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9.3 Replying to Mail

When you receive bug reports, keep in mind that bug reports are crucial for your work. If you don’t know about problems, you cannot fix them. So always thank each person who sends a bug report.

You don’t have an obligation to give more response than that, though. The main purpose of bug reports is to help you contribute to the community by improving the next version of the program. Many of the people who report bugs don’t realize this—they think that the point is for you to help them individually. Some will ask you to focus on that instead of on making the program better. If you comply with their wishes, you will have been distracted from the job of maintaining the program.

For example, people sometimes report a bug in a vague (and therefore useless) way, and when you ask for more information, they say, “I just wanted to see if you already knew the solution” (in which case the bug report would do nothing to help improve the program). When this happens, you should explain to them the real purpose of bug reports. (A canned explanation will make this more efficient.)

When people ask you to put your time into helping them use the program, it may seem “helpful” to do what they ask. But it is much less helpful than improving the program, which is the maintainer’s real job.

By all means help individual users when you feel like it, if you feel you have the time available. But be careful to limit the amount of time you spend doing this—don’t let it eat away the time you need to maintain the program! Know how to say no; when you are pressed for time, just “thanks for the bug report—I will fix it” is enough response.

Some GNU packages, such as Emacs and GCC, come with advice about how to make bug reports useful. Copying and adapting that could be very useful for your package.

If you would like to use an email-based bug tracking system, see; this can be connected with the regular bug-reporting address. Alternatively, if you would like to use a web-based bug tracking system, Savannah supports this (see Old Versions), but please don’t fail to accept bugs by regular email as well—we don’t want to put up unnecessary barriers against users submitting reports.

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