Saturday, 2 July 2016

Does Ubuntu have too many bugs or just too many bug reports?

As I'm now somewhat of a floating contributor to the Ubuntu project I've found myself with some spare time that I can devote to looking at some of the bug reports that are currently live on Launchpad and are awaiting attention and fixing.

Examples of poor reporting

It's great to see users taking the time to report any bugs that they find but disappointing to find so many of those reports are of such poor quality that they will never be worked on. Unfortunately, many reporters fail to respond to requests for further information and invariably their bug report is closed without any action being taken at all.

Bug titles such as:
  • i do not know
  • hhh
  • bugs
  • oops
  • reporting
  • I'm unaware of problem
are not very helpful. Bug descriptions that also have minimal content are even less so. Sometimes missing information can be gleaned from the supporting log files but that is not always the case.

I've found many many bug reports filed against the wrong package or against the Ubuntu project in general. I'm not criticising the reporters of those bugs but just commenting on something which many casual reporters seem to find difficult, that is finding the right package to file their bug against. The Bug Squad's Find the Right Package wiki page helps greatly but there is a lot there to read through and even then sometimes it is not clear unless you have a good understanding of how the various pieces of Ubuntu  and its various flavours fit together.

Corrective action

I've spent many hours over the last couple of weeks re-tasking reports and asking the reporters of numerous bugs to add information to their reports that will help see their problem addressed or at least investigated. Unfortunately, that seldom happens as often the bug report is so old that the reporter has either moved on to a later release of Ubuntu or has lost interest in the bug that they reported many months ago especially if the problem was a "one-off" problem. I have had some success refiling bugs against the correct package which has led to a developer offering to help but inevitably that just leads to a request for further information which is more often that not ignored by the reporter of the bug.

All software has bugs. We need users of software to report those bugs. Bugs need to be fixed. In order to fix the bugs developers need useful and meaningful bug reports and have their questions or requests answered. But every six months a new version of Ubuntu is released and software is updated. Bug reports can quickly become out of date and may soon refer to what is then an unsupported release.

Bug 1568604

Bug 1568604 is an excellent example of multiple reports against many packages due to the lack of knowledge of the reporter and although this bug has been confirmed by over 300 users there is little sign of this bug being fixed in the near future. I know that I'm not alone in wondering whether this bug has been reported against the correct package or not and thus brought to the attention of someone who is able to fix it.

The Bug Squad's Knowledge Base offers an enormous amount of help in creating useful bug reports but it takes a great deal of time to read though all the possibilities of how a report should be filed and against which package.

So, do we have a problem?

I'm not going to try to offer a solution to the problem of poor or incomplete bug reports, I'm hardly an expert myself. Bug reporting is not necessarily an easy process to master. Bug reports are required to be reported using English, not an easy task if you don't even speak the language that many of us take for granted. Most Launchpad users are not developers or have a detailed knowledge of the inner workings of Ubuntu and its various flavours but rely on their input to Launchpad to direct bug reports to the correct Ubuntu package and development team. Such users no doubt feel lost when they experience a problem, think they have found a bug and wait in anticipation for a reply which inevitably doesn't arrive until long after they've moved on or upgraded to a newer version of Ubuntu.

Are all bug reports actually bug reports?

I've noticed that some of these very minimal bug reports are filed by users that have just signed up to Launchpad. Are these users wondering how to file their first report? Or are these users trying to appear as a legitimate Ubuntu user? I've marked a number of reports as being "Invalid" when it's clear that the report has been filed for reasons which I won't mention here. I try to treat all reports fairly until I can ascertain that the reason for filing the bug report is not the result of the reporter actually finding a bug but some just leave me wondering.

Want to contribute to Ubuntu?

This post was not written to criticise but to draw attention to the large number of poorly filed bug reports that currently reside on Launchpad awaiting attention and marked "for expiration in xx days if no further activity occurs."

Are you thinking of how you can contribute to Ubuntu? Then please consider joining the Bug Squad and lending a hand.


  1. really appreciated this post Paul.
    aim to give it a go. (joining bug.squad)

  2. I'm glad that I motivated someone to get involved. :)

    I plan to update this post as many of my requests for further information have gone unanswered and several bug reports have expired through non-activity.

    We still need to understand why bugs (or problems that are reported as bugs) are abandoned by the reporter and offers of help are ignored.