Testing and Debugging

Debugging code that uses Boost libraries follows the same general principles as debugging any other C++ code, but with the added assistance of test and logging specific libraries, and integration of these libraries into popular tools.

Debugging Strategies

Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Understanding the Library: Familiarize yourself with the specific Boost libraries that you’re using. Boost is a large and diverse collection of libraries, and each library may have unique behaviors, requirements, or quirks. Understanding the libraries you’re using will help you spot issues more easily.

  2. Read the Boost Library Documentation: Boost has extensive and well-maintained documentation. If you’re having trouble with a specific library or function, start by looking up its documentation.

  3. Use a Debugger: Tools like gdb or lldb on Unix-like systems, or the Visual Studio debugger on Windows, can be incredibly useful. You can step through your code line by line, inspect variables at any point, and generally see exactly what your code is doing.

  4. Compile Warnings and Errors: Boost code will often make extensive use of templates, and errors in template code can sometimes result in complex and confusing compiler error messages. When confronted with such a message, don’t panic. Start at the top and try to decipher what the compiler is telling you. Often, the first few lines of the error message will contain the key to understanding the problem.

  5. Unit Testing: Boost provides a testing framework, Boost.Test, which you can use to write unit tests for your code. Writing tests can help you catch errors and regressions, and it can also help you understand your code better. Boost.Test is integrated and available when using Microsoft Visual Studio. Refer to the Using Boost.Test section below.

  6. Logging and Debug Output: Sometimes, it can be useful to have your program output diagnostic information while it’s running. You can use std::cerr, std::clog, or a logging library to output information about your program’s state at key points.

  7. Code Review: If you’re still stuck, consider asking a fellow developer to review your code. Sometimes, a fresh pair of eyes can spot issues that you might have missed.

  8. Online Communities: If you’re still stuck after trying the above steps, you can ask for help online. The Boost developers community is large and generally very helpful. There are forums, mailing lists, and Stack Overflow where you can ask for help.

Remember, debugging is a skill that gets better with practice. The more you work with the Boost libraries, the more you’ll learn about their idiosyncrasies and the better you’ll become at debugging issues with them.

Using Boost.Test

Boost.Test is a robust, powerful library designed to facilitate writing unit tests in C++. It provides a framework for creating, managing, and running tests, enabling developers to ensure that their code functions as expected.

To start using the Test library, include its header in your test file:

#include <boost/test/unit_test.hpp>

This will allow dynamic linking to the test library. The BOOST_TEST_MODULE macro creates a main function for your test executable, meaning you don’t need to write one yourself.

Boost.Test uses "test cases" for testing. A test case is a function that performs the test. You can define one using the BOOST_AUTO_TEST_CASE(test_case_name) macro. The macro parameter becomes the test case’s name. For example:

    BOOST_TEST(true); // A simple test that always passes

In this example, MyTestCase is a simple test case. The BOOST_TEST macro checks its argument and, if it’s false, reports an error.

Boost.Test provides a set of macros for different assertions:

  • BOOST_TEST for basic testing.

  • BOOST_CHECK for non-critical conditions where the test continues even if the check fails.

  • BOOST_REQUIRE for critical conditions where the test is aborted if the condition fails.

The suite feature is another strength. It allows you to group test cases, making your tests more organized and manageable. To create a suite, you can use the BOOST_AUTO_TEST_SUITE(suite_name) macro:


    // Test code here

    // Test code here


In this snippet, MyTestSuite is a test suite that contains TestCase1 and TestCase2.

Another powerful feature is the fixture. Fixtures are useful when you want to perform setup and teardown operations for your tests. You can create a fixture class and use BOOST_FIXTURE_TEST_CASE to apply it to a test case:

struct MyFixture {
    MyFixture() {
        // Setup code here

    ~MyFixture() {
        // Teardown code here

BOOST_FIXTURE_TEST_CASE(TestCaseWithFixture, MyFixture) {
    // Test code here

In this example, MyFixture is a fixture class. Its constructor and destructor are called before and after TestCaseWithFixture, respectively.

Boost.Test also supports parameterized and data-driven tests, exception handling, and custom log formatting.

To compile and run your tests, use your preferred C++ compiler to compile the test source file and the Test library. Then, run the resulting executable to execute your tests.

Using Boost.Log

Logging can be a helpful part of debugging, so consider using Boost.Log, as it provides a flexible and customizable logging system. It allows you to log messages from different parts of your application to various targets (e.g., console, file, etc.) and with different severity levels or categories.

Here is a simple example of how you might use Log:

#include <boost/log/trivial.hpp>

int main(int, char*[])
    BOOST_LOG_TRIVIAL(trace) << "A trace severity message";
    BOOST_LOG_TRIVIAL(debug) << "A debug severity message";
    BOOST_LOG_TRIVIAL(info) << "An informational severity message";
    BOOST_LOG_TRIVIAL(warning) << "A warning severity message";
    BOOST_LOG_TRIVIAL(error) << "An error severity message";
    BOOST_LOG_TRIVIAL(fatal) << "A fatal severity message";

    return 0;

In this example, BOOST_LOG_TRIVIAL is a simple macro that logs a message with a specified severity level.

Severity levels are provided for log messages that you can use to indicate the importance or urgency of different logs. In basic usage, these severity levels are represented by an enumeration type.

In the example provided above, the severity levels are defined as follows:

namespace trivial = boost::log::trivial;
enum severity_level

Each of these levels can be used to log messages of different importance:

  1. trace: Very detailed logs, typically used for debugging complex issues.

  2. debug: Detailed logs useful for development and debugging.

  3. info: Information about the normal operation of the program.

  4. warning: Indications of potential problems that are not immediate errors.

  5. error: Error conditions that may still allow the program to continue running.

  6. fatal: Severe errors that may prevent the program from continuing to run.

You can customize these levels to fit your app, and you can also filter logs based on their severity level. For example, in a production environment, you might ignore trace and debug logs and only record info, warning, error, and fatal logs.

Other Libraries

Other libraries that might help you with testing and debugging include:

  • Boost.Stacktrace: Stacktrace can be used to capture, store, and print sequences of function calls and their arguments. This can be a lifesaver when you need to debug complex code or post-mortem crashes.

  • Boost.Exception: This library enhances the error handling capabilities of C++. It enables attaching arbitrary data to exceptions, transporting of exceptions between threads, and more, thereby providing richer error information during debugging.

  • Boost.StaticAssert: It provides a macro, BOOST_STATIC_ASSERT, which can be used to perform assertions that are checked at compile time rather than at run time. This can be used to catch programming errors as early as possible.

  • Boost.Bind and Boost.Lambda: These libraries allow for the creation of small, unnamed function objects at the point where they are used. These can be useful in writing concise tests.

  • Boost.Mpl: A MetaProgramming Library, though not exclusively for testing or debugging, this library can be helpful in writing compile-time tests.