At NDC Oslo, Jon talked to Todd Gardner about {Track:js} and some of the difficulties in diagnosing JavaScript errors.

Download / Listen: Herding Code 214: Todd Gardner on Tracking JavaScript Errors with {Track:js}

Show Notes:

    • What’s TrackJS?
      • (0:20) Jon asks Todd to explain TrackJS. Todd said it’s something he built to help with difficult JavaScript debugging issues a few years ago. JavaScript applications were difficult to debug because it was hard to define the different failure states of his applications. Over time, they worked to add in diagnostic state (e.g. shopping, checkout, etc.). Over time, they added in network state and user state. Over time they came up with telemetry, which defines states and state changes, which can be a lot more helpful than a stacktrace in diagnosing and fixing an error.
    • Why context is more important than stack traces
      • (2:34) Jon agrees, saying that it’s really frustrating to try to reproduce an error as a developer, and context is really important. Todd says that stack traces are limited because applications are so asynchronous in nature now – an error may be from a timeout which was a response to an Ajax event which was a response to a user click.
      • (3:44) Todd says they also track a lot of general information like browser, operating system, and things like date and time information. He once spent a really long time on an error one user was experiencing on a calendaring application because they were stuck in the ’70’s (literally).
    • How TrackJS gathers and exposes data
      • (4:34) Jon asks how developers integrate TrackJS into their applications. Todd says it’s a simple JavaScript include.
      • (4:56) Jon ask more about how he gets access to the reported information when he’s troubleshooting an error. Todd says there are three problems to solve.
        • The first problem to solve is alerting: you get daily rollups on top errors and trends.
        • Second, when you log in, you need to see which errors are which important (filtering out background noise like unsupported useragents, strange Chrome extensions that modify the DOM, etc.). You need to know which errors impact the most people, which cause users to leave, and which are top browser-specific errors.
        • Third, you need to need to be able to dig into and diagnose a specific error.
      • (6:45) Jon asks more about how he’d diagnose a specific error. Todd describes the contextual information TrackJS provides for an error (including things like browser, screen size, user information). For example, one issue they diagnosed recently only occurred at a specific screen size due to a responsive design which modified the page so certain elements were only displayed in a range of screen widths.
    • Common problem: Partial Load Failure
      • (8:14) Jon asks Todd what running the service has shown him are common problems that developers aren’t considering in building JavaScript apps. Todd says it’s partial loading failure – cases where most of the JavaScript assets on a page load, but just one fails. In one instance, they saw everything on a page but the Stripe library load, which caused payment data to be insecurely posted.
      • (10:35) Jon asks about the best way to test for and handle partial load failures.
    • Common problem: Same Origin Policy
      • (11:36) Todd explains same origin policy restrictions in loading loading libraries from other domains, and using cross-origin headers to handle that.
    • Business model and subscription overview
      • (12:30) Jon asks about the business model for TrackJS. Todd explains that they offer free service to charitable and open source projects. For paid accounts, they bill based on page views rather than error count because he feels billing based on errors creates counter-incentives for users.