Planet, StackExchange, Ubuntu

Bugs are not questions

It’s been a long standing policy that bugs are off-topic for Ask Ubuntu and for good reason, we have Launchpad which is the best place for bugs in Ubuntu to end up. Before I dive too deeply into the history of this issue and what we’re doing to fix this, if you have a bug please see here on how to report it! Despite having formed the “No bugs on Ask Ubuntu” policy over a year and a half ago we’ve ended up being too lax in how we identified and handled bugs. As a result the site is swimming with “Questions” that have no answer and likely never will because they are bugs.

We can improve Ask Ubuntu by just pointing the user to bug filing advice and promptly closing the question. – Martin Pool

To combat this we’ve mobilized the community to weed out, flag, and close these buggy questions which means a lot of questions will end up closed as off-topic. This isn’t a bad thing – in fact it’s quite a good thing. With each question getting a sign post saying “This is a bug, report your bug to Launchpad” any future users who stumble on to these questions from search engines will now know where to look, instead of finding disappointment in an answer-less “question”.

We need more help! If you happen to come across a question on Ask Ubuntu that’s a duplicate of an existing bug report, or clearly should be submitted as a bug report, click the “flag” button at the bottom of the post and let us know! The sooner we prune and notify users these are actually bugs the quicker we can get them logged against the appropriate Launchpad project/package. The result will be a more fluid experience for new users and future users (since all these bugs will be fixed!). If you have questions about whether a question is a bug you can join the Ask Ubuntu chat or ask on the Ask Ubuntu Meta site.

  • While I know that Ubuntu/Canonical don’t have direct access to, I have to mention it: askubuntu bug-question should be migrated instead of closed. There should be a way to directly move the question over to launchpad, giving the user a permanent link in the askubuntu account page which goes to the launchpad bug report.

    If you think that closing bugs will lead to learning you are wrong. Most bug questions on askubuntu are from first timers. By definition, they can not learn from the past. So as long as we get first timers to ask question (which is good), we will have to repeat the process of closing, telling them to file a report, giving a link and hoping that they actually do this.

    The only way to deal with this is an automatic way which at the same time turns the bad questions into useful information about bugs…

  • Jorge

    I don’t think a migration path is worth the effort pursuing.

    In order for the bug to be useful it needs to be run with ubuntu-bug or apport. If we migrated all those existing questions to launchpad they would still go unanswered because most of them don’t contain any information that is useful to a developer.

    Either way the user has to start over again anyway, so we should make it clear up front where bug reports should go so they don’t at least waste their time.

  • Daniel Hughes

    As a user of ubuntu when I ask about a problem I’m having, I don’t really care if it’s a bug or not.

    What I want is for a solution to my problem. Yes my problem might be a bug. However if I raise a bug report how will that help me? I raise the bug and then is my problem solved? no, at least not for a very long time, even if my big gets fixed upstream I will still have to wait up to 6 months before I get a fix, and to get it I will need to upgrade my whole OS. No raising a bug doesn’t really help me in the short term in the medium term either.

    If my problem is a bug what I need is a work around. Can I edit some file. Should I use a different driver, should I use a different program? How can I solve my problem while I am waiting for a bug fix which may or may not be coming?

    Telling me to raise a bug or pointing me at an existing bug report, does not help me now with my problem. Answer my question by offering a solution to my problem.

    The ideal answer to a bug question is:

    Your problem is a know bug (link to bug). While you are waiting for a fix I suggest you try (work around which solves there problem)

    • I understand you position; however, being new is the best time to correct this action and is no excuse to get a free pass to do something wrong. Every bug report on the effectively becomes a duplicate of the “How can I report a bug” question since all bugs _need_ to be on Launchpad. I could fool myself and say Ask Ubuntu is the best place for _everything_ Ubuntu – but that’s a lie. We can only handle Questions & Answers (and everything else: discussions, feature requests, bug reports, anything not Q&A belongs on Forums, IRC, Launchpad, mailing lists).

      As a new user with a bug you have just as difficult of a time finding help on Ask Ubuntu than you would Launchpad. We don’t even require accounts to post questions on the site and with a opt-in only email policy a lot of people don’t get emails when a follow up to their question has been posted. What we have now is hundreds of bug reports as questions that aren’t getting answered and are just sitting in the ether, rotting away, polluting Search Engine results with dead ends.

      Even if we went down the slippery slope of saying “workarounds only” shouldn’t those be on Launchpad as well? Why hurt the current process because someone, unknowingly, takes the wrong route when seeking help with a question. Furthermore, we find often users have no idea about Launchpad or it’s role in the community. By being aggressive with helping these users find the right resources we not only help that user find where to report their issue, we help the community at large by getting another bug reported with the right people looking at the issue. If we continue to allow bugs on the site we’ve effectively fractured the bug tracking community. Now which is the right place to get the latest information on a bug? Ask Ubuntu or Launchpad?

      Any way you shake it, the long term goals of the relationship between Ask Ubuntu and Launchpad make sense, despite the appearance of no short or medium term goals, Questions and Bugs respectively.

  • Vadim P.

    ubuntu-bug isn’t friendly to first-timers at all, and the bug will simply be ‘lost’. Though if it bothers enough people, someone with the knowledge is bound to come along and report it properly.

  • I have to say that wile I’m running soley on Ubuntu for 6 years now, this is the first time I heared of ubuntu-bug (I was aware of apport). Maybe its use should be made more public?

    If you think that only ubuntu-bug reported bugs are worth it, then maybe we should implement something similar to apt-url? Then we could give a simple link: “Your question sound like a bug in Firefox, please click on [this link](ubuntubug://firefox) to report in on launchpad.” Something like this…

    • That’s an awesome idea! I know that I hadn’t heard of ubuntu-bug prior to working on Ask Ubuntu so this really becomes a chance to help all users understand the best practices for reporting bugs. We already include a link ( on all the questions that are bugs to instruct the user how to submit a bug report (with instructions on using ubuntu-bug)

    • Jorge


      At the end of the day there’s only so much you can do with user submitted bug reports. When you file a bug with apport it’s collecting the information you need already so it’s ok that you’ve not heard of ubuntu-bug. Also, I learned that you can do “ubuntu-bug -w” and then click on the window you want to report and it’ll figure that out, which is handy.

      I’ve been doing this for 6 years now and I am worthless when it comes to reporting X or kernel bugs, they just get wasted. The truth of the matter is (and this can be hard to come to grips with) is that we don’t want useless bug reports because it just overwhelms our bug tracker with noise.

      This is why our QA team is concentrating on automated testing for so many things now instead of depending heavily on people reporting bugs by hand.

      • sounds a bit deflating, but you have more insight, I guess, so I trust on that 🙂

  • J Johan Edwards

    I agree. That said…

    It’s an interesting unresolved problem that, even in Launchpad, a lot of the problems you’re closing would be useless. They’re rotting away there too. Many Ubuntu users are neither technical enough nor invested enough to be good bug reporters. They just waste the time of triagers (or AskUbuntu moderators, as it were) and so they get ignored.

    At an institutional level, we effectively ask users to suffer silently. I think Ubuntu needs to be a lot higher quality (that is, make our users suffer less) to make this a reasonable practice. Not that I have a solution, but it’s a problem.

    Interesting listening:

  • Vadim P.

    I think I found your issue, actually. Trying to report a graphical bug on Unity in oneiric (it’s a bug – it should be reported, and fixed) I was told this: “ is the best place to get free help with technical issues.” and the ubuntu-bug failed to proceed any further.

    • Could you provide the steps to replicate this? I wasn’t able to get that message.

  • In my humble opinion,
    Yes, bugs aren’t allowed on Ask Ubuntu. All the moderators and high ranking people know this, but the new people signing up for accounts each day don’t know this. Why? Because the “bug questions” keep coming. This is not a problem that is going to go away by itself, and we need to take action. Here is my proposed solution:
    1. Stop the new bug questions from coming in.
    If there’s a hole in your ship and its filling with water, you can pump out all the water you want, but the water is going to just keep coming back until you plug the hole. We need to address the new bug questions coming in first.

    The source of 99% of the questions that belong on launchpad come from new users. Most users that have been on the site for any significant length of time are aware of the “No bugs” policy. We need to educate the new users, so they know better. My proposed solution is to have a short “Welcome to Ask Ubuntu” video that plays the first time a user logs into the site. This video will quickly go over the basics of Stack Exchange and strictly implant in user’s minds the “No bugs:” policy.
    2. Eliminate all the questions that already exist.
    My proposed solution here is to schedule a day like any other cleanup day, with a special emphasis of getting the “bug questions” gotten rid of. Leaving a comment doesn’t solve the problem, the question is still there. I think Ask Ubuntu has to get in touch with launchpad and have the ability to “migrate questions to launchpad:. Have the “bug questions” flagged and migrated to launchpad. Then, notify the user that thier post has been moved to launchpad and encourage them to add any information they think would be helpful.

    Now, this is just my idea and proposed solution. I am open to suggestions if someone thinks they have a better way, go ahead, enlighten me. But one thing is for sure: this is a problem which has been procrastinated for too long, it needs to be solved, and it needs to be solved soon.

    • Jeff has famously stated that you can give users all the warnings you want (and we do) but users rarely will listen. Making them sit through a video is not the answer. Due diligence is. When a user is asking a question (with the ask a question box) they’ve already resolved themselves to getting that question asked. They don’t care about reading text, they just want to get their information out there. However, when a user arrives at a question (which is closed as a bug) they scour the page for information – ultimately (hopefully) ending up at the comment directly below the question body stating why this is closed and off-topic.

      Second of all, the amount of work required to migrate bugs to Launchpad and the relatively small payoff it yields, not to mention the already tight production schedule means that this feature won’t really work in anyone’s favor. The preferred method id still to run ubuntu-bug which will collect required system and log information to attach to the bug report. Ask Ubuntu’s role in this, if any, is to help the user figure out how and where to post bugs.

      Finally, I won’t say this has been procrastination by any means. The community is always changing and growing to accommodate different circumstances. Bugs have been off-topic for quite sometime on the site, questions of this nature weren’t pursued and screened as often due to a small 10k population and the difficulty identifying bugs from other issues. At one point bugs and “work around” requests were on-topic on Ask Ubuntu, though as you can see now that’s not the case. The result of this ever changing pace, and earlier lack of meta participation, is a site with a backlog of open “bug” questions that the community is working to correct.

      I may not have hard metrics, but even with the recent bug purge our day-to-day issues still come in the form of people using answer boxes to post additional questions about similar topics or to post comments as answers. Questions that should be bug reports still are low in weight compared to other requirements of education to new users.

    • The problem is that you can’t fix the people. It just doesn’t work. People (including me) have tried to do that already on Stack Overflow.

      All you can do is to build an effective army of users that care about the site and combat the side effects.

      Teaching new users that already made a mistake how to use the site without making those mistakes again is also a way to improve the situation.

  • And so we have agreed to simply not fix the problem? The hole is still there. I was proposing a solution to plug it and got negative feedback. But, does anyone have any better ideas? Need I remind everyone of the 76% answered rate? Eliminating the bug questions will help raise the answered rate. .Huston, we have a problem. Could someone please propose a solution?