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Choosing an issue tracking system

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I recently posted about our deployment of an issue tracking system for use by the Terrier platform.

When we recently made the decision process to an issue tracking system, I reviewed several alternative products, namely Scarab, Mantis, and JIRA. Firstly, I should say that I was already familiar with JIRA through its extensive usage by the Apache Software Foundation, e.g. by Hadoop and Pig.

When I evaluated all three products, I found Scarab to be the nearest to JIRA, however it required much work to setup an issue tracking system that was full of “attributeGroup1″ etc. labels. Scarab also lacked querying features: e.g. it had an advanced SQL inspired querying interface, but no easy way to see “All Issues” or “Most Recently Updated Issues”. For me, this is a killer problem, as Bugzilla faces the same issue. It should be easy to see what the current problems are, or what issues people are working on. At the end of the day, as a developer, you spend more time querying an issue tracker than you do filing issues.

I’m no expert at HTML & CSS, so for Mantis, I was pleased when it installed with a cleaner default theme. However, with Mantis, the fields for an issue were hard-coded in the submission and display pages. This was ultimately the downfall for Mantis, as I’m keen on minimising the unnecessary fields, and Mantis had many fields that were not appropriate for Terrier. Another downside for Mantis was that issues were numbered 0000001. In JIRA and Scarab, issues have a project prefix, and no leading zeros, making them instantly recognisable outside of the issue tracker – e.g. if I write TR-5 (e.g. in a SVN commit message), then people are likely to know what I’m on about. In contrast 0000005 is not something that using a search engine they would find quickly.

Finally, I installed a trial for Atlassian’s JIRA. We found JIRA easy to browse and query existing issues. The dashboard functionality it also useful, and customisable. Finally, we also liked the user/SE friendly URLs used by JIRA for issues: e.g. http://ir.dcs.gla.ac.uk/terrier/issues/browse/TR-1 for issue TR-1. I’m pleased with JIRA, which exhibits an overall very polished UI. Atlassian have also very kindly provided Terrier with an open source license for JIRA. Thanks Atlassian!

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