2121-07-03

What is a bug report? The ins and outs of bug reports.

Banner highlighting Usersnap's issue reporting widget

If you’re new to bug tracking, issue management or web development in general, you might wonder what a bug report is.

In this blog post, we will be answering this question from different viewpoints. And trust me, it’s not going to be boring.

We always talk about bug reports…

…but never explain what they are or why they’re crucial for closing customer feedback loops.

I just noticed that we at Usersnap haven’t answered this core and essential question.

We’ve more than 1.000 sites indexed by Google, we’ve published 283 blog posts on our blog to date, we have written multiple guest posts on other sites, and we gave some talks on the do’s and don’ts of bug tracking.

However, we haven’t answered this core question not even once.

We did cover a lot of topics in the area of bug reporting.

For example, I’ve shown you 6 easy bug reporting tricks, answered the 4 W’s of bug reporting and gave you some insights on bad bug reports. I’ve even shown you how to set up a bug-free web development environment.

Nevertheless, I haven’t answered the simple – yet important – question.

But today, we’re finally tackling this issue.

Example of bug reports from Google and Apple

In the past, Google’s and Apple’s approach to bug reporting was almost non-existent. Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi admitted in The Talk Show by John Gruber (highly recommended podcast episode!) that their bug reporting workflow with external app developers is not really great. Often, the Apple bug reporting workflow was even critiqued by Apple developers. So, even Apple’s management team admits that their workflow is not great. It’s a bit funny that a company of that size had no proper bug reporting workflow in place.

This has since changed though. Take a look at how Android and iOS approach the issue.

Android bug report

What is a bug report on Android? Android offers quick, simple bug reporting directly from (test) user to developer. The purpose is to get information such as “device logs, stack traces, and other diagnostic information to help you find and fix bugs in your app.” With this function, you can capture bugs directly from devices, emulators, or adb’s. Their bug reporting mechanism offers inspection via ZIP file, while end users can use Google Play’s and Firebase’s crash reporting, available for at least 6 months from the moment the report is filed.

iOS bug report

What is a bug report on Apple? Apple offers a feedback assistant for developers so they can receive bug reports. Their app allows filing bugs across and for connect devices, and includes screenshots, profiles, and the logs required to resolve issues. Finally, the feedback can be shared across teams, so everyone is on the same page.

So… what’s a bug report?

In order to answer this question, we need to understand the following concept of bugs, bug reports and bug reporting software.

what is a bug

What is a bug?

In the context of software development, engineering or web development, a bug is not despite its name a little animal, but to something else.

According to Wikipedia a software bug (or just a bug) can be defined as:

A software bug is an error, flaw, failure, or fault in a computer program or system that causes it to produce an incorrect or unexpected result or to behave in unintended ways.

So in short, this means:

A software bug is an error, flaw, failure, or fault that produces an incorrect or unexpected result.

Basically, a software bug is something which is not working as designed.

Why is called a bug then? The origin of a bug.

You might wonder, why a bug is called a bug? It’s a great question, because the term bug, describing a software error or failure goes way back to 1945. In late 1945, at the University of Harvard, a technical team found something unusual between points in Relay70. They found a real dead bug (the animal) which caused an error.

As stated in the bug log, it’s the “first actual case of bug being found“.

First bug reported!

So, in theory, a bug is something not working as designed.

But what if something is not designed as it should be? Is it a bug then? As you can see, this question alone leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

No matter if you’re a developer, designer or user of the software. Chances are high that you’ve stumbled upon a bug in the past, or maybe you even caused a bug yourself.

dashboard showing important customer feedback

But we need a bug report definition!

So here’s the core question: What is a bug report?

If bugs occur (which they certainly do), the person finding the bug should be able to report (document & send) the bug to people in charge of fixing that error or failure.

According to Yegor, a bug report “should explain how exactly the product is broken.

He continues that the report should follow this simple formula:

“This is what we have, this is what we should have instead, so fix it.”

This sounds easy, right? In practice though, a bug report (and what documentation is included) isn’t that clear.

Imagine you encountered a bug and wanted to send in a report. What information would you include? I guess everyone would answer that differently.

In the past, bug reports were lengthy forms including various fields and data requests. What’s the priority of the error? What’s the problem description? What are the components? Which browser version are you using? And so on…

bad bug report example

Good vs. bad bug report

So you might wonder, what’s the difference between a good bug report and a bad one. And why are there so many bad ones out there?

I collected some statements about this issue in order to distinguish between the two of them:

A good bug report:

  • contains the information needed to reproduce and fix problems
  • is an efficient form of communication for both bug reporter and bug receiver
  • can be and is resolved as fast as possible
  • is sent to the person in charge
  • is filed in a defined way
  • establishes a common ground for collaboration

A bad bug report:

  • does not contain the information needed to reproduce and fix problems
  • is a lengthy, inefficient form of communication for everyone involved
  • never gets resolved
  • contains no specific information
  • gets filed in any medium available, but not in the defined way (hint: Twitter isn’t a good way to file a bug report ;-))
  • doesn’t enable team or team/customer collaboration

So, how would I sum up my answer to the question: “What is a bug report?

A bug report is something that stores all information needed to document, report and fix problems occurred in software or on a website. And in the best case scenario: This is done in the most efficient manner possible.

I’ve created this bug reporting checklist in order to get a feeling on what questions a bug report must answer.

But.. how to solve a bug report?

labels help determine bugs

Once you’ve received your bug report, it’s now time to inspect the bug, get the team involved, assign responsibilities for the bug, and resolve it. In particular, you can find some of the necessary skills to resolve bugs, but the key that is often missed is closing the feedback loop. Once the bug has been resolved, it’s your company’s job to get back to the customer and say “we heard you, here is our solution to your challenge!” It doesn’t necessarily have to be with an additional NPS question, but at the very least a recognition of the customer’s issue goes a long way to keeping them happy and engaged.

What is a bug reporting system?

There are a lot of different expressions used to describe and name a bug reporting system. So here are just a few names:

  • Bug Reporting System
  • Bug Tracking Software
  • Issue Tracking Software
  • Issue Management Software
  • Defect Tracking System

No matter which name you prefer, a bug reporting system is an application “that keeps track of reported software bugs”.

Therefore, a bug reporting software allows you to report, document, store, manage, assign, close & archive the reports. Here’s an example of how a bug report would look like in a bug reporting software:

Screen showing a button doesn't work

Some top bug reporting tools for you to check out:

  1. Usersnap
  2. Airbrake
  3. Bugherd
  4. FogBugz
  5. Ybug

Recap

All in all, I’ve shown you the basics of bugs, bug reports and bug reporting systems. There are a lot of further do’s and don’ts when it comes to the bug reporting workflow, from bugs to no bugs.

bug reporting workflow

This article is brought to you by Usersnap – a visual customer feedback & bug tracking tool, used by software companies like Facebook and Microsoft.