In software engineering, rubber duck debugging (or rubberducking) is a method of debugging code by articulating a problem in spoken or written natural language. The name is a reference to a story in the book The Pragmatic Programmer in which a programmer would carry around a rubber duck and debug their code by forcing themselves to explain it, line by line, to the duck. Many other terms exist for this technique, often involving different (usually) inanimate objects, or pets such as a dog or a cat. Teddy bears are also widely used.
Many programmers have had the experience of explaining a problem to someone else, possibly even to someone who knows nothing about programming, and then hitting upon the solution in the process of explaining the problem. In describing what the code is supposed to do and observing what it actually does, any incongruity between these two becomes apparent. More generally, teaching a subject forces its evaluation from different perspectives and can provide a deeper understanding. By using an inanimate object, the programmer can try to accomplish this without having to interrupt anyone else, and with better results than have been observed from merely thinking aloud without an audience. This approach has been taught in computer science and software engineering courses.
In popular culture
On 1 April 2018, Stack Exchange introduced a rubber duck avatar on their websites as a new "feature" called Quack Overflow as an April Fools' Day joke. The duck appeared at the bottom right corner of the browser viewport, and attempted to help visitors by listening to their problems and responding with solutions. However, the duck merely produced a quack sound after apparently thinking and typing. It referenced rubber ducking as a powerful method for solving problems.
- Code review
- Pair programming
- Socratic method
- Desk checking
- Software walkthrough
- Eureka effect § The Aha! effect and scientific discovery
- Think aloud protocol
- Pointing and calling
- Rogerian method
- Worry dolls
- Hunt, Andrew; Thomas, David (1999). The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master. Addison Wesley. ISBN 978-0201616224. p. 95, footnote.
- Debugging, Rubber Duck. "Rubber Duck Debugging". rubberduckdebugging.com. Retrieved 14 September 2023.
- Baker, SJ, The Contribution of the Cardboard Cutout Dog to Software Reliability and Maintainability.
- Hayes, David (25 June 2014). "The Psychology Underlying the Power of Rubber Duck Debugging". Press Up via Internet Archive. Archived from the original on 9 July 2014. Retrieved 10 September 2021.
- Byrd, Nick; Joseph, Brianna; Gongora, Gabriela; Sirota, Miroslav (2023). "Tell Us What You Really Think: A Think Aloud Protocol Analysis of the Verbal Cognitive Reflection Test". Journal of Intelligence. 11 (4). doi:10.3390/jintelligence11040076. PMC 10146599.
- Attwood, Jeff (2012). "Rubber Duck Problem Solving". codinghorror.com.
- Malan, David (2020). "Rubber Duck Debugging in CS50 IDE". noticeable.news.
- "Stack Exchange has been taken over by a rubber duck!". Meta Stack Exchange. 31 March 2018. Retrieved 1 April 2018.