Helping users with the top crashes

Helping users troubleshoot crashes has always been a hard thing to document in the knowledge base. We try to help the user better define the circumstances of their crash, then list possible causes and solutions for those circumstances. An (obviously) unintended consequence is that there is so much information to digest, it confuses users.

The problem is that if Firefox crashes, it could be for any number of reasons. The range of causes and volume of troubleshooting is so great that we end up doing more to try help the user navigate crash documentation, than offer a solution. In most cases the solution is vague and not very helpful, which confuses users even more.

Each Firefox crash reported to Mozilla using the Mozilla Crash Reporter has a crash ID and lists the type of crash, called the crash signature. Usually, each crash signature has a much more specific cause/solution. Instead of asking users to define each circumstance of their crash, they can get to the solution more quickly if we ask for the crash signature, then provide a document for each crash sig.

What we’ve done is turned our Firefox crashes article into a tutorial on accessing your crash report via about:crashes. At the top right corner of each crash report on, you’ll notice that there is a [Get Help] button. What that does is search for the crash signature from the report.


By creating an article for each crash signature, and putting the crash signature in the article content, the Get Help button on will provide the user a link to the article that addresses their specific type of crash.

Naturally, there are a lot of crash signatures. We can’t provide an article for every crash. However, we can get a list of the most common crash signatures, and try to make sure the 10 most common crashes have articles in the knowledge base. Ever since Firefox 3.5 was released, we have been keeping an eye on the top Firefox 3.5.x crashes, and adding them to a list here.

What we need now is people to draft an article for each crash sig. There is a bug link for each crash sig on the list, that contains details about known causes/solutions for each crash. If you need help creating articles, we have a contributor page about creating articles. For any further help, just ask in the Contributors forum.

One comment on “Helping users with the top crashes”

  1. AndersH wrote on

    If I saw a help link in the upper right corner of a page, I would think that it took me to a page describing the page that I was on. E.g. it might tell me how to interpret the fields the three tabs. I wouldn’t think that it took me a page with specific help/workarounds for my particular problem. I would suggest putting it on a fourth tab with a more specific title or perhaps just showing the specific article (if any) above the tabs (that way I also wouldn’t see it — i.e. hear the cry of wolf — all the times that there isn’t a specific article and therefor wouldn’t get the disappointment) as sort of a “Your probably not here for the technical mumbojumbo go straight to the solution”.

    Re: “make sure the 10 most common crashes have articles”: You might want to refine that to the “10 most common crashes that somebody are searching for help for” since a crash that occurs while the browser is quitting might not be that important/annoying to the user as a crash that occurs every time the user tries to access some important site (e.g. facebook :) ).