Like all software there will be times when you use CiviCRM when things don't work the way you expect them to.
A good first step is to search the forums (http://forum.civicrm.org) for similar problems and follow advice given there. If your problem hasn't been addressed, posting to the forum is probably the right thing to do.
Before posting its a good idea to look on the forum for good posting guidelines and spend a bit of time writing your post. Make sure you are detailed and specific about what software you are using (i.e. the version of CiviCRM, which CMS platform and its version, and which browser and its version), what you are trying to do and how you are trying to do it. For example letting people know the url you are using (with any confidential details removed) may cause them to realise that you are configuring the wrong page. Unclear posts are less likely to get good replies.
Using older versions of CiviCRM
If you are using an older version and the problem you are experiencing is a bug that has been fixed in the lastest release, be prepared for the answer "that it is time to upgrade to the latest version." Although the CiviCRM community tries to be as helpful as possible, and we recognize that upgrading puts a burden on your organisation, it is difficult to support multiple versions simultaneously.
What causes problems with CiviCRM?
Check the following possible sources of problems before you report something on a forum. You can save yourself and a lot of people trouble by isolating the problem. CiviCRM forums try to be friendly and don't criticise you for misjudging a problem, but you'll certainly get more help and resolve problems faster by doing some checking of your own first.
- Misunderstanding the software - we don't claim our documentation is perfect. But please go back and check it very carefully when you hit a barrier. Frustration makes it hard to concentrate, so be sure to read slowly and thoroughly. Also remember that different parts of CiviCRM depend on each other, so check for problems in related modules, besides the one you think the problem is in.
- Your server set up - servers can be configured in many different ways, and these settings can change the way CiviCRM operates. Depending on your issue your server configuration may be causing you issues.
- Using older or unsupported versions of CiviCRM, PHP, and MySQL - older and unsupported versions of software related to CiviCRM will most like cause unpredictable errors, so it is always a good practice to use the latest stable version of software.
- Customisations made to the source code of your installation of CiviCRM - any changes made to the source code of CiviCRM may have unintended consequences. The community forums may be able to help you, but you will have to be patient, share source code, and try out suggestions. You may also want to check with your in-house development staff or outside consultant / service provider to determine whether CiviCRM has been customized in some way that might be related to the observed problem.
- Other newly installed and enabled modules or components - you may need to review the additional modules and components you have installed and enabled that are not usually included in the install package to ensure that you have the latest stable version as well as using a version of the module that works with your particular version of CiviCRM.
- Bugs in the version of CiviCRM you are using - after you have eliminated all the previous options, you can report your problem as a bug. In fact, we appreciate you doing this, because you are making CiviCRM better for everyone.
Recreating your problem on the demo site
Recreating your bug on one of the demo sites (http://demo.civicrm.org and select the demo site that matches your CiviCRM version) helps determine whether your problem is a result of a bug in the source code, or as a result of changes on your site. If you can show us that the code on the demo site turns up your bug, it's very likely that the CiviCRM source code is the problem, and your demonstration will help us find and fix it.
Still, no demo site can cover all possibilities. Issues involving email output or payment processing cannot be recreated on the demo sites. So even if you can't reproduce your bug there, it might still be a bug in CiviCRM. It is, however, probably triggered by your server setup or other customisations.
Write to the forum and explain the problem you are experiencing. If the bug was reproduced on the demo site, describe exactly what you did there, and copy the demo site's URLs to document the steps you used. If not, include as much information about your server setup as you feasibly can. Configuration files from the web server, CMS, and CiviCRM will be valuable, but be careful to not including sensitive information such as your database log-in.
If the forum suggests you discovered a bug in CiviCRM, you can report it to the CiviCRM issue tracker http://issues.civicrm.org/jira/browse/CRM.
Writing good bug reports
The best bug reports give lots of background and context. Don't forget that the way you are using CiviCRM is most likely very specific to your organisation. The more background you can give on the bug, the better.
The best bug reports clearly state:
- What you did
- What you expected to happen
- What actually happened
- Version of CiviCRM (must be included)
- Which CMS platform and CMS version (must be included)
- Which browser and browser version (must be included)
- Version of PHP and MySQL
- Screen shots of the errors or issue
- History of the bug
- The recreatibility of the bug (e.g. bug always happens, bug is reported by some but can't recreate it or not consistently, bug happens when using this browser but not another browser, etc.)
The amount of time taken for the bug to be fixed depends on the severity and complexity of the bug. It could be as quick as the same day, but it could take much longer.
To get bug fixes, the easiest way is just to download and install the latest revision of CiviCRM. Downloading bug fixes between releases and fixing, called patching, your existing software is possible. If you have technical abilities, then refer to the CiviCRM Developer's Guide for instructions on applying a patch, otherwise, seek out technical assistance to provide tests and a patch for the issue.