Using Helix Community Bugzilla Effectively


Using Helix Community Bugzilla Effectively

1. Introduction
2. Create an Account
3. Anatomy of a Bug
4. Life Cycle of a Bug
5. Searching for Bugs
6. Bug Lists
7. Filing Bugs
8. Hints and Tips
9. User Preferences
10. Reports and Charts

1. Introduction

This guide contains information for end-users of Helix Community Bugzilla. Bugzilla is an open-source "Defect Tracking System" or "Bug-Tracking System". Defect Tracking Systems allow individual or groups of developers to keep track of outstanding bugs in their product effectively. Most commercial defect-tracking software vendors charge enormous licensing fees. Despite being "free", Bugzilla has many features its expensive counterparts lack. Consequently, Bugzilla has quickly become a favorite of hundreds of organizations across the globe. The Helix Community uses Bugzilla integrated with the G.Forge Project Mgmt system.

2. Create an Account

If you want to use Helix Community Bugzilla, first you need to register for an account. When you log into your Helix Community account, you automatically get logged into Bugzilla.. Bugzilla uses cookies to remember you are logged in so, unless you have cookies disabled or your IP address changes, you should not have to log in again.

3. Anatomy of a Bug

The core of Bugzilla is the screen which displays a particular bug. It's a good place to explain some Bugzilla concepts.

  1. Product and Component: Bugs are divided up by Product and Component, with a Product having one or more Components in it. For example,'s "client" Product is composed of several Components.
  2. Status and Resolution: These define exactly what state the bug is in - from not even being confirmed as a bug, through to being fixed and the fix confirmed by Quality Assurance. The different possible values for Status and Resolution on your installation should be documented in the context-sensitive help for those items.
  3. Assigned To: The person responsible for fixing the bug.
  4. *URL: A URL associated with the bug, if any.
  5. Summary: A one-sentence summary of the problem.
  6. *Status Whiteboard: (a.k.a. Whiteboard) A free-form text area for adding short notes and tags to a bug.
  7. *Keywords: The administrator can define keywords which you can use to tag and categorise bugs. Many Project Admins in the HelixCommunity use keywords for looking up bugs filed for their project. Each project page in the Helix Community will provide you a list of appropriate keywords to use while filing a bug. This guarantees that the admin will at least take a look at the filed bug and it will be appropriately triaged. - e.g. the "Helix DNA Client" project has keywords like "cayenne", "atlas" etc.
  8. Platform and OS: These indicate the computing environment where the bug was found.
  9. Version: The "Version" field is usually used for versions of a product which have been released, and is set to indicate which versions of a Component have the particular problem the bug report is about.
  10. Priority: The bug assignee uses this field to prioritise his or her bugs. It's a good idea not to change this on other people's bugs.
  11. Severity: This indicates how severe the problem is - from blocker ("application unusable") to trivial ("minor cosmetic issue"). You can also use this field to indicate whether a bug is an enhancement request.
  12. *Target: (a.k.a. Target Milestone) A future version by which the bug is to be fixed. Milestones are not restricted to numbers, thought - you can use any text strings, such as dates.
  13. Reporter: The person who filed the bug.
  14. CC list: A list of people who get mail when the bug changes.
  15. Attachments: You can attach files (e.g. testcases or patches) to bugs. If there are any attachments, they are listed in this section. Attachments are normally stored in the Bugzilla database, unless they are marked as Big Files, which are stored directly on disk and (unlike attachments kept in the database) may be deleted at some future time.
  16. *Dependencies: If this bug cannot be fixed unless other bugs are fixed (depends on), or this bug stops other bugs being fixed (blocks), their numbers are recorded here.
  17. Additional Comments: You can add your two cents to the bug discussion here, if you have something worthwhile to say.

4. Life Cycle of a Bug

The life cycle, also known as work flow, of a bug is currently hardcoded into Bugzilla. [1]

Figure 1. Lifecycle of a Bugzilla Bug


5. Searching for Bugs

The Bugzilla Search page is the interface where you can find any bug report, comment, or patch currently in the Bugzilla system.

The Search page has controls for selecting different possible values for all of the fields in a bug, as described above. For some fields, multiple values can be selected. In those cases, Bugzilla returns bugs where the content of the field matches any one of the selected values. If none is selected, then the field can take any value.

Once you've run a search, you can save it as a Saved Search, which appears in the page footer.

5.1. Boolean Charts

Highly advanced querying is done using Boolean Charts.

The boolean charts further restrict the set of results returned by a query. It is possible to search for bugs based on elaborate combinations of critera.

The simplest boolean searches have only one term. These searches permit the selected left field to be compared using a selectable operator to a specified value. Using the "And," "Or," and "Add Another Boolean Chart" buttons, additonal terms can be included in the query, further altering the list of bugs returned by the query.

There are three fields in each row of a boolean search.

  • Field: the items being searched
  • Operator: the comparison operator
  • Value: the value to which the field is being compared

5.1.1. Pronoun Substitution

Sometimes, a query needs to compare a field containing a user's ID (such as ReportedBy) with a user's ID (such as the user running the query or the user to whom each bug is assigned). When the operator is either "equals" or "notequals", the value can be "%reporter%", "%assignee%", "%qacontact%", or "%user%." The user pronoun referes to the user who is executing the query or, in the case of whining reports, the user who will be the recipient of the report. The reporter, assignee, and qacontact pronouns refer to the corresponding fields in the bug.

5.1.2. Negation

At first glance, negation seems redundant. Rather than searching for

NOT("summary" "contains the string" "foo"),
one could search for

("summary" "does not contain the string" "foo").

However, the search

("CC" "does not contain the string" "")

would find every bug where anyone on the CC list did not contain "" while

NOT("CC" "contains the string" "")

would find every bug where there was nobody on the CC list who did contain the string. Similarly, the use of negation also permits complex expressions to be built using terms OR'd together and then negated. Negation permits queries such as

NOT(("product" "equals" "update") OR ("component" "equals" "Documentation"))

to find bugs that are neither in the update product or in the documentation component or

NOT(("commenter" "equals" "%assignee%") OR ("component" "equals" "Documentation"))

to find non-documentation bugs on which the assignee has never commented.

5.1.3. Multiple Charts

The terms within a single row of a boolean chart are all constraints on a single piece of data. If you are looking for a bug that has two different people cc'd on it, then you need to use two boolean charts. A search for

("cc" "contains the string" "foo@") AND ("cc" "contains the string" "")
would return only bugs with "" on the cc list. If you wanted bugs where there is someone on the cc list containing "foo@" and someone else containing "", then you would need two boolean charts.

First chart: ("cc" "contains the string" "foo@")

Second chart: ("cc" "contains the string" "")

The bugs listed will be only the bugs where ALL the charts are true.

6. Bug Lists

If you run a search, a list of matching bugs will be returned.

The format of the list is configurable. For example, it can be sorted by clicking the column headings. Other useful features can be accessed using the links at the bottom of the list:

Long Format: this gives you a large page with a non-editable summary of the fields of each bug.
CSV: get the buglist as comma-separated values, for import into e.g. a spreadsheet.
RSS get the buglist as an RSS 1.0 feed. Copy this link into your favorite feed reader. If you are using Firefox, you can also save the list as a live bookmark by clicking the live bookmark icon in the status bar. To limit the number of bugs in the feed, add a limit=n parameter to the URL.
Change Columns: change the bug attributes which appear in the list.
Change several bugs at once: If your account is sufficiently empowered, you can make the same change to all the bugs in the list - for example, changing their assignee.
Send mail to bug assignees: Sends mail to the assignees of all bugs on the list.
Edit Search: If you didn't get exactly the results you were looking for, you can return to the Query page through this link and make small revisions to the query you just made so you get more accurate results.
Remember Search As: You can give a search a name and remember it; a link will appear in your page footer giving you quick access to run it again later.

If you would like to access the bug list from another program it is often useful to have the list returned in something other than HTML. By adding the ctype=type parameter into the bug list URL you can specify several alternate formats. The supported formats are: Comma Separated Values (ctype=csv), RDF Site Summary (RSS) 1.0 (ctype=rss), ECMAScript, also known as JavaScript (ctype=js), and finally Resource Description Framework RDF/XML (ctype=rdf).

7. Filing Bugs

Years of bug writing experience has been distilled for your reading pleasure into the Bug Writing Guidelines.The basic principles of reporting Reproducible, Specific bugs, isolating the Product you are using, the Version of the Product, the Component which failed, the Hardware Platform, and Operating System you were using at the time of the failure go a long way toward ensuring accurate, responsible fixes for the bug that bit you.

Try to make sure that everything said in the summary is also said in the first comment. Summaries are often updated and this will ensure your original information is easily accessible.

You do not need to put "any" or similar strings in the URL field. If there is no specific URL associated with the bug, leave this field blank.

If you feel a bug you filed was incorrectly marked as a DUPLICATE of another, please question it in your bug, not the bug it was duped to. Feel free to CC the person who duped it if they are not already CCed.

8. Hints and Tips

This section distills some Bugzilla tips and best practices that have been developed.

8.1. Autolinkification

Bugzilla comments are plain text - so typing will produce less-than, U, greater-than rather than underlined text. However, Bugzilla will automatically make hyperlinks out of certain sorts of text in comments. For example, the text "" will be turned into a link: Other strings which get linkified in the obvious manner are:

bug 12345
comment 7
bug 23456, comment 53
attachment 4321
Most other sorts of URL

A corollary here is that if you type a bug number in a comment, you should put the word "bug" before it, so it gets autolinkified for the convenience of others.


If you are changing the fields on a bug, only comment if either you have something pertinent to say, or Bugzilla requires it. Otherwise, you may spam people unnecessarily with bug mail. To take an example: a user can set up their account to filter out messages where someone just adds themselves to the CC field of a bug (which happens a lot.) If you come along, add yourself to the CC field, and add a comment saying "Adding self to CC", then that person gets a pointless piece of mail they would otherwise have avoided.

Don't use sigs in comments. Signing your name ("Bill") is acceptable, if you do it out of habit, but full mail/news-style four line ASCII art creations are not.

8.3. Attachments

Use attachments, rather than comments, for large chunks of ASCII data, such as trace, debugging output files, or log files. That way, it doesn't bloat the bug for everyone who wants to read it, and cause people to receive fat, useless mails.

Trim screenshots. There's no need to show the whole screen if you are pointing out a single-pixel problem.

Don't attach simple test cases (e.g. one HTML file, one CSS file and an image) as a ZIP file. Instead, upload them in reverse order and edit the referring file so that they point to the attached files. This way, the test case works immediately out of the bug.

Bugzilla stores and uses a Content-Type for each attachment (e.g. text/html). To download an attachment as a different Content-Type (e.g. application/xhtml+xml), you can override this using a 'content-type' parameter on the URL, e.g. &content-type=text/plain.

If you have a really large attachment, something that does not need to be recorded forever (as most attachments are), you can mark your attachment as a Big File, Assuming the administrator of the installation has enabled this feature. Big Files are stored directly on disk instead of in the database, and can be deleted when it is no longer needed. The maximum size of a Big File is normally larger than the maximum size of a regular attachment.

9. User Preferences

Once you have logged in, you can customise various aspects of Bugzilla via the "Edit prefs" link in the page footer. The preferences are split into three tabs:

9.1. Account Settings

On this tab, you can change your basic account information, including your password, email address and real name. For security reasons, in order to change anything on this page you must type your current password into the "Password" field at the top of the page. If you attempt to change your email address, a confirmation email is sent to both the old and new addresses, with a link to use to confirm the change. This helps to prevent account hijacking.

9.2. Email Settings

This tab controls the amount of email Bugzilla sends you.

The first item on this page is marked "Users to watch". When you enter one or more comma-delineated user accounts (usually email addresses) into the text entry box, you will receive a copy of all the bugmail those users are sent (security settings permitting). This powerful functionality enables seamless transitions as developers change projects or users go on holiday.

The ability to watch other users may not be available in all Bugzilla installations. If you don't see this feature, and feel that you need it, speak to your administrator.

In general, users have almost complete control over how much (or how little) email Bugzilla sends them. If you want to receive the maximum amount of email possible, click the "Enable All Mail" button. If you don't want to receive any email from Bugzilla at all, click the "Disable All Mail" button.

Your Bugzilla administrator can stop a user from receiving bugmail by adding the user's name to the data/nomail file. This is a drastic step best taken only for disabled accounts, as it overrides the the user's individual mail preferences.

If you'd like to set your bugmail to something besides 'Completely ON' and 'Completely OFF', the "Field/recipient specific options" table allows you to do just that. The rows of the table define events that can happen to a bug -- things like attachments being added, new comments being made, the priority changing, etc. The columns in the table define your relationship with the bug:

  • Reporter - Where you are the person who initially reported the bug. Your name/account appears in the "Reporter:" field.
  • Assignee - Where you are the person who has been designated as the one responsible for the bug. Your name/account appears in the "Assigned To:" field of the bug.
  • QA Contact - You are one of the designated QA Contacts for the bug. Your account appears in the "QA Contact:" text-box of the bug.
  • CC - You are on the list CC List for the bug. Your account appears in the "CC:" text box of the bug.

Some columns may not be visible for your installation, depending on your site's configuration.

To fine-tune your bugmail, decide the events for which you want to receive bugmail; then decide if you want to receive it all the time (enable the checkbox for every column), or only when you have a certain relationship with a bug (enable the checkbox only for those columns). For example: if you didn't want to receive mail when someone added themselves to the CC list, you could uncheck all the boxes in the "CC Field Changes" line. As another example, if you never wanted to receive email on bugs you reported unless the bug was resolved, you would un-check all boxes in the "Reporter" column except for the one on the "The bug is resolved or verified" row.

Bugzilla adds the "X-Bugzilla-Reason" header to all bugmail it sends, describing the recipient's relationship (AssignedTo, Reporter, QAContact, CC) to the bug. This header can be used to do further client-side filtering.

Two items not in the table ("Email me when someone asks me to set a flag" and "Email me when someone sets a flag I asked for") define how you want to receive bugmail with regards to flags. Their use is quite straightforward; enable the checkboxes if you want Bugzilla to send you mail under either of the above conditions.

By default, Bugzilla sends out email regardless of who made the change... even if you were the one responsible for generating the email in the first place. If you don't care to receive bugmail from your own changes, check the box marked "Only email me reports of changes made by other people".

9.3. Permissions

This is a purely informative page which outlines your current permissions on this installation of Bugzilla - what product groups you are in, and whether you can edit bugs or perform various administration functions.

10. Reports

A report is a view of the current state of the bug database.

You can run either an HTML-table-based report, or a graphical line/pie/bar-chart-based one. The two have different pages to define them, but are close cousins - once you've defined and viewed a report, you can switch between any of the different views of the data at will.

Both report types are based on the idea of defining a set of bugs using the standard search interface, and then choosing some aspect of that set to plot on the horizontal and/or vertical axes. You can also get a form of 3-dimensional report by choosing to have multiple images or tables.

So, for example, you could use the search form to choose "all bugs in the WorldControl product", and then plot their severity against their component to see which component had had the largest number of bad bugs reported against it.

Once you've defined your parameters and hit "Generate Report", you can switch between HTML, CSV, Bar, Line and Pie. (Note: Pie is only available if you didn't define a vertical axis, as pie charts don't have one.) The other controls are fairly self-explanatory; you can change the size of the image if you find text is overwriting other text, or the bars are too thin to see.