Distributed bugtracking – quick thoughts

05May14

Just saw http://sny.no/2014/04/dbts and I feel compelled to note that distributed bug trackers are not new – the earliest I personally encountered was Aaron Bentley’s Bugs everywhere – coming up on it’s 10th birthday. BE meets many of the criteria in the dbts post I read earlier today, but it hasn’t taken over the world – and I think this is in large part due to the propogation nature of bugs being very different to code – different solutions are needed.

XXXX: With distributed code versioning we often see people going to some effort to avoid conflicts – semantic conflicts are common, and representation conflicts extremely common.The idions

Take for example https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/ntp/+bug/805661. Here we can look at the nature of the content:

  1. Concurrent cannot-conflict content – e.g. the discussion about the bug. In general everyone should have this in their local bug database as soon as possible, and anyone can write to it.
  2. Observations of fact – e.g. ‘the code change that should fix the bug has landed in Ubuntu’ or ‘Commit C should fix the bug’.
  3. Reports of symptoms – e.g. ‘Foo does not work for me in Ubuntu with package versions X, Y and Z’.
  4. Collaboratively edited metadata – tags, title, description, and arguably even the fields like package, open/closed, importance.

Note that only one of these things – the commit to fix the bug – happens in the same code tree as the code; and that the commit fixing it may be delayed by many things before the fix is available to users. Also note that conceptually conflicts can happen in any of those fields except 1).

Anyhow – my humble suggestion for tackling the conflicts angle is to treat all changes to a bug as events in a timeline – e.g. adding a tag ‘foo’ is an event to add ‘foo’, rather than an event setting the tags list to ‘bar,foo’ – then multiple editors adding ‘foo’ do not conflict (or need special handling). Collaboratively edited fields would be likely be unsatisfying with this approach though – last-writer-wins isn’t a great story. OTOH the number of people that edit the collaborative fields on any given bug tend to be quite low – so one could defer that to manual fixups.

Further, as a developer wanting local access to my bug database, syncing all of these things is appealing – but if I’m dealing with a million-bug bug database, I may actually need the ability to filter what I sync or do not sync with some care. Even if I want everything, query performance on such a database is crucial for usability (something git demonstrated convincingly in the VCS space).

Lastly, I don’t think distributed bug tracking is needed – it doesn’t solve a deeply burning use case – offline access would be a 90% solution for most people. What does need rethinking is the hugely manual process most bug systems use today. Making tools like whoopsie-daisy widely available is much more interesting (and that may require distributed underpinnings to work well and securely). Automatic collation of distinct reports and surfacing the most commonly experienced faults to developers offers a path to evidence based assessment of quality – something I think we badly need.

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3 Responses to “Distributed bugtracking – quick thoughts”

  1. 1 Jan Hudec

    Not only does not distributed bugtracking not solve any important use case, I think it actually misses the point. A bug tracking system is, in big part, a communication tool that helps in organizing the project. But for that the information needs to be kept in sync. So different approach is needed from code where it’s reasonable to work on some feature for days without having to synchronize.

  2. 2 Ben Lau

    Forgive my ignorance but what is whoopsie-daisy?


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