Friday, March 31, 2017

The Seven Day A Year Bug

I’ll cut straight to the chase: when you use d.setMonth(m - 1) in JavaScript, always set the optional second parameter.

What’s that, you didn’t know there was one? Neither did I until earlier today. It allows you to set the date. Cute, I thought at the time, minor time-saver, but hardly worth complicating an API for.

Ooh, how wrong I was. Let me take you back to when it happened. Friday, March 31st….

After a long coding session, I did a check-in. And then ran all unit tests. That is strange, three failing, but in code I hadn’t touched all day. I peer at the code, but it looks correct - it was to do with dates, specifically months, and I was correctly subtracting 1.

Aside: JavaScript dates inherit C’s approach of counting months from 0. In the first draft of this blog post I used a more judgemental phrase than “approach”. But to be fair, it was a 1970s design decision, and the world was different back then. Google “1970s men fashion”.

So, back to the test failures. I start using “git checkout xxxx” to go back to earlier versions, to see exactly when it broke. Running all tests every time. I know something fishy is going on, by the time I’ve gone back 10 days and the tests still fail. I am fairly sure I ran all tests yesterday, and I am certain it hasn’t been 10 days.

Timezones?! Unlikely, but we did put the clocks back last weekend. But a quick test refutes that. (TZ=XXX mocha . will run your unit tests in timezone XXX.)

So, out of ideas, I litter the failing code with console.log lines, to find out what is going on.

Here is what is happening. I initialize a Date object to the current date (to set the current year), then call setMonth(). I don’t use the day, so don’t explicitly set it. I was calling setMonth(8), expecting to see “September”, but the unit test was being given “October”. Where it gets interesting is that the default date today is March 31st. In other words, when I set month to September the date object becomes “September 31st”, which isn’t allowed. So it automatically changes it to October 1st.

You hopefully see where the title of this piece comes from now? If I was setting a date in February I would have discovered the bug two days earlier, and if my unit test had chose October instead of September, the bug would never have been detected. If I’d thought, “ah, I’ll run them Monday”, the bug would not have been discovered until someone used the code in production on May 31st. I’d have processed their bug report on June 1st and told them, “can’t reproduce it”. And they’d have gone, “Oh, you’re right, neither can I now.”

To conclude with a happy ending, I changed all occurrences of d.setMonth(m - 1) into d.setMonth(m-1, 1), and the test failures all went away. I also changed all occurrences of d.setMonth(m-1);d.setDate(v) (where v is the day of the month) into: d.setMonth(m-1, v) not because it is shorter and I can impress people with my knowledge of JavaScript API calls, but because two separate calls was a bug that I simply didn’t have a unit test for.

But writing that unit test can wait until Monday.