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In software engineering, tracing involves a specialized use of logging to record information about a program's execution. This information is typically used by programmers for debugging purposes, and additionally, depending on the type and detail of information contained in a trace log, by experienced system administrators or technical-support personnel and by software monitoring tools to diagnose common problems with software. Tracing is a cross-cutting concern.
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There is not always a clear distinction between tracing and other forms of logging, except that the term tracing is almost never applied to logging that is a functional requirement of a program (therefore excluding logging of data from an external source, such as data acquisition in a high-energy physics experiment, and write-ahead logging). Logs that record program usage (such as a server log) or operating-system events primarily of interest to a system administrator (see for example Event Viewer) fall into a terminological gray area.
This article deals primarily with tracing for debugging or diagnostic purposes.