The Question: How does a novice distinguish a bug report from a question?

I approach this as a highly relevant practical question, since it will determine the venue of a pending query I have, but I would rather have this clarified for others as well.

That's the skinny. The rest is just justification for re-asking what seems to be a not-quite-clearly-asked-and-clearly-answered parliamentary question.

Thanks in advance!



Motivations, in increasingly ranting order :

  • Jorge Castro suggested that the FAQ be updated to clarify the distinction between bug reports and questions. I agree, and believe that 'don't post bugs' needs some exposition for those who don't know the difference on their own (like me, or new users).

  • I do not want to accidentally waste anyone's time, be it the Ask community's or the Launchpad community's.

  • I assume Ask Ubuntu is a better first place to post than a program developer's bug site, when in doubt - but I don't know if this is strictly true, from a tech-forum cultural standpoint.

  • I often assume I don't know enough to 'make it work' rather than declare that I do know enough to pass judgement on one-in-particuar of a vast interrelated system of programs and then say it to an author's face, and usually find out that the former is true. My guess is, this is also the case for almost anyone beginning their walk with Ubuntu.

  • The original scope of a question may not suggest any one particular solution at all, such that what the community may at first see as 'that's how you do it, it's just broken' may become, to another subset, 'oh, I had that problem too. Here's a workaround', ultimately even, over time, to the community response being, 'That's already been asked and learn how to do a search,' thereby educating new users how simple the issue is, when two months ago it was an insurmountable bug.

  • The first time I was told I should report an issue as a bug, I felt all tingly. Think how exotic that idea must be to a non-tech user when they're told, "It's not you, it's your machine." Should it be an off-hand slap in the face, or an empowering liberation of the electromechanical soul? "If Desmond Tutu can do it, so can you! Ubuntu!"

What constitutes a bug?

  • This should be on the meta site, a special site for these types of questions.
    – coteyr
    Dec 1, 2012 at 18:26
  • My personal opinion is: If you can't tell for sure it's a bug then ask. Better to be helpful here and to alienate people.
    – coteyr
    Dec 1, 2012 at 18:27
  • @coteyr - How do I cross it over? I worried about that while I was writing. I chose here, because, well, 'meta' is another one of those things separating the novices from the ones who know, like is my post a bug report on etiquette or a question? Dec 1, 2012 at 19:32
  • I also flagged it when I made the comment. It should "just happen" in time.
    – coteyr
    Dec 1, 2012 at 19:57

1 Answer 1


You usually don't know. Here's the guidelines I use:

  1. Is the software malfunctioning or broken? Probably a bug.

  2. Is the question about how to use the software? Probably not a bug.

  3. Is the question about software that might be working fine and is just misconfigured? Could go either way.

Figuring out the 3rd one is hard, but from my experience anything with the words "frozen", "crash", "worked until there was an update". Most inexperienced users can't define what a bug is or even report it, so they probably ask here and then we just close it and point them in the right direction.

Some of these posts are indeed workarounds, but to me they're sort of a necessary evil, especially the ones about wireless where there's crazy voodoo, things like .

Either way this isn't a bug tracker, we're not equipped to look at people's logs and data submissions, and I routinely spend (too much) time closing out half-written bug reports on the site instead of answering questions about Ubuntu.

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