4. Writing the Problem Report

Now that you have decided that your issue merits a problem report, and that it is a FreeBSD problem, it is time to write the actual problem report. Before we get into the mechanics of the program used to generate and submit PRs, here are some tips and tricks to help make sure that your PR will be most effective.

4.1. Tips and Tricks for Writing a Good Problem Report

  • Do not leave the Synopsis line empty. The PRs go both onto a mailing list that goes all over the world (where the Synopsis is used for the Subject: line), but also into a database. Anyone who comes along later and browses the database by synopsis, and finds a PR with a blank subject line, tends just to skip over it. Remember that PRs stay in this database until they are closed by someone; an anonymous one will usually just disappear in the noise.

  • Avoid using a weak Synopsis line. You should not assume that anyone reading your PR has any context for your submission, so the more you provide, the better. For instance, what part of the system does the problem apply to? Do you only see the problem while installing, or while running? To illustrate, instead of Synopsis: portupgrade is broken, see how much more informative this seems: Synopsis: port ports-mgmt/portupgrade coredumps on -current. (In the case of ports, it is especially helpful to have both the category and portname in the Synopsis line.)

  • If you have a patch, say so. A PR with a patch included is much more likely to be looked at than one without. If you are including one, put the string [patch] (including the brackets) at the beginning of the Synopsis. (Although it is not mandatory to use that exact string, by convention, that is the one that is used.)

  • If you are a maintainer, say so. If you are maintaining a part of the source code (for instance, a port), you might consider adding the string [maintainer update] (including the brackets) at the beginning of your synopsis line, and you definitely should set the Class of your PR to maintainer-update. This way any committer that handles your PR will not have to check.

  • Be specific. The more information you supply about what problem you are having, the better your chance of getting a response.

    • Include the version of FreeBSD you are running (there is a place to put that, see below) and on which architecture. You should include whether you are running from a release (e.g., from a CD-ROM or download), or from a system maintained by Subversion (and, if so, what revision number you are at). If you are tracking the FreeBSD-CURRENT branch, that is the very first thing someone will ask, because fixes (especially for high-profile problems) tend to get committed very quickly, and FreeBSD-CURRENT users are expected to keep up.

    • Include which global options you have specified in your make.conf. Note: specifying -O2 and above to gcc(1) is known to be buggy in many situations. While the FreeBSD developers will accept patches, they are generally unwilling to investigate such issues due to simple lack of time and volunteers, and may instead respond that this just is not supported.

    • If the problem can be reproduced easily, include information that will help a developer to reproduce it themselves. If a problem can be demonstrated with specific input then include an example of that input if possible, and include both the actual and the expected output. If this data is large or cannot be made public, then do try to create a minimal file that exhibits the same issue and that can be included within the PR.

    • If this is a kernel problem, then be prepared to supply the following information. (You do not have to include these by default, which only tends to fill up the database, but you should include excerpts that you think might be relevant):

      • your kernel configuration (including which hardware devices you have installed)

      • whether or not you have debugging options enabled (such as WITNESS), and if so, whether the problem persists when you change the sense of that option

      • the full text of any backtrace, panic or other console output, or entries in /var/log/messages, if any were generated

      • the output of pciconf -l and relevant parts of your dmesg output if your problem relates to a specific piece of hardware

      • the fact that you have read src/UPDATING and that your problem is not listed there (someone is guaranteed to ask)

      • whether or not you can run any other kernel as a fallback (this is to rule out hardware-related issues such as failing disks and overheating CPUs, which can masquerade as kernel problems)

    • If this is a ports problem, then be prepared to supply the following information. (You do not have to include these by default, which only tends to fill up the database, but you should include excerpts that you think might be relevant):

      • which ports you have installed

      • any environment variables that override the defaults in bsd.port.mk, such as PORTSDIR

      • the fact that you have read ports/UPDATING and that your problem is not listed there (someone is guaranteed to ask)

  • Avoid vague requests for features. PRs of the form someone should really implement something that does so-and-so are less likely to get results than very specific requests. Remember, the source is available to everyone, so if you want a feature, the best way to ensure it being included is to get to work! Also consider the fact that many things like this would make a better topic for discussion on freebsd-questions than an entry in the PR database, as discussed above.

  • Make sure no one else has already submitted a similar PR. Although this has already been mentioned above, it bears repeating here. It only take a minute or two to use the web-based search engine at https://bugs.freebsd.org/bugzilla/query.cgi. (Of course, everyone is guilty of forgetting to do this now and then.)

  • Report only one issue per Problem Report. Avoid including two or more problems within the same report unless they are related. When submitting patches, avoid adding multiple features or fixing multiple bugs in the same PR unless they are closely related—such PRs often take longer to resolve.

  • Avoid controversial requests. If your PR addresses an area that has been controversial in the past, you should probably be prepared to not only offer patches, but also justification for why the patches are The Right Thing To Do. As noted above, a careful search of the mailing lists using the archives at http://www.FreeBSD.org/search/search.html#mailinglists is always good preparation.

  • Be polite. Almost anyone who would potentially work on your PR is a volunteer. No one likes to be told that they have to do something when they are already doing it for some motivation other than monetary gain. This is a good thing to keep in mind at all times on Open Source projects.

4.2. Before Beginning

Similar considerations apply to use of the web-based PR submission form. Be careful of cut-and-paste operations that might change whitespace or other text formatting.

Finally, if the submission is lengthy, prepare the work offline so that nothing will be lost if there is a problem submitting it.

4.3. Attaching Patches or Files

When attaching a patch, be sure to use -u with diff(1) to create or unified diff and make sure to specify the exact SVN revision numbers of the files you modified so the developers who read your report will be able to apply them easily. For problems with the kernel or the base utilities, a patch against FreeBSD-CURRENT (the HEAD Subversion branch) is preferred since all new code should be applied and tested there first. After appropriate or substantial testing has been done, the code will be merged/migrated to the FreeBSD-STABLE branch.

If you attach a patch inline, instead of as an attachment, note that the most common problem by far is the tendency of some email programs to render tabs as spaces, which will completely ruin anything intended to be part of a Makefile.

Do not send patches as attachments using Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable. These will perform character escaping and the entire patch will be useless.

Also note that while including small patches in a PR is generally all right—particularly when they fix the problem described in the PR—large patches and especially new code which may require substantial review before committing should be placed on a web or ftp server, and the URL should be included in the PR instead of the patch. Patches in email tend to get mangled, and the larger the patch, the harder it will be for interested parties to unmangle it. Also, posting a patch on the web allows you to modify it without having to resubmit the entire patch in a followup to the original PR. Finally, large patches simply increase the size of the database, since closed PRs are not actually deleted but instead kept and simply marked as complete.

You should also take note that unless you explicitly specify otherwise in your PR or in the patch itself, any patches you submit will be assumed to be licensed under the same terms as the original file you modified.

4.4. Filling out the Template

In the email template only, you will find the following single-line fields:

  • Submitter-Id: Do not change this. The default value of current-users is correct, even if you run FreeBSD-STABLE.

  • Confidential: This is prefilled to no. Changing it makes no sense as there is no such thing as a confidential FreeBSD problem report—the PR database is distributed worldwide.

  • Severity: One of non-critical, serious or critical. Do not overreact; refrain from labeling your problem critical unless it really is (e.g., data corruption issues, serious regression from previous functionality in -CURRENT) or serious unless it is something that will affect many users (kernel panics or freezes; problems with particular device drivers or system utilities). FreeBSD developers will not necessarily work on your problem faster if you inflate its importance since there are so many other people who have done exactly that — in fact, some developers pay little attention to this field because of this.

  • Priority: This field indicates how widespread the effects of this bug is likely to be.

The next section describes fields that are common to both the email interface and the web interface:

  • Originator: Please specify your real name, optionally followed by your email address in angle brackets. In the email interface, this is normally prefilled with the gecos field of the currently logged-in user.

    Note:

    The email address you use will become public information and may become available to spammers. You should either have spam handling procedures in place, or use a temporary email account. However, please note that if you do not use a valid email account at all, we will not be able to ask you questions about your PR.

  • Organization: Whatever you feel like. This field is not used for anything significant.

  • Synopsis: Fill this out with a short and accurate description of the problem. The synopsis is used as the subject of the problem report email, and is used in problem report listings and summaries; problem reports with obscure synopses tend to get ignored.

    As noted above, if your problem report includes a patch, please have the synopsis start with [patch] (including the brackets); if this is a ports PR and you are the maintainer, you may consider adding [maintainer update] (including the brackets) and set the Class of your PR to maintainer-update.

  • Category: Choose an appropriate category.

    The first thing you need to do is to decide what part of the system your problem lies in. Remember, FreeBSD is a complete operating system, which installs both a kernel, the standard libraries, many peripheral drivers, and a large number of utilities (the base system). However, there are thousands of additional applications in the Ports Collection. You'll first need to decide if the problem is in the base system or something installed via the Ports Collection.

    Here is a description of the major categories:

    • If a problem is with the kernel, the libraries (such as standard C library libc), or a peripheral driver in the base system, in general you will use the kern category. (There are a few exceptions; see below). In general these are things that are described in section 2, 3, or 4 of the manual pages.

    • If a problem is with a binary program such as sh(1) or mount(8), you will first need to determine whether these programs are in the base system or were added via the Ports Collection. If you are unsure, you can do whereis programname. FreeBSD's convention for the Ports Collection is to install everything underneath /usr/local, although this can be overridden by a system administrator. For these, you will use the ports category (yes, even if the port's category is www; see below). If the location is /bin, /usr/bin, /sbin, or /usr/sbin, it is part of the base system, and you should use the bin category. (A few programs, such as gcc(1), actually use the gnu category, but do not worry about that for now.) These are all things that are described in section 1 or 8 of the manual pages.

    • If you believe that the error is in the startup (rc) scripts, or in some kind of other non-executable configuration file, then the right category is conf (configuration). These are things that are described in section 5 of the manual pages.

    • If you have found a problem in the documentation set (articles, books, man pages), the correct choice is docs.

    • If you are having a problem with the FreeBSD web pages, the proper choice is www.

      Note:

      if you are having a problem with something from a port named www/someportname, this nevertheless goes in the ports category.

    There are a few more specialized categories.

    • If the problem would otherwise be filed in kern but has to do with the USB subsystem, the correct choice is usb.

    • If the problem would otherwise be filed in kern but has to do with the threading libraries, the correct choice is threads.

    • If the problem would otherwise be in the base system, but has to do with our adherence to standards such as POSIX®, the correct choice is standards.

    • If the problem has to do with errors internal to a Java Virtual Machine™ (JVM™), even though Java™ was installed from the Ports Collection, you should select the java category. More general problems with Java™ ports still go under ports.

    This leaves everything else.

    • If you are convinced that the problem will only occur under the processor architecture you are using, select one of the architecture-specific categories: commonly i386 for Intel-compatible machines in 32-bit mode; amd64 for AMD machines running in 64-bit mode (this also includes Intel-compatible machines running in EMT64 mode); and less commonly arm, ia64, powerpc, and sparc64.

      Note:

      These categories are quite often misused for I do not know problems. Rather than guessing, please just use misc.

      Example 1. Correct Use of Arch-Specific Category

      You have a common PC-based machine, and think you have encountered a problem specific to a particular chipset or a particular motherboard: i386 is the right category.


      Example 2. Incorrect Use of Arch-Specific Category

      You are having a problem with an add-in peripheral card on a commonly seen bus, or a problem with a particular type of hard disk drive: in this case, it probably applies to more than one architecture, and kern is the right category.


    • If you really do not know where the problem lies (or the explanation does not seem to fit into the ones above), use the misc category. Before you do so, you may wish to ask for help on the FreeBSD general questions mailing list first. You may be advised that one of the existing categories really is a better choice.

    Here is the current list of categories (taken from http://svnweb.freebsd.org/base/head/gnu/usr.bin/send-pr/categories):

    • advocacy: problems relating to FreeBSD's public image. Obsolete.

    • amd64: problems specific to the AMD64 platform.

    • arm: problems specific to the ARM platform.

    • bin: problems with userland programs in the base system.

    • conf: problems with configuration files, default values, and so forth.

    • docs: problems with manual pages or on-line documentation.

    • gnu: problems with imported GNU software such as gcc(1) or grep(1).

    • i386: problems specific to the i386™ platform.

    • ia64: problems specific to the ia64 platform.

    • java: problems related to the Java™ Virtual Machine.

    • kern: problems with the kernel, (non-platform-specific) device drivers, or the base libraries.

    • misc: anything that does not fit in any of the other categories. (Note that there is almost nothing that truly belongs in this category, except for problems with the release and build infrastructure. Temporary build failures on HEAD do not belong here. Also note that it is easy for things to get lost in this category).

    • ports: problems relating to the Ports Collection.

    • powerpc: problems specific to the PowerPC® platform.

    • sparc64: problems specific to the SPARC64® platform.

    • standards: Standards conformance issues.

    • threads: problems related to the FreeBSD threads implementation (especially on FreeBSD-CURRENT).

    • usb: problems related to the FreeBSD USB implementation.

    • www: Changes or enhancements to the FreeBSD website.

  • Class: Choose one of the following:

    • sw-bug: software bugs.

    • doc-bug: errors in documentation.

    • change-request: requests for additional features or changes in existing features.

    • update: updates to ports or other contributed software.

    • maintainer-update: updates to ports for which you are the maintainer.

  • Release: The version of FreeBSD that you are running. This is filled out automatically if you are using send-pr(1) and need only be changed if you are sending a problem report from a different system than the one that exhibits the problem.

Finally, there is a series of multi-line fields:

  • Environment: This should describe, as accurately as possible, the environment in which the problem has been observed. This includes the operating system version, the version of the specific program or file that contains the problem, and any other relevant items such as system configuration, other installed software that influences the problem, etc.—quite simply everything a developer needs to know to reconstruct the environment in which the problem occurs.

  • Description: A complete and accurate description of the problem you are experiencing. Try to avoid speculating about the causes of the problem unless you are certain that you are on the right track, as it may mislead a developer into making incorrect assumptions about the problem.

  • How-To-Repeat: A summary of the actions you need to take to reproduce the problem.

  • Fix: Preferably a patch, or at least a workaround (which not only helps other people with the same problem work around it, but may also help a developer understand the cause for the problem), but if you do not have any firm ideas for either, it is better to leave this field blank than to speculate.

4.5. Sending the Problem Report

If you are using send-pr(1):

Once you are done filling out the template, have saved it, and exit your editor, send-pr(1) will prompt you with s)end, e)dit or a)bort?. You can then hit s to go ahead and submit the problem report, e to restart the editor and make further modifications, or a to abort. If you choose the latter, your problem report will remain on disk (send-pr(1) will tell you the filename before it terminates), so you can edit it at your leisure, or maybe transfer it to a system with better net connectivity, before sending it with the -f to send-pr(1):

% send-pr -f ~/my-problem-report

This will read the specified file, validate the contents, strip comments and send it off.

If you are using the web form:

Before you hit submit, you will need to fill in a field containing text that is represented in image form on the page. This unfortunate measure has had to be adopted due to misuse by automated systems and a few misguided individuals. It is a necessary evil that no one likes; please do not ask us to remove it.

Note that you are strongly advised to save your work somewhere before hitting submit. A common problem for users is to have their web browser displaying a stale image from its cache. If this happens to you, your submission will be rejected and you may lose your work.

If you are unable to view images for any reason, and are also unable to use send-pr(1), please accept our apologies for the inconvenience and email your problem report to the bugbuster team at .

All FreeBSD documents are available for download at http://ftp.FreeBSD.org/pub/FreeBSD/doc/

Questions that are not answered by the documentation may be sent to <freebsd-questions@FreeBSD.org>.
Send questions about this document to <freebsd-doc@FreeBSD.org>.