Monday, October 6, 2014


One of the more interesting bugs I've solved disappeared when I tried fixing it.

Update: The linked page no longer works. Here's what I wrote:

The most interesting bug I’ve solved disappeared when I tried debugging it.

I was comparing a sub-class of java.util.Date with a java.util.Date object using date.after(subInstance). However, no matter what dates I used, the Date always seemed to be after() the sub-class date.

So I naturally attached the debugger and after a bit of work identifying the correct line, I inserted a breakpoint. When the breakpoint tripped, I checked the variables list and everything looked appropriate, so I clicked run. And of course, the comparison now worked correctly. Scratching my head, I tried it a few more times and the comparison still worked.

Confused, thinking maybe I had inadvertently been using bad data earlier, I turned off the debugger and went back to work.

But the next time I tried it, it was still not working. So I turned the debugger on and set the breakpoint again and the comparison started worked again. I tested this multiple times and became convinced that running the debugger was fixing the bug!

The breakthrough came when I turned on the debugger and moved the breakpoint to a different line. This time the bug was still there!

Turns out the implementer of the subclass was concerned about performance when dealing with large numbers of date objects that would get deserialized from the database. So they wrote a lazy implementation of the Date class that delayed initializing many fields of the object until any method was called on the instance of the Date subclass.

When I used date.after(subInstance), no methods were called on subInstance. Its uninitialized fields were accessed directly, so it started at time 0.

When the breakpoint tripped, it would call toString() on the subInstance to display its value in the variable list, triggering the lazy initialization of the object and making the bug disappear.

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