What is Time Travel Debugging?


4 minute read

Time Travel Debugging Defined


Time travel debugging offers a strategic capability for accelerating software delivery and gaining competitive advantage. 

Integrated into a CI/CD workflow, time travel debugging is used to automatically and systematically record a program under test.

Time travel debugging is used to record the execution of a program (down to instruction level) as it fails and capture bugs in the act. The output - a recording artifact - provides developers with all the data they need to understand what happened -  without wasting days or weeks trying to reproduce the issue. 

Developers can replay the recording forward and backward - at any time and on any machine - to diagnose the root-cause of the issue. Replay can be likened to "winding the tape" back and forth in real-time in order to get a clear picture of a program's execution.

time travel debugging explained


Time Travel Debugging vs. Traditional Debugging


While there have been huge advances in building software over the last few decades, the way developers approach debugging has hardly changed. 

Unlike traditional debugging, which is predominantly based on guesswork, time travel debugging provides data-driven, actionable insights. Developers get full visibility into what their software actually did before it failed or behaved unexpectedly.

By offering a systematic, repeatable debugging workflow, time travel debugging is proven to reduce the Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR) of test failures by 4-10x. 

As well as enabling engineers to resolve typical defects faster, it also helps them to rapidly diagnose flaky tests caused by intermittent failures. Flaky tests are known to be a major cause of frustration and time wastage. Due to their intermittent nature, it is impossible to predict how long it will take to fix them. Time travel debugging makes bug fixing predictable in a way that is not possible with logging or standard debuggers.

Development teams building complex enterprise software typically spend over 50% of their engineering effort in addressing software failures.

10 Benefits of Time Travel Debugging


Whether the failures occur in test, development, or production, time travel debugging provides many benefits. 

Time travel debugging helps developers to:

  1. Enhance automation efficiency
    Improve test automation efficiency by acquiring actionable data for promptly resolving failing tests 
  2. Boost productivity
    Time spent debugging can be drastically reduced, enabling teams to focus on new feature delivery
  3. Debug locally or remotely  
    Portable recordings allow developers to debug anytime and on any machine
  4. Enable cross-team collaboration
    Shareable recording files improve collaboration efficiency is improved between developers and testers/QA
  5. Increase understandability
    Code can be effectively debugged and maintained without the need for prior codebase knowledge

At a strategic business level, time travel debugging offers enables businesses to:

  1. Shorten development cycles and accelerate product delivery
  2. Gain a competitive edge by reducing time to market
  3. Improve operational efficiency and reduce engineering costs
  4. Minimize customer disruption by resolving customer issues faster
  5. Protect brand reputation and revenue

Time travel debugging provides a net positive impact across all stages of the development lifecycle. Crucially, it is being used as a strategic investment to gain competitive advantage.

Time Travel Debugging and CI pipelines


Time travel debugging helps software development teams achieve continuous delivery across the software development lifecycle, whether in test, development or production phases, as outlined in the model below.CI-CD-Workflow-Image

Where and how time travel debugging is deployed depends on the specific needs of the development team. The common thread throughout is the ability to obtain all the data needed to quickly resolve software failures.

    LiveRecorder - a Time Travel Debugging Platform


    LiveRecorder is a powerful time travel debugging platform for C/C++/Go/Java. It is an essential ingredient in CI/CD workflows for accelerating Time to Resolution of failing tests, speeding up product delivery.

    Put simply, LiveRecorder is the solution to failing tests.

    The diagram below provides an example of how LiveRecorder can integrate into a modern CI pipeline.

    LiveRecorder record CI test failures

    This video explains in more detail how LiveRecorder integrates with automated CI test suites.


    With LiveRecorder, time spent on root cause detection is significantly reduced. Developers can get straight to debugging the recording artifact - reducing the number of loops in agile development cycles and increasing development velocity.

    LiveRecorder can be used to resolve software failures in C/C++ and Java applications built on Linux x86.

    In Conclusion

    Time travel debugging transforms software failure resolution from a slow process of elimination into a systematic, repeatable workflow.

    Time travel debugging:

    • Makes bug fixing predictable and improves CI/CD pipeline efficiency 
    • Accelerates defect resolution and therefore product delivery
    • Enables adopters to gain competitive advantage

    To discuss how LiveRecorder could work in your environment and see it in action, request a call or team demo by filling in the form below. 

    Request a demo