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When a Bug's a Bug Is Difficult to Say

If there's a problem in the software but no one ever discovers it—not programmers, not testers, and not even a single customer—is it a bug?

Get a group of software testers in a room and ask them this question. You'll be in for a lively discussion. Everyone has their own opinion and can be pretty vocal about it. The problem is that there's no definitive answer. The answer is based on what you and your development team decide works best for you.

For the purposes of this article, here's a brief summary of the rules to define a bug:

  1. The software doesn't do something that the product specification says it should do.

  2. The software does something that the product specification says it shouldn't do.

  3. The software does something that the product specification doesn't mention.

  4. The software doesn't do something that the product specification doesn't mention but should.

  5. The software is difficult to understand, hard to use, slow, or—in the software tester's eyes—will be viewed by the end user as just plain not right.

Following these rules helps clarify the dilemma by making a bug a bug only if it's observed. To claim that the software does or doesn't do "something" implies that the software was run and that "something" or the lack of "something" was witnessed. Since you can't report on what you didn't see, you can't claim that a bug exists if you didn't see it.

Here's another way to think of it. It's not uncommon for two people to have completely different opinions on the quality of a software product. One may say that the program is incredibly buggy and the other may say that it's perfect. How can both be right? The answer is that one has used the product in a way that reveals lots of bugs. The other hasn't.

NOTE

For the purposes of this article, a bug is a bug only if it's observed. Bugs that haven't been found yet are simply undiscovered bugs.

If this is as clear as mud, don't worry. Discuss it with your peers in software testing and find out what they think. Listen to others' opinions, test their ideas, and form your own definition. Remember the old question, "If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?"

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