Faster smarter JavaScript debugging in Firefox DevTools

By | May 16, 2019

Script debugging is one of the most powerful and complex productivity features in the web developer toolbox. Done right, it empowers developers to fix bugs quickly and efficiently. So the question for us, the Firefox DevTools team, has been, are the Firefox DevTools doing it right?

We’ve been listening to feedback from our community. Above everything we heard the need for greater reliability and performance; especially with modern web apps. Moreover, script debugging is a hard-to-learn skill that should work in similar fashion across browsers, but isn’t consistent because of feature and UI gaps.

With these pain points in mind, the DevTools Debugger team – with help from our tireless developer community – landed countless updates to design a more productive debugging experience. The work is ongoing, but Firefox 67 marks an important milestone, and we wanted to highlight some of the fantastic improvements and features. We invite you to open up Firefox Quantum: Developer Edition, try out the debugger on the examples below and your projects and let us know if you notice the difference.

A rock-solid debugging experience

Fast and reliable debugging is the result of many smaller interactions. From initial loading and source mapping to breakpoints, console logging, and variable previews, everything needs to feel solid and responsive. The debugger should be consistent, predictable, and capable of understanding common tools like webpack, Babel, and TypeScript.

We can proudly say that all of those areas have improved in the past months:

  1. Faster load time. We’ve eliminated the worst performance cliffs that made the debugger slow to open. This has resulted in a 30% speedup in our performance test suite. We’ll share more of our performance adventures in a future post.
  2. Excellent source map support. A revamped and faster source-map backend perfects the illusion that you’re debugging your code, not the compiled output from Babel, Webpack, TypeScript, vue.js, etc.
    Generating correct source maps can be challenging, so we also contributed patches to build tools (i.e. babel, vue.js, regenerator) – benefiting the whole ecosystem.
  3. Reduced overhead when debugger isn’t focused. No need to worry any longer about keeping the DevTools open! We found and removed many expensive calculations from running in the debugger when it’s in the background.
  4. Predictable breakpoints, pausing, and stepping. We fixed many long-standing bugs deep in the debugger architecture, solving some of the most common and frustrating issues related to lost breakpoints, pausing in the wrong script, or stepping through pretty-printed code.
  5. Faster variable preview. Thanks to our faster source-map support (and lots of additional work), previews are now displayed much more quickly when you hover your mouse over a variable while execution is paused.

These are just a handful of highlights. We’ve also resolved countless bugs and polish issues.

Looking ahead

Foremost, we must maintain a high standard of quality, which we’ll accomplish by explicitly setting aside time for polish in our planning. Guided by user feedback, we intend to use this time to improve new and existing features alike.

Second, continued investment in our performance and correctness tests ensures that the ever-changing JavaScript ecosystem, including a wide variety of frameworks and compiled languages, is well supported by our tools.

Debug all the things with new features

Finding and pausing in just the right location can be key to understanding a bug. This should feel effortless, so we’ve scrutinized our own tools—and studied others—to give you the best possible experience.

Inline breakpoints for fine-grained pausing and stepping

Inline handlers are the perfect match for the extra granularity.

Why should breakpoints operate on lines, when lines can have multiple statements? Thanks to inline breakpoints, it’s now easier than ever to debug minified scripts, arrow functions, and chained method calls. Learn more about breakpoints on MDN or try out the demo.

Logpoints combine the power of Console and Debugger

Adding Logpoints to monitor application state.

Console logging, also called printf() debugging, is a quick and easy way to observe your program’s flow, but it rapidly becomes tedious. Logpoints break that tiresome edit-build-refresh cycle by dynamically injecting console.log() statements into your running application. You can stay in the browser and monitor variables without pausing or editing any code. Learn more about log points on MDN.

Seamless debugging for JavaScript Workers

The new Threads panel in the Debugger for Worker debugging

Web Workers power the modern web and need to be first-class concepts in DevTools. Using the new Threads panel, you can switch between and independently pause different execution contexts. This allows workers and their scripts to be debugged within the same Debugger panel, similarly to other modern browsers. Learn more about Worker debugging on MDN.

Human-friendly variable names for source maps

Debugging bundled and compressed code isn’t easy. The Source Maps project, started and maintained by Firefox, bridges the gap between minified code running in the browser and its original, human-friendly version, but the translation isn’t perfect. Often, bits of the minified build output shine through and break the illusion. We can do better!

From build output back to original human-readable variables

By combining source maps with the Babel parser, Firefox’s Debugger can now preview the original variables you care about, and hide the extraneous cruft from compilers and bundlers. This can even work in the console, automatically resolving human-friendly identifiers to their actual, minified names behind the scenes. Due to its performance overhead, you have to enable this feature separately by clicking the “Map” checkbox in the Debugger’s Scopes panel. Read the MDN documentation on using the map scopes feature.

What’s next

Developers frequently need to switch between browsers to ensure that the web works for for everyone, and we want our DevTools to be an intuitive, seamless experience. Though browsers have converged on the same broad organization for tools, we know there are still gaps in both features and UI. To help us address those gaps, please let us know where you experience friction when switching browsers in your daily work.

Your input makes a big difference

As always, we would love to hear your feedback on how we can improve DevTools and the browser.

While all these updates will be ready to try out in Firefox 67, when it’s released next week, we’ve polished them to perfection in Firefox 68 and added a few more goodies. Download Firefox Developer Edition (68) to try the latest updates for devtools and platform now.

Web craftsman, open source enthusiasts and performance nerd. Working as Product Manager on Firefox’s DevTools and Performance tooling. Hit me up in the DevTools team chat!

More articles by Harald Kirschner (digitarald)…


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