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Upon errors in my applications, I'm sending out error emails.

Both, developers and administrators get them.

The huge amount of "information" inside the emails tend to make them helpful for developers but often confuses administrators:

  • Exception type (like "NullReferenceException")
  • Error message
  • Call stack
  • Inner exceptions (nested)
  • Loaded libraries
  • HTTP values (URL, logged in user)

I want to improve the quality of these emails for administrators. They should be aware that an error occurred and clearly know whether/how they can help to solve the error.

Things that come to my mind include:

  • Do not send emails at all for certain type of exceptions.
  • Only include one error message.
  • Do exclude all other stuff.

My question:

Are there any examples or best practices on how to build meaningful error emails?

Update 1:

I'm planning on sending separate emails to the administrators and the developers.

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  • 2
    Is it possible to send one e-mail to developers and a separate one to administrators? Jan 28, 2015 at 9:10
  • 2
    Have you actually spoken to any of these administrators and asked them what information and frequency they want? Surely asking your target audience is going to illicit more accurate responses.
    – JonW
    Jan 28, 2015 at 9:33
  • @MattChampion Sure, that's the plan.
    – Uwe Keim
    Jan 28, 2015 at 9:41
  • @JonW They basically want to know whether/how they can help to resolve the issue.
    – Uwe Keim
    Jan 28, 2015 at 9:43
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    What would be an example of an error that can be solved by an administrator? Jan 28, 2015 at 10:18

1 Answer 1

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The general rule that I follow is to only send emails to someone if they either have to know about the information (not as common as you may think), or if the information is actionable - meaning there is something they need to do about it.

What that information is, however is not something that you can be told here. You will have to speak to the relevant people and ask them what information they find useful and what they don't. In general I would expect that the information will be different for developers and administrators.

Often the way to do this is to send separate emails to each, but that can also cause situations where the administrators and/or developers feel that information is being hidden from them. So a lot depends on the organisation.

In situations where separate emails isn't possible or advisable, I would suggest starting the email off with the information for administrators in language that they speak - so no developer specific jargon, but simply call this information "Summary". Then have a clear separator and include the information for developers with all the developer specific jargon that you need. The end result would end up looking something like this:

Summary

Bob is a bad programmer and broke the flux generator


Details

When looking into the quantum vortex of the null interface at address 0xFFB23E Bob forgot to align the spin of the prime numbered positrons with the convolution of the spin of the neutrons in the 7th dimension causing a major failure of adjuster manifolds in the flux housing. The net result is that the alignment is now off by 0.00238 Angstroms.

If you're sending separate emails, the ones to the administrators will typically just include the summary and the one to the developers will typically just include the details of the combined email style shown above.

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    Ah, those good old positrons... Thanks for your detailed and valuable answer. Good to know that I voted for the right Moderator :-)
    – Uwe Keim
    Jan 28, 2015 at 11:26
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    Never underestimate those pesky positrons :-) And thanks for the vote.
    – JohnGB
    Jan 28, 2015 at 11:27

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