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14 August 2014

Bug tracker or trouble ticket system?

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One of the issues that comes up from time to time in many organizations and projects (both community and commercial ventures) is the question of how to manage bug reports, feature requests and support requests.

There are a number of open source solutions and proprietary solutions too. I've never seen a proprietary solution that offers any significant benefit over the free and open solutions, so this blog only looks at those that are free and open.

Support request or bug?

One common point of contention is the distinction between support requests and bugs. Users do not always know the difference.

Some systems, like the Github issue tracker, gather all the requests together in a single list. Calling them "Issues" invites people to submit just about anything, such as "I forgot my password".

At the other extreme, some organisations are so keen to keep support requests away from their developers that they operate two systems and a designated support team copies genuine bugs from the customer-facing trouble-ticket/CRM system to the bug tracker. This reduces the amount of spam that hits the development team but there is overhead in running multiple systems and having staff doing cut and paste.

Will people use it?

Another common problem is that a full bug report template is overkill for some issues. If a user is asking for help with some trivial task and if the tool asks them to answer twenty questions about their system, application version, submit log files and other requirements then they won't use it at all and may just revert to sending emails or making phone calls.

Ideally, it should be possible to demand such details only when necessary. For example, if a support engineer routes a request to a queue for developers, then the system may guide the support engineer to make sure the ticket includes attributes that a ticket in the developers' queue should have.

Beyond Perl

Some of the most well known systems in this space are Bugzilla, Request Tracker and OTRS. All of these solutions are developed in Perl.

These days, Python, JavaScript/Node.JS and Java have taken more market share and Perl is chosen less frequently for new projects. Perl skills are declining and younger developers have usually encountered Python as their main scripting language at university.

My personal perspective is that this hinders the ability of Perl projects to attract new blood or leverage the benefits of new Python modules that don't exist in Perl at all.

Bugzilla has fallen out of the Debian and Ubuntu distributions after squeeze due to its complexity. In contrast, Fedora carries the Bugzilla packages and also uses it as their main bug tracker.

Evaluation

I recently started having a look at the range of options in the Wikipedia list of bug tracking systems.

Some of the trends that appear:

Questions

This leaves me with some of the following questions:

tags: promote