In AS3, the most basic debugging tool is the trace() statement. You output some text to the console. That’s all. Nothing fancy. It’s all great, and we all love it, right? But you know what’s annoying? When you get a trace that says “no” or “foo” while running your gigantic app. You have no idea where it came from, what it means, or how to fix it. This is one of the reasons I use grep, or a gui-grep, so often. It’s really annoying to track down where your output is coming from!

But what if it wasn’t? What if your traces had nice pretty labels with class names & line numbers, like errors in the Flash Builder debugger? That’d be nice, right, but you hate having to label every trace, and passing parameters into every one gets tedious too. Why can’t it be totally automatic?


The new and improved Debug class is just what you need. Import it into your project, and it’s a one-line solution to all the world’s problems (near enough). All you need to do to use it is write Debug.out(‘blah blah blah’); That’s all! No labels, extra parameters, or anything. You can copy it right here, or grab the latest version from my github repository.

That’s the basics, and if you have no interest in how it works, feel free to stop reading now.

In AS1 & AS2, functions’ “arguments” object had a property called “caller” that would let you know where the call originated. AS3 did away with that in an effort to make code more in-line with object oriented principles or something. This change was mostly fine, and I’d say they were right to get people away from thinking backwards like that. Of course, then there’s the few edge cases where you actually need that functionality for a non-stupid reason. To work around the hole the “caller” removal left, we have to use a bit of a hack.

The Error class generates a very sophisticated text log of the stack that led up to its generation. This “stack trace” is what gets outputted to the console automatically when you hit a real error. It also happens to include information like the class names & line numbers of calls. We can parse that info to make pretty traces. YAY!

As a side note, the Flash IDE & Flash Plugin have different output styles for their stack traces, so this class has two different methods to parse them. Neither one is very fast, so when you’re ready to hit a production build, you probably want to toggle the “enabled” property to false to turn off debugging.

Finally, I’m obviously not the first person to put this into use. If you’re looking for something more robust or more information, here’s some links for you:

My Flash AS3 Logger - my much more robust debugging solution. - a full featured trace() replacement that does what this class does and a whole lot more. Parsing Stack Traces in AS3 - A very thorough parser that does a much faster job than mine by using regular expressions.

Read more!

James Tomasino

I like reading, writing, and arithmetic

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