Portrait of Edd Dumbill, taken by Giles Turnbull

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Bug me back

For as long as I've been involved with free software, I've been reporting bugs. For most of that time, tools like Bugzilla have been around to help. Very handy beasts they are, too.

Since I became a Debian developer, I've also been on the receiving end of bugs as well, which has led me to want a greater degree of interoperability between bug tracking systems. Debian has a fine bug tracking system but, as with all such systems in common use, it is an island.

The isolation of bug trackers is, however, an increasingly frustrating situation. With Debian, I often get many bugs reported that are in fact the responsiblity of upstream maintainers of software packages. That is, I get bugs filed on Epiphany, say, which then need to be filed in the GNOME Bugzilla. This involves a lot of cut and pasting to create a corresponding bug on the GNOME side, and then human intervention to ensure the bugs remain synchronized, and that the GNOME maintainers can talk effectively with the person who reported the bug to Debian. All in all, it's a right pain.

It's not just with Debian. Various parts of the GNOME project reuse Mozilla code, for instance, and so on. Clearly we need some kind of bug system interoperability.

What I'd love to see is some sort of protocol that would provide the following features:

  • automatic transfer of a bug from one system to another, and
  • "subscription" of the bugs in both systems to each other, so new reports carry on the same thread, no matter where they are reported.

This seems like a small enough target for to be a practical one or two week long hacking project. Something I'd love to see that's related to this, and maybe even part of the solution, would be an XML or RDF vocabulary for bug reports. Such documents would carry the basic information common to all bug systems and allow lossless storage of extension information specific only to certain bug trackers.

Many of us in the software world have a heavy reliance on bug tracking systems, so it seems worth putting in some effort to upgrade them to the degree of automation we now see emerging elsewhere on the web.

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