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Revision as of 02:28, 27 June 2007 by Evan (talk | contribs) (link to examples)
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Error Message Brainstorming

See also: error-message-examples

Typical Web applications emit text messages to inform the user of error situations -- either user errors ("Invalid user name or password", "Failed to enter required fields") or system errors ("can't connect to database server", "Call to member function 'foo' on null object.").

There are a number of use-cases for having a standardized, machine-readable format for HTML error messages.

  • Automated bug-reporting tools
  • Enhanced technical support requests -- a client tool could store recent error messages and transmit them to the support technician
  • Workaround-lookups ("What do I do now?") -- a client tool could automatically search company or external knowledge bases for fixes or workarounds for a given error

Some potential fields

  • A class that marks an element as being an error message. "error", "errormsg" and similar names are used already in examples.
  • An error ID or number. Many systems have unique identifiers for errors, but don't share them with users (for whom they'd be mostly meaningless). This may be a potential use of the abbr design pattern, like <abbr class="error" title="E5405">Database index error.</abbr>".
  • Text describing the error situation.
  • Instructions for workarounds or correcting user behavior. Possible implementations are an unordered list ("Try this, OR that, OR the other") and an ordered list ("Step one: do this. Step two: do that. Step three: do the other."). They could also be mixed in a hierarchical way. (Note: idea comes from Paypal, which uses an unordered list.)