Problem Report Handling Guidelines

Dag-Erling Smørgrav

Hiten Pandya

Revision: 43184

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Last modified on 2013-11-13 by hrs.

These guidelines describe recommended handling practices for FreeBSD Problem Reports (PRs). Whilst developed for the FreeBSD PR Database Maintenance Team , these guidelines should be followed by anyone working with FreeBSD PRs.

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Table of Contents
1. Introduction
2. Problem Report Life-cycle
3. Problem Report State
4. Types of Problem Reports
5. Further Reading

1. Introduction

GNATS is a defect management (bug reporting) system used by the FreeBSD Project. As accurate tracking of outstanding software defects is important to FreeBSD's quality, the correct use of GNATS is essential to the forward progress of the Project.

Access to GNATS is available to FreeBSD developers, as well as to the wider community. In order to maintain consistency within the database and provide a consistent user experience, guidelines have been established covering common aspects of bug management such as presenting followup, handling close requests, and so forth.

2. Problem Report Life-cycle

  • The Reporter submits a PR with send-pr(1) and receives a confirmation message.

  • Joe Random Committer takes interest in the PR and assigns it to himself, or Jane Random BugBuster decides that Joe is best suited to handle it and assigns it to him.

  • Joe has a brief exchange with the originator (making sure it all goes into the audit trail) and determines the cause of the problem. He then makes sure the cause is documented in the audit trail, and sets the PRs state to analyzed.

  • Joe pulls an all-nighter and whips up a patch that he thinks fixes the problem, and submits it in a follow-up, asking the originator to test it. He then sets the PRs state to feedback.

  • A couple of iterations later, both Joe and the originator are satisfied with the patch, and Joe commits it to -CURRENT (or directly to -STABLE if the problem does not exist in -CURRENT), making sure to reference the Problem Report in his commit log (and credit the originator if he submitted all or part of the patch) and, if appropriate, start an MFC countdown.

  • If the patch does not need MFCing, Joe then closes the PR.

  • If the patch needs MFCing, Joe leaves the Problem Report in patched state until the patch has been MFCed, then closes it.


Many PRs are submitted with very little information about the problem, and some are either very complex to solve, or just scratch the surface of a larger problem; in these cases, it is very important to obtain all the necessary information needed to solve the problem. If the problem contained within cannot be solved, or has occurred again, it is necessary to re-open the PR.


The email address used on the PR might not be able to receive mail. In this case, followup to the PR as usual and ask the originator (in the followup) to provide a working email address. This is normally the case when send-pr(1) is used from a system with the mail system disabled or not installed.

3. Problem Report State

It is important to update the state of a PR when certain actions are taken. The state should accurately reflect the current state of work on the PR.

Example 1. A small example on when to change PR state

When a PR has been worked on and the developer(s) responsible feel comfortable about the fix, they will submit a followup to the PR and change its state to feedback. At this point, the originator should evaluate the fix in their context and respond indicating whether the defect has indeed been remedied.

A Problem Report may be in one of the following states:


Initial state; the problem has been pointed out and it needs reviewing.


The problem has been reviewed and a solution is being sought.


Further work requires additional information from the originator or the community; possibly information regarding the proposed solution.


A patch has been committed, but something (MFC, or maybe confirmation from originator) is still pending.


The problem is not being worked on, due to lack of information or resources. This is a prime candidate for somebody who is looking for a project to take on. If the problem cannot be solved at all, it will be closed, rather than suspended. The documentation project uses suspended for wish-list items that entail a significant amount of work which no one currently has time for.

repocopy (obsolete)

The resolution of the problem report is dependent on a repository copy, or repocopy, operation within the CVS repository which is awaiting completion.

Given that all repositories now use Subversion, there is no need for this state anymore. Subversion has native support for copying and moving files.


A problem report is closed when any changes have been integrated, documented, and tested, or when fixing the problem is abandoned.


The patched state is directly related to feedback, so you may go directly to closed state if the originator cannot test the patch, and it works in your own testing.

4. Types of Problem Reports

While handling problem reports, either as a developer who has direct access to the GNATS database or as a contributor who browses the database and submits followups with patches, comments, suggestions or change requests, you will come across several different types of PRs.

The following sections describe what each different type of PRs is used for, when a PR belongs to one of these types, and what treatment each different type receives.

4.1. Unassigned PRs

When PRs arrive, they are initially assigned to a generic (placeholder) assignee. These are always prepended with freebsd-. The exact value for this default depends on the category; in most cases, it corresponds to a specific FreeBSD mailing list. Here is the current list, with the most common ones listed first:

Table 1. Default Assignees — most common
TypeCategoriesDefault Assignee
base systembin, conf, gnu, kern, miscfreebsd-bugs
architecture-specificalpha, amd64, arm, i386, ia64, powerpc, sparc64freebsd-arch
ports collectionportsfreebsd-ports-bugs
documentation shipped with the systemdocsfreebsd-doc
FreeBSD web pages (not including docs)wwwfreebsd-www

Table 2. Default Assignees — other
TypeCategoriesDefault Assignee
advocacy effortsadvocacyfreebsd-advocacy
Java Virtual Machine™ problemsjavafreebsd-java
standards compliancestandardsfreebsd-standards
threading librariesthreadsfreebsd-threads
usb(4) subsystemusbfreebsd-usb

Do not be surprised to find that the submitter of the PR has assigned it to the wrong category. If you fix the category, do not forget to fix the assignment as well. (In particular, our submitters seem to have a hard time understanding that just because their problem manifested on an i386 system, that it might be generic to all of FreeBSD, and thus be more appropriate for kern. The converse is also true, of course.)

Certain PRs may be reassigned away from these generic assignees by anyone. There are several types of assignees: specialized mailing lists; mail aliases (used for certain limited-interest items); and individuals.

For assignees which are mailing lists, please use the long form when making the assignment (e.g., freebsd-foo instead of foo); this will avoid duplicate emails sent to the mailing list.


Since the list of individuals who have volunteered to be the default assignee for certain types of PRs changes so often, it is much more suitable for the FreeBSD wiki.

Here is a sample list of such entities; it is probably not complete.

Table 3. Common Assignees — base system
TypeSuggested CategorySuggested AssigneeAssignee Type
problem specific to the ARM® architecturearmfreebsd-armmailing list
problem specific to the MIPS® architecturekernfreebsd-mipsmailing list
problem specific to the PowerPC® architecturekernfreebsd-ppcmailing list
problem with Advanced Configuration and Power Management (acpi(4))kernfreebsd-acpimailing list
problem with Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) driverskernfreebsd-atmmailing list
problem with embedded or small-footprint FreeBSD systems (e.g., NanoBSD/PicoBSD/FreeBSD-arm)kernfreebsd-embeddedmailing list
problem with FireWire® driverskernfreebsd-firewiremailing list
problem with the filesystem codekernfreebsd-fsmailing list
problem with the geom(4) subsystemkernfreebsd-geommailing list
problem with the ipfw(4) subsystemkernfreebsd-ipfwmailing list
problem with Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) driverskernfreebsd-isdnmailing list
jail(8) subsystemkernfreebsd-jailmailing list
problem with Linux® or SVR4 emulationkernfreebsd-emulationmailing list
problem with the networking stackkernfreebsd-netmailing list
problem with the pf(4) subsystemkernfreebsd-pfmailing list
problem with the scsi(4) subsystemkernfreebsd-scsimailing list
problem with the sound(4) subsystemkernfreebsd-multimediamailing list
problems with the wlan(4) subsystem and wireless driverskernfreebsd-wirelessmailing list
problem with sysinstall(8) or bsdinstall(8)binfreebsd-sysinstallmailing list
problem with the system startup scripts (rc(8))kernfreebsd-rcmailing list
problem with VIMAGE or VNET functionality and related codekernfreebsd-virtualizationmailing list
problem with Xen emulationkernfreebsd-xenmailing list

Table 4. Common Assignees — Ports Collection
TypeSuggested CategorySuggested AssigneeAssignee Type
problem with the ports framework (not with an individual port!)portsportmgralias
port which is maintained by apache@FreeBSD.orgportsapachemailing list
port which is maintained by autotools@FreeBSD.orgportsautotoolsalias
port which is maintained by doceng@FreeBSD.orgportsdocengalias
port which is maintained by eclipse@FreeBSD.orgportsfreebsd-eclipsemailing list
port which is maintained by gecko@FreeBSD.orgportsgeckomailing list
port which is maintained by gnome@FreeBSD.orgportsgnomemailing list
port which is maintained by hamradio@FreeBSD.orgportshamradioalias
port which is maintained by haskell@FreeBSD.orgportshaskellalias
port which is maintained by java@FreeBSD.orgportsfreebsd-javamailing list
port which is maintained by kde@FreeBSD.orgportskdemailing list
port which is maintained by mono@FreeBSD.orgportsmonomailing list
port which is maintained by office@FreeBSD.orgportsfreebsd-officemailing list
port which is maintained by perl@FreeBSD.orgportsperlmailing list
port which is maintained by python@FreeBSD.orgportsfreebsd-pythonmailing list
port which is maintained by ruby@FreeBSD.orgportsfreebsd-rubymailing list
port which is maintained by secteam@FreeBSD.orgportssecteamalias
port which is maintained by vbox@FreeBSD.orgportsvboxalias
port which is maintained by x11@FreeBSD.orgportsfreebsd-x11mailing list

Ports PRs which have a maintainer who is a ports committer may be reassigned by anyone (but note that not every FreeBSD committer is necessarily a ports committer, so you cannot simply go by the email address alone.)

For other PRs, please do not reassign them to individuals (other than yourself) unless you are certain that the assignee really wants to track the PR. This will help to avoid the case where no one looks at fixing a particular problem because everyone assumes that the assignee is already working on it.

Table 5. Common Assignees — Other
TypeSuggested CategorySuggested AssigneeAssignee Type
problem with GNATS itself (send-pr(1))binbugmeisteralias
problem with GNATS web formwwwbugmeisteralias

4.2. Assigned PRs

If a PR has the responsible field set to the username of a FreeBSD developer, it means that the PR has been handed over to that particular person for further work.

Assigned PRs should not be touched by anyone but the assignee or bugmeister. If you have comments, submit a followup. If for some reason you think the PR should change state or be reassigned, send a message to the assignee. If the assignee does not respond within two weeks, unassign the PR and do as you please.

4.3. Duplicate PRs

If you find more than one PR that describe the same issue, choose the one that contains the largest amount of useful information and close the others, stating clearly the number of the superseding PR. If several PRs contain non-overlapping useful information, submit all the missing information to one in a followup, including references to the others; then close the other PRs (which are now completely superseded).

4.4. Stale PRs

A PR is considered stale if it has not been modified in more than six months. Apply the following procedure to deal with stale PRs:

  • If the PR contains sufficient detail, try to reproduce the problem in -CURRENT and -STABLE. If you succeed, submit a followup detailing your findings and try to find someone to assign it to. Set the state to analyzed if appropriate.

  • If the PR describes an issue which you know is the result of a usage error (incorrect configuration or otherwise), submit a followup explaining what the originator did wrong, then close the PR with the reason User error or Configuration error.

  • If the PR describes an error which you know has been corrected in both -CURRENT and -STABLE, close it with a message stating when it was fixed in each branch.

  • If the PR describes an error which you know has been corrected in -CURRENT, but not in -STABLE, try to find out when the person who corrected it is planning to MFC it, or try to find someone else (maybe yourself?) to do it. Set the state to patched and assign it to whomever will do the MFC.

  • In other cases, ask the originator to confirm if the problem still exists in newer versions. If the originator does not reply within a month, close the PR with the notation Feedback timeout.

4.5. Misfiled PRs

GNATS is picky about the format of a submitted bug report. This is why a lot of PRs end up being misfiled if the submitter forgets to fill in a field or puts the wrong sort of data in some of the PR fields. This section aims to provide most of the necessary details for FreeBSD developers that can help them to close or refile these PRs.

When GNATS cannot deduce what to do with a problem report that reaches the database, it sets the responsible of the PR to gnats-admin and files it under the pending category. This is now a misfiled PR and will not appear in bug report listings, unless someone explicitly asks for a list of all the misfiled PRs. If you have access to the FreeBSD cluster machines, you can use query-pr to view a listing of PRs that have been misfiled:

% query-pr -x -q -r gnats-admin
   52458 gnats-ad   open      serious   medium    Re: declaration clash f
   52510 gnats-ad   open      serious   medium    Re: lots of sockets in
   52557 gnats-ad   open      serious   medium
   52570 gnats-ad   open      serious   medium    Jigdo maintainer update

Commonly PRs like the ones shown above are misfiled for one of the following reasons:

  • A followup to an existing PR, sent through email, has the wrong format on its Subject: header.

  • A submitter sent a Cc: to a mailing list and someone followed up to that post instead of the email issued by GNATS after processing. The email to the list will not have the category/PRnumber tracking tag. (This is why we discourage submitters from doing this exact thing.)

  • When completing the send-pr(1) template, the submitter forgot to set the category or class of the PR to a proper value.

  • When completing the send-pr(1) template, the submitter set Confidential to yes. (Since we allow anyone to mirror GNATS via rsync, our PRs are public information. Security alerts should therefore not be sent via GNATS but instead via email to the Security Team.)

  • It is not a real PR, but some random message sent to or .

4.5.1. Followups misfiled as new PRs

The first category of misfiled PRs, the one with the wrong subject header, is actually the one that requires the greatest amount of work from developers. These are not real PRs, describing separate problem reports. When a reply is received for an existing PR at one of the addresses that GNATS listens to for incoming messages, the subject of the reply should always be of the form:

Subject: Re: category/number: old synopsis text

Most mailers will add the Re:  part when you reply to the original mail message of a PR. The category/number:  part is a GNATS-specific convention that you have to manually insert to the subject of your followup reports.

Any FreeBSD developer, who has direct access to the GNATS database, can periodically check for PRs of this sort and move interesting bits of the misfiled PR into the audit trail of the original PR (by posting a proper followup to a bug report to the address ). Then the misfiled PR can be closed with a message similar to:

Your problem report was misfiled.  Please use the format
"Subject: category/number: original text" when following
up to older, existing PRs.  I've added the relevant bits
from the body of this PR to kern/12345

Searching with query-pr for the original PR, of which a misfiled followup is a reply, is as easy as running:

% query-pr -q -y "some text"

After you locate the original PR and the misfiled followups, use the -F option of query-pr to save the full text of all the relevant PRs in a UNIX® mailbox file, i.e.:

% query-pr -F 52458 52474 > mbox

Now you can use any mail user agent to view all the PRs you saved in mbox. Copy the text of all the misfiled PRs in a followup to the original PR and make sure you include the proper Subject: header. Then close the misfiled PRs. When you close the misfiled PRs remember that the submitter receives a mail notification that his PR changed state to closed. Make sure you provide enough details in the log about the reason of this state change. Typically something like the following is ok:

Followup to ports/45364 misfiled as a new PR.
This was misfiled because the subject did not have the format:

	Re: ports/45364: ...

This way the submitter of the misfiled PR will know what to avoid the next time a followup to an existing PR is sent.

4.5.2. PRs misfiled because of missing fields

The second type of misfiled PRs is usually the result of a submitter forgetting to fill all the necessary fields when writing the original PR.

Missing or bogus category or class fields can result in a misfiled report. Developers can use edit-pr(1) to change the category or class of these misfiled PRs to a more appropriate value and save the PR.

Another common cause of misfiled PRs because of formatting issues is quoting, changes or removal of the send-pr template, either by the user who edits the template or by mailers which do strange things to plain text messages. This does not happen a lot of the time, but it can be fixed with edit-pr too; it does require a bit of work from the developer who refiles the PR, but it is relatively easy to do most of the time.

4.5.3. Misfiled PRs that are not really problem reports

Sometimes a user wants to submit a report for a problem and sends a simple email message to GNATS. The GNATS scripts will recognize bug reports that are formatted using the send-pr(1) template. They cannot parse any sort of email though. This is why submissions of bug reports that are sent to have to follow the template of send-pr, but email reports can be sent to FreeBSD problem reports mailing list.

Developers that come across PRs that look like they should have been posted to freebsd-bugs or some other list should close the PR, informing the submitter in their state-change log why this is not really a PR and where the message should be posted.

The email addresses that GNATS listens to for incoming PRs have been published as part of the FreeBSD documentation, have been announced and listed on the web-site. This means that spammers found them. Spam messages that reach GNATS are promptly filed under the pending category until someone looks at them. Closing one of these with edit-pr(1) is very annoying though, because GNATS replies to the submitter and the sender's address of spam mail is never valid these days. Bounces will come back for each PR that is closed.

Currently, with the installation of some antispam filters that check all submissions to the GNATS database, the amount of spam that reaches the pending state is very small.

All developers who have access to the cluster machines are encouraged to check for misfiled PRs and immediately close those that are spam mail. Whenever you close one of these PRs, please do the following:

  • Set Category to junk.

  • Set Confidential to no.

  • Set Responsible to gnats-admin.

  • Set State to closed.

Junk PRs are not backed up, so filing spam mail under this category makes it obvious that we do not care to keep it around or waste disk space for it. If you merely close them without changing the category, they remain both in the master database and in any copies of the database mirrored through cvsup.

5. Further Reading

This is a list of resources relevant to the proper writing and processing of problem reports. It is by no means complete.