Ubuntu Help: Reporting bugs using Launchpad

Short URL: http://fsmsh.com/2675


One of the reasons free operating systems are so great is because of their bug reporting features. Ubuntu is no exception. Like most other GNU/Linux operating systems, Ubuntu allows users to file bug reports using its bug reporting site, Launchpad. In the free software world, each user becomes a potential beta tester and gets the chance to contribute to the community without ever coding or writing documentation. Unfortunately, Launchpad's bug reporting tool often scares away users who have no idea what a ticket, project, or distribution is.

First off... is it really a bug?

The first keyword for each bug is "replication": the first step is to make sure you can actually get the software to behave oddly "at will". Sometimes, applications might behave oddly and it seems impossible to find out what the steps are to reproduce the problem. For example the application might have several files in your home folder (/home/user/.vlc for example) and one of them might be causing the crash. This is why it's always a good idea to try and replicate the bug with a fresh user, or after wiping out the application's private data (if you can locate it, and if you know that the application doesn't store anything important to you there...).

Another important issue is that you need to make absolute sure you're using the latest version of the software. Bugs are constantly reported and fixed; reporting an old bug will simply waste the developers' time (and yours!). To find out if you're using the latest version of a piece of software, find out where the software's home page is, and check what the latest version is. Sometimes, your Ubuntu repository won't have the latest version of the software (if that's the case, use my article on finding Ubuntu software ).

Finally, make sure you are actually dealing with a bug. You can find this out by reading the software manual (you can find it under Help → Support in Ubuntu and K Menu → Help in Kubuntu).

Reporting bugs in Ubuntu

To start, I'll explain how to report a bug in the main Ubuntu software. We'll pretend there is a bug that makes Ubuntu crash when it turns on. First, go to the bugs.launchpad.net site and click Report a Bug. This will ask you to log in with your Launchpad account. If you don't have one, use your email address to register and follow the instructions that you will receive via email. Then, back at the bug reporting page, select your distribution (Ubuntu, Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Edubuntu users should use the default "Ubuntu"), type in a summary of your problem, and hit Continue. For this example, the summary for my example will be "Ubuntu crashes when it turns on" (figure 1).

Figure 1: Adding a short summaryFigure 1: Adding a short summary

The next page will show you a list of bugs that sound similar to yours. Make sure that your bug isn't one of these, as developers are famous for blowing up at users who submit duplicate bugs. If none of them are yours, hit "No, I'd like to report a new bug". Type in exactly what you were doing when the crash happened, along with your machine information (e.g. Ubuntu 7.10 on a Dell Dimension 4700 with 1GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon x300 video card, don't worry if you can't get all the information). Also, include the text in any dialog or error message that might pop up. In other words: put in as much information as possible. A bad example of a bug report is:

Ubuntu crashes, help!

A better one is

When Ubuntu turns on, it pops up a "124t6136 truncated, need to reboot" message and reboots. I'm running Ubuntu 7.10 on a Dell Dimension 4700 with 1GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon x300 video card.

If you have any logs, do not paste them. Instead, use a pastebin like Ubuntu Pastebin or Pastebin.com. The rule of thumb: if it's more than ten lines long, use a pastebin. An example of a good bug report is shown in figure 2.

Figure 2: A good bug reportFigure 2: A good bug report

Now, hit Submit Bug Report. A new window with your bug report will appear. You can close it, as any time a person responds you will be notified by email. You may also be asked for more information ("Can you give us your /etc/log.txt" or "What processor are you running?"). If so, add a comment with the appropriate information.

Reporting application bugs

Now, as you may have guessed, most of the bugs in Ubuntu aren't Ubuntu's fault. Rather, they are different applications' fault. For example, when you log in and the weather applet in Ubuntu disappears, it's not Ubuntu's fault: it's the weather applet's fault. Or when VLC crashes, it's not Ubuntu's problem: it's VLC's. Luckily, many of these projects have their own bug reporting tool hosted on Launchpad.

Note: You should always first file a bug against Ubuntu, as it may have been an Ubuntu problem (a faulty package for example).

Suppose that every time VLC opens a WMA file, it inexplicably crashes. Here's how to file the bug report. First, open up the Launchpad site and Report a Bug. But don't choose "distribution". Instead, choose a project (clicking the "Choose" button will help you find your project, see figure 3). From here on, it's the same as before: add a summary, as much information as possible, and put all logs in pastebins.

Figure 3: Reporting application-specific bugsFigure 3: Reporting application-specific bugs


Congratulations! Now, the next time Sound Juicer crashes or netcfg stops working, rather than letting it continue to wreck your life and the lives of countless other users, you can actually get it fixed. Now what are you waiting for? Go out there and start reporting!




azrael's picture
Submitted by azrael on

Oh come one, Sourceforge and Freshmeat are not free software too, and I don't see anyone complaining about it.
Besides, Launchpad may be free software, even under BSD license, but Canonical is just not distributing it, so they don't distribute the source code.
In fact, parts of Launchpad are free software - ie. Storm (an object-relational mapper for Python).

Tony Mobily's picture


This article is about reporting bugs in Ubuntu.

I don't know, but to me not explaining how to report bugs in Ubuntu because portions of the bug reporting software is not free wouldn't be such a good idea.

Following this rationale, we should never mention "Search this in Google", because Google is not free software.



pravi's picture
Submitted by pravi on

You can't get a copy of the program that Google runs or Amazon runs either. The difference is Google is not claiming to be a Free Software company. Neither of them is into Free Software Business either. The issue is when some one in the community does not believe in the values that makes this community and has to look for comparison with proprietary companies. Does Red Hat, Debain, Gentoo or any other Free Software project run a proprietary bug tracker?

"If a proprietary program is on Amazon's computer, that's Amazon's conscience. Now I would like them to have freedom too. I hope they will want freedom, and they will work with me so that we all get freedom, but it's not directly an attack on you and me if Amazon has a proprietary program on their computer. It's not crucially important to you and me whether Amazon uses a free operating system like GNU plus Linux, or a free web server like Apache. I mean I hope they will, I hope free software will be popular, but if they give up their freedom, that's just a shame it's not a danger to us who want freedom."

In this case of Canonical, it is even more shameful when their business model depends on Sharing and Free Software. I don't know if Ubuntu community has access to the source code. Debian project servers are maintained by Debian developers, Fedora project servers are maintained by Fedora developers, same for Gentoo and umpteen other distros. Their developers have access to these software and their improvements are shared with the rest of the community because if some one from GNOME project fixes a bug in bugzilla, Fedora project gets the benefit. You can't consider these as just services like Google Search or Amazon because these are the backbone of a GNU/Linux distribution and this is run by a company running Free Software business and these software is similar to own own systems for every Ubuntu developer/contributor. For an Ubuntu user Launchpad may be a service but for every developer/contributor it is just like the web browser software we use on our computer. And I thought every Free Software user is also a Free Software developer.

My point is, should we support those who does not give back to the community or should we support those who always showed commitment to Free Software?

There is a great discussion going on in FSDaily where the issue is looked from multiple angles and there are many points raised which I don't want to repeat here.


And "search this in google example" you gave is a shallow argument. In the same way an article about using Google Search or Tips and Tricks of using Amazon.com does not fit to be published in Free Software Magazine an article about Launchpad should not be in Free Software Magazine.

Tony Mobily's picture


Are you suggesting that we don't tell our readers how to report bugs in Ubuntu (therefore improving a really important free software project) because the bug tracking system is based on non-free software?

They are two different issues.

I will never have a problem explaining people how to report a bug in Ubuntu, even if the bug tracking system is not free.

I agree that it would be nice if Launchpad were released under a free license. I talked to Mark about it, and he explained why it isn't - his answer made a lot of sense. What he thinks is summarised in the posts in this bug: https://bugs.launchpad.net/launchpad/+bug/50699



pravi's picture
Submitted by pravi on

... to the community, not popularity.

Bill Gates could explain why Windows is not Free Software and it would make sense to many, but that is besides the point. If a software is not Free it is non-free. Period.

The issue here is about shame and not a danger as someone pointed out in the FSDaily thread. How can we encourage people to use Free Software when we are not using it? How can we tell people to create Free Software when we don't make our software Free?

Community should be supporting those who give back to us and who respects our values rather than take everything we have (we have no problem in that and we are only happy about that) but refuse to give anything they create. When someone believes Free Software is not right for code he writes, how can we ever trust him to be supporting Free Software?

So we could talk about reporting bugs to Debian, Fedora, gNewSense or any other distribution which uses a Free Software bug tracker or you can talk about using bugzilla or trac which most upstream project use.

Why do we use Blender to edit videos or Gimp for graphics, because they are Free Software. We had to use non-free software when we did not have a choice and we were writing a replacement (early days of GNU project), but that does not justify using non-free software when we have good Free Software replacement for bug trackers.

Remember bit-keeper?

Ryan Cartwright's picture

You seem to be making the mistake--both here and over at FSDaily--that this article is somehow praising, supporting or encouraging the deployment of Launchpad. By my reading, it's not.

How can we encourage people to use Free Software when we are not using it? How can we tell people to create Free Software when we don't make our software Free?

So you don't like the fact that Ubuntu uses a non-free product--okay neither do I nor I suspect do many here. Your complaints about the apparent dichotomy of Ubuntu using Launchpad would be better aimed at Canoncial--wouldn't they?

So we could talk about reporting bugs to Debian, Fedora, gNewSense or any other distribution which uses a Free Software bug tracker or you can talk about using bugzilla or trac which most upstream project use.

If we want new GNU/Linux users--which it's safe to say will probably be Ubuntu users--to join in, we need to encourage them to do so. Filing (useful) bug reports is part of that.

Your argument that this piece has no place in FSM (or FSD) might have had a point had this been a review but Andrew is neither reviewing Launchpad nor encouraging other development communities to use it. He is explaining how to file a helpful, useful bug report via the only reporting mechanism available to Ubuntu users. This is about the process and helping the developers, not the software that Ubuntu choose to use.

Author information

Andrew Min's picture


/ˈændruː/ /mi:n/
(n): a Christian.
(n): a student.
(n): a technology enthusiast.
(n): a journalist for several online publications.

Andrew Min is a student, programmer, and journalist from New York City.

My main forte in the technology realm is journalism. I’ve written for a variety of magazines, both print and non-print, with a focus on open source software and the new web. I’ve also been interviewed on a long list of topics, ranging from politicians on Twitter to open source software and homeschooling.

I also have experience with a variety of programming languages (Bash, Batch, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and (X)HTML) and content management systems (WordPress). I’ve been hired to design and administer several websites. In addition, I’ve been the lead programmer on several small coding projects.