(Recommended music while reading this: Peggy Seeger singing “The Housewive’s Lament)
I’ve been having nightmares, well, really weird dreams for quite some time now. Things like finding myself trying to clear up the floor of a large DIY store just before the first opening day, and not managing it, no matter how many friends were helping. Trying to pack all my luggage when leaving a rented holiday home, and never being able to fit everything in. Trying to pack furniture and stuff into boxes before moving out because someone needs to replace the floor, and having to squash ancient china cups in a carton box, breaking them all in the process. If I manage to wake up, I’m exhausted and tired.
And I guess I’ve grokked why I keep having these dreams. And it’s not lockdown or Covid-19. It’s this:
When we held our last bug fundraiser in 2018, we decided to focus for a year on stability. we had about 300 bugs. And we’ve never even managed to come close to that number of bugs ever since! And yet, in the past year, we’ve closed more than a thousand issues.
Clearly, something is wrong here. This isn’t sustainable. We have managed to deflect a lot of reports that were actually cries for support to a new community website, krita-artists.org and to r/krita. Our experiment with ask.krita.org wasn’t successful, but krita-artists really works. We still do get a lot of worthless bug reports, but I think it could be a lot worse, now that we really have millions of users on four platforms.
But it’s still not sustainable. Every report needs to be read, often deciphered, triaged, investigated, fixed — and all those steps involve communication with the reporter. Even the most useless bug of reports can take an hour to resolve with the reporter.
11:32:47. Eep, incoming bug interrupt. Bug 422729 – No action (assignable shortcut) for Magnetic Selection Tool. 11:33:24: Check, yes, reporter is right. 11:34:32: Confirm. Check code. Notice that all .action files that define actions in the plugins/tools folder are wrong. 11:37:35: Add note to bug report. Fix all of them. 11:47:49: reporter asks a question that needs to be answered, but is not very relevant. 11:56:29: answer given, while I’m building Krita with my fix. 11:57:03: Tested fix, isn’t complete, more work needed. Oh, wait, tested the wrong build. Tested the right build, but the new action isn’t found. 12:00:00 Debug more. 12:25:45: fixed some more broken xml files, ready to make the commit. 12:27:41: Bug is fixed. 12:31:33: Fix is backported to krita/4.3 branch and an extra commit is added that in future will print a warning if the xml parser cannot read the .action files.
Back to this blog post… This was a fast fix: it took about an hour, and in between I also had to run downstairs to receive my new book on Jan van Eyck.
So, this bug report reported a small, but real issue and uncovered a deeper issue. Without the report we probably wouldn’t have noticed the issue. Krita is better because of the report, and the reporter is one of our “known-good” reporters: he has reported 16 bugs this year, one is still in Reported state because we couldn’t reproduce it, six are Confirmed, two are Assigned and seven are Resolved Fixed. Yu-Hsuan Lai has helped us make Krita materially better!
But… Even with me, Dmitry, Agata, Wolthera, Emmett, Eoin, Ivan, Mathias and more people fixing bugs all the time, we’re not getting the numbers down. The floor remains littered, the luggage unpacked and the china unboxed.
Of course we’re not the only ones in this situation: every project that takes bug reports from the general public faces this issue. Some people argue that any bug that has a workaround should be documented and closed; but workaround don’t make for a happy workflow. Others argue that every bug report that is older than two weeks, or a month should be closed because it’s clearly not a priority. But the issue reported is real, and will get reported over and again, with no way of chaining the reports together.
It’s also possible to treat reports like a funnel: first ask people to report on a user-support forum, like krita-artists.org, and only when it seems to be a real bug create a bug report, and only when it’s triaged, put it in a queue. But the problem with that is that nobody’s queue is ever empty. That can be done by assigning the bug to one of us: currently we have 64 bugs in the Assigned state. that means, on average, ten bugs each person’s queue. That in turn probably means betwee a week and a month of tasks already in our queue… Which means we shouldn’t actually look at any newly reported bugs, before we funnel them into our queue. (Another option would be to create issues on invent.kde.org for every bug we really want to work on, something we used to do with phabricator… But pretty quickly we drowned in those tasks as well.)
Which in turns means that either reporting bugs is useless or our todo queues are useless.
And that todo list doesn’t even include working on new features, refactoring old code so we decrease technical depth or working on regressions — that is, features we broke accidentally.
So, even though bug reports help make Krita better, the one thing I’m sure of is that we shouldn’t do anything that will make it easier to report bugs. We have more than enough reports to keep us busy.
It would be nice, though, if we could make it easier to make good bug reports, for instance by automatically attaching our system information and usage logs to a bug report made with the Help->Report Bug functionality.
Theoretically, that can be done, bugzilla offers a complete REST interface. And I seem to remember that we had that in KDE, years ago, but that it broke because of an update of bugzilla. There’s a new version of bugzilla coming, apparently, and maybe it’ll be worthwhile to investigate that again, in the future.
Argh… I think the dreams will continue for a while.