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Before You Report that Bug, Use this Pre-Contact Self-Diagnosis

On a good day, encountering a bug on your website is a minor annoyance. On a bad day — or if the problem is really serious — a bug can feel like a five-alarm emergency. And on no day do you want to send an email to your website manager asking them to fix the problem and, instead of getting an instant “tada!”-type all-clear message, receive an email asking a bunch of followup questions about the issue.

Unfortunately, though, we almost always need to know more than “X or Y isn’t working” in order to fix a bug. If you happened to read Dave’s recent post about it, you know that diagnosing and fixing bugs isn’t often straightforward, meaning it can be a pretty frustrating challenge for developers. To help isolate the issue as efficiently as possible, it’s important that developers start with a picture of the problem that is as clear and complete as possible. More often than not, this means we’ll need to enlist your help with the detective work.

There are a few things a developer usually needs to know in order to diagnose a bug, and these are the things we’re likely to come back and ask you about if you haven’t already provided them. So, to ensure we can help you as quickly as possible, here’s a pre-contact, self-diagnosis routine to help guide you in reporting a problem.

1. Can the Issue Be Reproduced on Other Computers or Devices? If you come across an issue with your site on your own computer, tablet, or smartphone, it’s always smart to check and see if the same issue can be reproduced on other, comparable devices. If you’re the only one experiencing a certain outcome, that’s an important clue, as it tells us that the problem may be due to an issue with your particular machine or with the operating system or software you’re using. So, as a first step, check with your nearest office-mate to see if you can reproduce the problem.

2. What environment are you encountering the bug in? As we hinted at in the first question, bugs can sometimes stem from your specific web-surfing environment, including your browser, operating system, and device. Letting us know what your work environment is like can help us to identify the problem. Are you on a Mac or a PC? Chrome or Firefox? What browser (and version of that browser) are you using? You get the idea… Another important thing to keep in mind with this question is that we only support the most current versions of the the major browsers, including Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. So, if you’re using IE 8, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter bugs that aren’t present on IE 11 (the current release), or the current versions of those other browsers, either. If you’re not sure whether your browser version is current, check Browse Happy for a full listing of current releases.

3. Did you clear your cache? Sounds simple, but it’s a repeat offender, and it can sometimes spell the difference between a perceived bug and an actual bug. It’s second nature for project managers to remind clients to clear their cache before viewing new work we’ve done to their site. This is important, especially, for issues related to layout and style, which are often cached by the browser to ensure faster load times. Tema Flanagan has a helpful post on how to clear your cache and cookies. Doing this may reveal that the bug you thought you were seeing isn’t actually a problem at all. One caveat: it’s possible for certain elements to be cached at the router level, so depending on the settings unique to your organization’s IT setup, clearing your browser’s cache might not immediately solve a caching issue. This is something your IT point-person may be able to help you determine.

4. Call vs Email. Once you’ve answered questions 1-3, the final step is to consider how best to communicate the issue to our staff. The majority of bugs our clients report are simple enough that they can easily be communicated via email. But if the issue seems to be more complex — maybe it’s multi-step, or maybe it involves elements, content types, or behaviors that are hard to describe — then it’s probably going to be easier to discuss by phone to ensure nothing gets lost in digital translation. If that seems to be the case, give us a ring or ask to set up a call. In some cases, it can even be helpful to set up a screen-sharing video conference so that we can look at the issue together. Either way, we’re here to help you work through any issues you encounter on your site — and to fix them as quickly as we possibly can.

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