Understanding IntelliTrace Part I: What the @#$% is IntelliTrace?

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Understanding IntelliTrace Part I: What the @#$% is IntelliTrace?

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This series is based on my IntelliTrace Workshop materials found here: http://sdrv.ms/UPUEE3

 

This is a multi-part series, you can find the other parts here:

Understanding IntelliTrace Part I: What the @#$% is IntelliTrace?

Understanding IntelliTrace Part II: Where Do I Use IntelliTrace?

Understanding IntelliTrace Part III: IntelliTrace Events

Understanding IntelliTrace Part IV: IntelliTrace Calls

 

Over the next few posts I’m going to explain IntelliTrace in consumable chunks so folks can get a handle on it. Even though we introduced it in Visual Studio 2010, it’s still one of the more misunderstood features we have in the IDE. Together we will navigate through the what, where, and how of IntelliTrace to, hopefully, come out ready to engage in debugging bliss. :)

 

The “What”

Before you can use IntelliTrace you have to understand what it is. There are several good explanations people use to describe how this works. I think the best way to do this is to compare it with live debugging by using an analogy.

 

NOTE: IntelliTrace can be used for debugging .NET 2.0 - .NET 4.5 assemblies however, you need .NET 3.5 to run IntelliTrace itself so, at a minimum, you need .NET 3.5 and the Framework version you want to debug.

 

Live Debugging

Imagine live debugging as being like directing a cast of people on stage. You can bring different people to the front, you can make them move around, change their look if you want, and so forth.  Essentially, you have complete control over what is seen at any point in time BUT you can’t rewind to look at what has happened in the past and you can’t fast-forward.  All you can basically do is focus on what is happening right now.

 

5-16-2012 12-23-29 PM

Similarly, you can break execution, step through your code,and even dynamically change variable values for variables in scope. There is a LOT of control but you can’t go back once you have passed a line of code unless you restart the entire debugging session. Therefore, live debugging is very much point-in-time oriented.

 

 

IntelliTrace Debugging

Unlike live debugging, IntelliTrace debugging is like watching a video of the stage play. You can fast-forward past the boring parts and rewind if you missed something. The one thing you can’t do is change what is happening since it has already happened in the past. You give up controlling the actors in favor of controlling the timeline. In fact, IntelliTrace was originally called “Historical Debugging” when we introduced it.

5-16-2012 12-18-26 PM

 

 

Live vs. IntelliTrace Debugging

I like the title of this section because most people who don’t know about IntelliTrace assume that it replaces live debugging. Let me be perfectly clear: IntelliTrace DOES NOT replace live debugging. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever. In fact, the two were meant to work together.  You can see this when you are using IntelliTrace as it always gives you the option to go back to live debugging whenever you want:

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It’s common to be in the middle of a live debugging session, then need to use IntelliTrace to see something that happened in the past, and then switch back to live debugging to pick up where you left off.

 

 

Finally

Okay so I “might” have mislead you into thinking that you would come away from this article completely understanding IntelliTrace but it was all part of my evil plan. You can’t really understand the feature until you use it and that is exactly what we will do in this series. We are going to build up scenarios and and hopefully have you come away with much deeper appreciation of this technology.

  • I see the example you've used appears to be C#. Are there any limitations on what languages/frameworks Intellitrace can be used on? (Or is it just a .NET thing?)

  • This is only in VS Ultimate correct?  That's fine but Microsoft should offer Ultimate stand alone without a MSDN license.

  • Hey Nick :)

    We've moved everything except the lowest levels (Express / Pro) to MSDN. I can't speak for the team on why this was done but, from what I have seen, it is a positive move. Not only is the additional software available for testing, recreating environments, etc... but there is the access to priority support forums (blogs.msdn.com/.../msdn-features-you-need-to-know-about-answers-to-technical-questions.aspx) and the online concierge (blogs.msdn.com/.../msdn-features-you-need-to-know-about-msdn-online-concierge.aspx) among other things.

    Z

  • I found the answer myself. "IntelliTrace supports debugging Visual Basic and C# applications that use .NET version 2.0, 3.0, 3.5, or 4. ... IntelliTrace does not support debugging C++, script, or other languages." Can I suggest that in future articles you make sure it is reasonably clear from the start who the intended audience is?

  • Ian,

    I tried to do that with the NOTE section but probably could have called out the requirements a little clearer. Sorry about that...

    Z

  • Hi Zainnab Intellisense Intro & the example was great.

  • Very great feature!!!

  • "There is a LOT of control but you can’t go back once you have passed a line of code unless you restart the entire debugging session. "

    Not quite true you can "Set Next Statement" which can be forwards or backwards.

  • Hey Richard :)

    Good point.  I guess I should have said something like:

    "There is a LOT of control but you can’t go back once you have passed a line of code unless you restart the entire debugging session or are willing to run the risk of using Set Next Statement. "

    I rarely use Set Next Statement because of the implications of skipping over code without executing it but it has been useful in some situations.

    Z

  • Thanks for the great article zainnab!

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