In my earlier post about WHERE and IF statements, I announced that the DATA step debugger has finally arrived in SAS Enterprise Guide. (I admit that I might have buried the lead in that post.) Let's use this post to talk about the new debugger and how it works.
First, let's address some important limitations. This tool is for debugging DATA step code. It can't be used to debug PROC SQL or PROC IML or SAS macro programs. Next, it can't be used to debug DATA steps that read data from CARDS or DATALINES. That's an unfortunate limitation, but it's a side effect of the way the DATA step "debug" mode works with client applications like SAS Enterprise Guide. (Workaround: load your data in a separate step, then debug your more complex DATA step logic in a subsequent step.)
Ye olde DATA step debuggerIf you've been around SAS programs for a while then you might remember the full-screen DATA step debugger in the SAS windowing environment. Introduced as production in SAS 6.09E (E="enhanced!"), it was basic but it did the job, relying on command-line processing to direct the debugger actions. It had only two windows: one for the source, and one for the "log", meaning the debugger console log. You could set breakpoints, variable watch conditions, examine variables and calculate values -- all with commands that you typed. (Even though I'm writing this in the past tense and it seems like I'm eulogizing, this debugger still lives on in Base SAS!)
The new DATA step debugger
The new debugging environment, introduced in SAS Enterprise Guide 7.13, has all of the features of its ancestor. And it's much more usable, with toolbars and windows that allow you to control its behavior. But keyboard junkies, don't worry -- that command line is still there too!
To activate the debugger, click the new "bug" toolbar icon in the program editor window. Once activated, you can click the bug in the left "gutter" of the program editor to begin a debug session. (You can also press F5 to debug the active DATA step.)
Examine the screenshot below. You see the source window on top and the console window at the bottom, plus a convenient "watch" window that shows much of the content in the program data vector (PDV). That's all of the variables defined in the DATA step, plus automatic variables like _N_ and _ERROR_.
As you step through the DATA step, the line pointer in the source window advances to show the next line that will execute. You can use keyboard shortcuts (F10), the toolbar, or type a command ("step") to execute that line and advance. With every step, the watch window is updated with the latest values of the variables in your step. When a variable changes value, it's colored red. If you want to the DATA step to break processing when a certain variable changes value, check the Watch box for that variable.
Diving deeper with advanced debugging
Here's another example of debugging a different DATA step program. This program uses a BY statement and FIRST.variable logic, and you can see the additional automatic variables (FIRST.Make and LAST.Make) that the debugger is tracking. I also used END=eof on the SET statement; that adds the eof "flag" variable into the mix during run time.
In the Debug Console window you can see that I've issued some pretty fancy commands. The DATA step debugger allows you to set breakpoints that trigger on specific conditions. For example, "b 8 when (running_price > 10000)" will break on Line 8 when the value of running_price exceeds 10,000. "b 8 after 5" will break on Line 8 after 5 passes through the DATA step. You can set and clear line-specific breakpoints by clicking in the "gutter" (that left-hand margin next to the line numbers).
The "list _all_" command reveals the details about your open data sets and files. Here's what I see during the run of my program.
Other commands let you SET variable values, EXAMINE variables, CALCulate expressions, GO and JUMP to specific lines, and more. The SAS documentation contains a complete reference for DATA step debugger commands, and most of those work exactly as documented, even within SAS Enterprise Guide. Here's the list:
This old-but-still relevant SAS Global Forum paper (written by a SAS user) also covers some useful debugging concepts in SAS which you can apply in this new environment.
A personal note: eating my words
I've presented "SAS Enterprise Guide for SAS programmers" as a topic in one form or another for the past 15 years. Every so often the topic of the DATA step debugger comes up, and I've said "don't look for it anytime soon." Knowing how the full-screen debugger is closely tied to the SAS windowing environment, I didn't hold out hope for a client application like SAS Enterprise Guide to get it working. Kudos to the R&D team! They creatively found a solution with the "/ldebug" option, an even more obscure debugging approach that works in SAS batch mode. I think this feature will be a tremendous productivity boost for experienced SAS programmers, and a useful learning and teaching tool for those just getting started with the DATA step.