Psychic Debugging: Why doesn’t XYZ work? It just says LMNOP!

One of the joys of writing programs is supporting them. Actually it really is. I write something that I hope will work, but every once in a while I see a fringe case and have to fix some mistake that I made whilst originally programming it. And I’m really more then willing to fix such things.

However, unlike Raymond Chen, I am not psychic – despite what you may have heard to the contrary.

I received an email sometime ago1 )) to the effect of:
I am using XYZ2, and I have done ABC’s, but in my DEF, it just says “LMNOP”
Can you help me understand what’s going on?

“Well, no. Because I’m not psychic.” That’s what I wanted to say.

Why is this a poorly worded bad question? While XYZ is identified (hey, at least they said ‘I’m having an issue with XYZ’ and not ‘I’m having an issue with your program’), the version number is not. That’s like saying, can you help me with Windows? Well, what version of Windows do you want help with? Vista? XP? 98? (Yes, I know people who still run 98…they are no longer my friends now ;)) Thus, if I were to reword it, I might write something to the effect of, “I’m having a problem with XYZ version 1.1.” An even better rewording would be, “I’m having a problem with XYZ version 1.1 running on PQR version 1.9.”

Secondly, while you say you did ABC, you need to be more specific. Saying, “I clicked the Red button, and then the OKAY button, and typed in some text, and clicked the Enter button” seems like a good start, but what did you type into the box?! If you typed something like, “My Inboxen™”, then I might suspect that entering in a non-ASCII character caused a fart somewhere in the code.

At the end of each email there’s usually a request: “Please fix it!!” or “What did I do wrong?!!?” This emailer actually has a very good request, “Can you help me understand what’s going on?” While there’s a chance that he doesn’t really want to understand, there’s a better chance that he actually does want to know what’s going on (heck, he even asked for more understanding).

In summary: the more information, the better (usually). For debugging WordPress issues, here’s what I think is pertinent:

  • Plugin name and version
  • What version of WordPress
  • Step by step instructions to reproduce the error
  • Anything else you think may be relevant

Here are some things that I don’t particularly care about, but may be of interest in some rare instances (or for metric purposes):

  • Server specs, including what version of Apache, mySQL, etc
  • Other plugins that you have running
  • What you had for breakfast this morning

I received another email from someone else with regard to FlickrViewer for AutoViewer. Here’s literally the extent of the entire email:

Hi, I tried your script but it does not work …. why?

even your gallery that I downloaded does not work?
what is the problem?

best regards

I’m going to be off in the corner banging my head against something.

  1. Read as: anytime between now and 2000 ((This is an arbitrary year I picked 

  2. The program being talked about is not important. It could be my program (which in this case it is) or someone else’s