A modest little change I'd like to see in bug reporting systems

July 22, 2015

It is my opinion that sometimes little elements of wording and culture matter. One of those little elements of culture that has been nagging at me lately is the specifics of how Bugzilla and probably other bug reporting systems deal with duplicate bug reports; they are set to 'closed as a duplicate of <other bug>'.

On the one hand, this is perfectly accurate. On the other hand, almost all of the time one of my bug reports is closed out this way I wind up feeling like I shouldn't have filed it at all, because I should have been sufficiently industrious to find the original bug report. I suspect that I am not alone in feeling this way in this situation. I further suspect that feeling this way serves as a quiet little disincentive to file bug reports; after all, it might be yet another duplicate.

Now, some projects certainly seem to not want bug reports in the first place. And probably some projects get enough duplicate bug reports that they want to apply pressure against them, especially against people who do it frequently (although I suspect that this isn't entirely going to work). But I suspect that this is not a globally desirable thing.

As a result, what I'd like to see bug reporting systems try out is simply renaming this status to the more neutral 'merged with <other bug>'.

Would it make any real difference? I honestly don't know; little cultural hacks are hard to predict. But I don't think it would hurt and who knows, something interesting could happen.

(In my view, 'closed as duplicate' is the kind of thing that makes perfect sense when your bug reporting system is an internal one fed by QA people who are paid to do this sort of stuff efficiently and accurately. In that situation, duplicate bugs often are someone kind of falling down on the job. But this is not the state of affairs with public bug reporting systems, where you are lucky if people even bother to jump through your hoops to file at all.)

Comments on this page:

By Dominic at 2015-07-23 03:36:38:

Redmine allows you to mark a duplicate as a type of related issue, which leaves both tickets open, but linked together. I believe any marked as duplicates are automatically closed only when the original is resolved.

Admittedly, our project also closes the duplicates so we have the same problem as you describe and not everybody likes it. I prefer this because they're not actually merged, so people end up commenting on one of the other tickets, causing discussion to be fragmented and possibly missed. It would be nice to have a bug tracker that actually merges the tickets though.

By -dsr- at 2015-07-23 08:54:25:

RT (yes, better for ops than bugs) offers a smooth merge function: any ticket can be merged with any other, and from then on both IDs will reference the same data.

By Ewen McNeill at 2015-07-23 18:45:05:

Further to -dsr-'s comment, merging tickets in RT also means either ticket displays (or accepts) comments/replies for that ticket, falls in the dependency chain for it, etc. I definitely think it's a much cleaner way of dealing with "this issue has the same root cause as this other one, and we're going to resolve the underlying issue together" without the "picking a winner" that marking one of them as a "duplicate" causes. And it neatly avoids fragmenting the discussion, by pulling any existing discussion together into one place that is referenced under either ticket number.

It's like hardlinks for problem reports :-)

Unfortunately RT is both aimed at operations, and written in Perl, so it's unlikely to see much adoption for software development bug tracking.


Written on 22 July 2015.
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Last modified: Wed Jul 22 23:48:16 2015
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