Everyone’s development budget is tight these days, but that’s no excuse to skimp on project essentials like bug tracking. These three free bug-tracking tools can help keep your debugging efforts accessible and organized.

Bugzilla, created by Terry Weissman, is one of the more popular bug-tracking utilities in use today. It’s written in Perl and was originally created to track bugs internally at Netscape. The first free deployment of Bugzilla was launched in conjunction with the Mozilla project in 1998.

You can download Bugzilla for free from the Mozilla.org Web site for almost any platform, including Windows, Mac OS, and, of course, Linux. It’s very actively maintained by the open source community and is well documented and has well-defined goals. It currently only installs with the MySQL database, but other features, such as e-mail integration and integration with other development management tools such as CVS, make it an excellent choice for any department.

Several test deployments and working examples are accessible from the Web at the Bugzilla landfill. Here you can create a test installation or play with existing installs to get a feel for the product. Current users of Bugzilla include NASA, Gnome, and RedHat Linux.

Bugzilla has features that set it apart from the rest, such as dependency tracking and graphing, milestone tracking, detailed bug reporting (including component selection), resource description, developer assignment, granular priority description, and attachment capabilities.

One consideration to keep in mind before deploying Bugzilla is that it’s a full-blown defect and request tracking system. It requires a lot of up-front planning and setup, but it’s worth it in the long run.

JitterBug was created by Andrew Tridgell to track bugs found in Samba, an application that allows file sharing between Windows and UNIX platforms. It was written in C, and it runs as a CGI with a built-in e-mail client.

With JitterBug, no database is required, and all bugs are kept as flat files. Bugs are reported and updated via e-mail or Web form, and your Web server handles user authentication. This system is nowhere near as extensive as Bugzilla, but it handles the essentials for small group deployments. Each user has a configurable Web environment, which is well organized and easy to use.

You can download JitterBug from Samba’s JitterBug page—which is itself an instance of the software. The documentation is pretty thin, and it doesn’t run under Windows, but it’s a light, clean implementation if that suits your needs.

To see an example of a JitterBug instance, you can access public installations from the Java Linux Bug Tracking Page or Samba’s Linux Patches page.

The latest version of JitterBug came out in late 2001, but it’s been actively maintained since 1997. If you need a simple tracking interface and don’t have or want a database implementation, try this defect-tracking tool.

RT: Request Tracker
RT: Request Tracker falls somewhere in between JitterBug and Bugzilla, and it seems to be designed for custom extension. It was modeled after proprietary tools, so it may have a familiar look and feel. Jesse Vincent wrote RT in Perl in 1996, and Best Practical currently maintains the product. You can download RT for free from its Web site. Companies deploying this free tool can purchase support.

RT offers command-line, Web, and e-mail interfaces to the bug-tracking tool. It uses a SQL back end, with MySQL being the default. Again, the reporting interfaces aren’t as robust as Bugzilla; however, it does offer customizable “scripts” that allow you to modify workflow notification and resolution behavior. Extensions to the software are encouraged, and the system requires custom development for specialized reports.

This system is much more integrated than JitterBug, and it runs on multiple platforms. Users are authenticated internally, and bug histories and other expected features are present. The interface seems clean, and it can work for your department if you require more support features than JitterBug and are willing to use custom development to enhance the product to suit your needs.

Bugs away
There are dozens of free defect and request tracking tools available on the Web, but these three well-established systems have been in use for years. I looked at several others, including Mantis, a promising prebeta application, and Debian’s bug tracker, which seems not to be supported anymore. The three I’ve described stood out as solid, popular tools that meet a variety of needs. Once you’ve determined which one best fits your environment, download it and get started managing your debugging efforts.

Free enterprise development resources

What free tools do you use at your company? How do they compare to proprietary applications? Post your comments in the discussion below, or send our editors an e-mail.