The ultimate Heisenbug?

We’ve got a problem that happens apparently at random times at a few customer sites, but which we’ve been unable to reproduce in the lab. I’m not sure if that means it’s a Heisenbug or just a really nasty Bohr-bug.

The part of the system that is affected are three programs:

  • One that generates events, called “tixd
  • One that is responsible for collecting events from all the programs in the system (not just these three) and delivering them to subscribers, called the “EventBroker” or “eb
  • One that subscribes to the events that the “tixd” generates, which we call the “scheduled

What has been happening on these customer sites is that after days or weeks of proper operation, for no apparent reason, the “tixd” would say that it’s generating an event, but the “scheduled” wasn’t getting them any more. The customer would notice the problem, sometimes a day or two later, complain that things weren’t happening that were supposed to happen, our service people would restart the whole system, and everything would start working again.

This bug has been happening for ages now, and every time I get called in to look at their logs because I wrote the “scheduled” and all the fingers point to me. But I couldn’t find any reason why “scheduled” would stop responding to events, or would unsubscribe from events. A few builds ago, Tom put some debug into his “eb” that would log every event that came in and which subscribers it was being delivered to. He also logged subscribes and unsubscribes. And so we waited.

Today, it finally happened again. And this time, I’ve got the logs that show:

  • At 6am, an event is generated by the tixd, and the eb delivers it to the subscriber scheduled
  • Between 10am and 11am, there is a flurry of event subscribes and unsubscribes, all unrelated to scheduled. But some of these unsubscribes are caused when events are being delivered to subscribers that have exited without unsubscribing.
  • At about 1am, there is another event generated by the tixd, and the eb receives it but says there are no subscribers found.

At this point, because the eb log shows no unsubscribe coming from scheduled, I’d say it’s not my bug and pass it off to Tom, the author of the eb. But unfortunately, my employer declined to renew Tom’s contract at the end of last year, so he no longer works here. He dodged this bullet by only 5 days. And so I’ve got to figure out why this is happening. Lucky me.