21 May 2010

Android Application Error Reports

[This post, the first in a series about new features in Android 2.2 ("Froyo"), is by Jacek Surazski, a Googler from our Krakow office. — Tim Bray]

The upcoming release of Android will include a new bug reporting feature for Market apps. Developers will receive crash and freeze reports from their users. The reports will be available when they log into their Android Market publisher account. No more blind debugging!

When an app freezes or stops responding, the user can send a bug report to the developer with a click of a button, right from their phone. The new button appears in the application error dialog; if the user chooses to click it, the Google Feedback client running on the device will analyze the offending app and compose a report with information needed to diagnose it. The system is set up with user privacy in mind — the app developer will not receive information which could identify the user in any way. The user can also preview all information that will be sent.

If users choose to do so, they may also send additional system information like device logs. Because there is a chance these may contain private information, they will not be passed on to the developer; they will be used by Google to track down bugs in the Android system itself.

On the receiving end, developers will get tools to diagnose, triage and fix bugs in their apps. A popular app can generate hundreds of thousands of reports. Google Feedback aggregates them into "bugs" - individual programming errors. Bugs are displayed to developers sorted by severity, measured as the rate at which reports for the bug are flowing in.

Clicking on a bug will display information such as stack traces, statistics about which type of hardware the bug occurred on and what versions of the app the user was running. In case of freezes, stack traces for all threads in the app will be displayed. This data should give developers a good idea how well their apps are faring in the wild.

Google is constantly working on improving and extending the feedback feature to provide developers with tools to improve the quality of their apps. The benefits should be felt by both developers and their users.

[I recommend watching the video of this feature's announcement in Vic Gundotra's Google I/O keynote on May 20th, mostly for the audience reaction. I hear that a high proportion of developers are making use of the Market's new "Bugs" tab. — Tim Bray]