part. Just be aware of this caveat.

Another consideration is the size of the log file. A copious amount of logging can fill up log files quite fast. OS X does a good job of housekeeping in this area by periodically archiving its logs. However, if you decide to extend TBLog to update your own log file, be aware of the amount of logging that you are doing, and have a contingency plan in place to deal with large log files.

Summary

Despite its seemingly archaic heritage, logging remains an integral part of the software development process, and in some cases is the best option for seeking out bugs. It gives us some verification that our application is working correctly (or incorrectly), and also conveys code flow information. The importance of logging in applications extends beyond just debugging. It can be used to provide a record of actions of a program on a system that can be used for feedback. Now with TBLog, you have the foundation for a flexible and adaptable logging system that can make debugging and auditing of your application easier

Bibliography and References

CocoaDev.com, NSLog, http://www.cocoadev.com/index.pl?NSLog

Mark Dalrymple, Links to the MacTech talk, "Thoughts on Debugging", http://borkwarellc.wordpress.com/2010-/11/04/links-from-my-mactech-talk/


Boisy G. Pitre lives in Southwest Louisiana and is the lead developer at Tee-Boy where he also consults on Mac and iOS projects with a variety of clients. He holds a Master of Science in Computer Science from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Besides Mac programming, his hobbies and interests include retro-computing, ham radio, vending machine and arcade game restoration, and playing Cajun music. You can reach him at boisy@tee-boy.com.

 
AAPL
$111.78
Apple Inc.
-0.87
MSFT
$47.66
Microsoft Corpora
+0.14
GOOG
$516.35
Google Inc.
+5.25

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

calibre 2.13 - Complete e-library manage...
Calibre is a complete e-book library manager. Organize your collection, convert your books to multiple formats, and sync with all of your devices. Let Calibre be your multi-tasking digital librarian... Read more
Mellel 3.3.7 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
ScreenFlow 5.0.1 - Create screen recordi...
Save 10% with the exclusive MacUpdate coupon code: AFMacUpdate10 Buy now! ScreenFlow is powerful, easy-to-use screencasting software for the Mac. With ScreenFlow you can record the contents of your... Read more
Simon 4.0 - Monitor changes and crashes...
Simon monitors websites and alerts you of crashes and changes. Select pages to monitor, choose your alert options, and customize your settings. Simon does the rest. Keep a watchful eye on your... Read more
BBEdit 11.0.2 - Powerful text and HTML e...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more
ExpanDrive 4.2.1 - Access cloud storage...
ExpanDrive builds cloud storage in every application, acts just like a USB drive plugged into your Mac. With ExpanDrive, you can securely access any remote file server directly from the Finder or... Read more
Adobe After Effects CC 2014 13.2 - Creat...
After Effects CC 2014 is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for as little as $19.99/month (or $9.99/month if you're a previous After Effects customer). After Effects CS6 is still available... Read more
Evernote 6.0.5 - Create searchable notes...
Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at anytime, from... Read more
Command-C 1.1.7 - Clipboard sharing tool...
Command-C is a revolutionary app which makes easy to share your clipboard between iOS and OS X using your local WiFi network, even if the app is not currently opened. Copy anything (text, pictures,... Read more
Tidy Up 4.0.2 - Find duplicate files and...
Tidy Up is a complete duplicate finder and disk-tidiness utility. With Tidy Up you can search for duplicate files and packages by the owner application, content, type, creator, extension, time... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Make your own Tribez Figures (and More)...
Make your own Tribez Figures (and More) with Toyze Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
So Many Holiday iOS Sales Oh My Goodness...
The holiday season is in full-swing, which means a whole lot of iOS apps and games are going on sale. A bunch already have, in fact. Naturally this means we’re putting together a hand-picked list of the best discounts and sales we can find in order... | Read more »
It’s Bird vs. Bird in the New PvP Mode f...
It’s Bird vs. Bird in the New PvP Mode for Angry Birds Epic Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Telltale Games and Mojang Announce Minec...
Telltale Games and Mojang Announce Minecraft: Story Mode – A Telltale Games Series Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
WarChest and Splash Damage Annouce Their...
WarChest and Splash Damage Annouce Their New Game: Tempo Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] WarChest Ltd and Splash Damage Ltd are teaming up again to work | Read more »
BulkyPix Celebrates its 6th Anniversary...
BulkyPix Celebrates its 6th Anniversary with a Bunch of Free Games Posted by Jessica Fisher on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] BulkyPix has | Read more »
Indulge in Japanese cuisine in Cooking F...
Indulge in Japanese cuisine in Cooking Fever’s new sushi-themed update Posted by Simon Reed on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Lithuanian developer Nordcurrent has yet again updated its restaurant simulat | Read more »
Badland Daydream Level Pack Arrives to C...
Badland Daydream Level Pack Arrives to Celebrate 20 Million Downloads Posted by Ellis Spice on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »
Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Desti...
Far Cry 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Destiny, and Beyond – AppSpy Takes a Look at AAA Companion Apps Posted by Rob Rich on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] These day | Read more »
A Bunch of Halfbrick Games Are Going Fre...
A Bunch of Halfbrick Games Are Going Free for the Holidays Posted by Ellis Spice on December 19th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

The Apple Store offering free next-day shippi...
The Apple Store is now offering free next-day shipping on all in stock items if ordered before 12/23/14 at 10:00am PT. Local store pickup is also available within an hour of ordering for any in stock... Read more
It’s 1992 Again At Sony Pictures, Except For...
Techcrunch’s John Biggs interviewed a Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) employee, who quite understandably wished to remain anonymous, regarding post-hack conditions in SPE’s L.A office, explaining “... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: MacBook Pros for...
 B&H Photo has new MacBook Pros on sale for up to $300 off MSRP as part of their Holiday pricing. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1699... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: MacBook Airs for...
B&H Photo has 2014 MacBook Airs on sale for up to $120 off MSRP, for a limited time, for the Thanksgiving/Christmas Holiday shopping season. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: iMacs for up to $...
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $200 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. B&H will also include a free copy of Parallels Desktop software: - 21″ 1.4GHz... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: Mac minis availab...
B&H Photo has new 2014 Mac minis on sale for up to $80 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $459 $40 off MSRP - 2.6GHz Mac mini: $629 $70 off MSRP... Read more
Holiday sales this weekend: Mac Pros for up t...
B&H Photo has Mac Pros on sale for up to $500 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges sales tax in NY only: - 3.7GHz 4-core Mac Pro: $2599, $400 off MSRP - 3.5GHz 6-core Mac Pro: $3499, $... Read more
Save up to $400 on MacBooks with Apple Certif...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs available for up to $400 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and... Read more
Save up to $300 on Macs, $30 on iPads with Ap...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad at The Apple Store for Education and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free,... Read more
iOS and Android OS Targeted by Man-in-the-Mid...
Cloud services security provider Akamai Technologies, Inc. has released, through the company’s Prolexic Security Engineering & Research Team (PLXsert), a new cybersecurity threat advisory. The... Read more

Jobs Board

Project Manager, *Apple* Financial Services...
**Job Summary** Apple Financial Services (AFS) offers consumers, businesses and educational institutions ways to finance Apple purchases. We work with national and Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.