Error Reports: How to Isolate a Bug

Whether you’re a tester reporting bugs or a developer who’s trying to clarify a bug report, isolating bugs can be something of an art.

Some bugs are really obvious, such as if you go to a site and every page is down with a server error. Other bugs are much harder to report, as they only occur in certain circumstances. Here are some tips for isolating bugs and getting them fixed.

What is the Error Message?

Is an error occurring? Is an error message displayed? Getting the exact text of an error is vital to troubleshooting the problem.

Expected and Actual Results

What should be happening, and how does this differ from what is actually happening? Sometimes, it’s not a simple case of “this doesn’t work” – you may think the actual result is what should be happening, when in fact this differs from the requirements.

Steps to Reproduce

Simple problems such as not being able to log in under any circumstances may not require a list of the steps to reproduce the issue. A more complex problem or one that only occurs under certain conditions may benefit from a list of steps to reproduce the issue, however.

What’s the URL?

This may seem really obvious, but I’ve had support calls where a user has said they can’t log in and it turns out they’re on a completely different site. During testing, it’s also important to determine which environment a tester is using. Different issues may occur in dev, test and live due to data discrepancies, or because the code is not in sync across all the environments.

Browser Version and Settings

It’s not just the browser you’re using that makes a difference – the version can make a big difference, too. It may also help to know if the user has images or scripts disabled, as this can produce very different results.

What other things do you need to know when isolating a bug?

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