Bug vs Defect: What’s the difference and why does it matter?

Discover the critical differences between bugs and defects in software development, and why understanding these terms is key for QA success.

In many industries, terms can be used interchangeably. Slides are also called decks. A mobile phone is also called a cell phone. But in software development, the differences between terms can be significant. At best, using the wrong term can create bottlenecks, slowing your quality assurance process. At worst, it could create misunderstandings resulting in a product that fails to meet user expectations and damages your brand’s reputation.

While some people argue that in the real world “bug” and “defect” are used to convey the same thing, the difference is more than just semantics. Understanding and clearly defining the distinction between the two can help you ensure clear communication, accurate reporting, and correct prioritization of issues, ultimately streamlining your QA process.

What is a bug?

A bug is an error, flaw, or fault in a system that causes the system to produce an incorrect result or behave in unexpected ways. A bug is typically small, but pervasive, and uncovered during the development stage of the software development life cycle (SDLC). While they’re inevitable in the development process, bugs can often be easily fixed once identified.

Common causes of bugs

We say bugs are inevitable because software development is so complex that errors and miscommunications are nearly impossible to avoid, even among the most seasoned developers. That said, most bugs are caused by one of the following:

  1. Coding errors. The most straightforward source of bugs comes from human error when writing the code, resulting in syntax errors. 
  2. Miscommunication. Software development involves multiple people across multiple teams. If project requirements aren’t made clear or communication is vague or delayed, each team member will fill in the gaps their own way — which often leads to bugs. 
  3. Software complexity. The more complex the software, the higher the likelihood of bugs. Complex systems have more interactions and dependencies, which can lead to unexpected behavior from the interaction of seemingly unrelated parts.
  4. Documentation mismatches. When documentation does not accurately represent the current project requirements, bugs can arise. For example, if documentation is outdated, developers who are adding new features or fixing existing issues might inadvertently create new bugs.

Understanding the common causes of bugs is crucial for preventing them. Recognizing these sources can help your team be more proactive by implementing practices and checks to reduce the occurrence of bugs or ensure they’re found during the software testing phase.

Types of bugs

 Each of the above scenarios can create numerous types of bugs.  

  1. Functional bugs directly affect the software’s intended operations. These bugs can range from a faulty search bar to the inability to log in — essentially, any deviation from expected functionality.
  2. Cosmetic bugs refer to issues within the user interface and include everything from misspellings to layout issues that make the software difficult to use. These are often given low priority, but if they don’t get caught before release, they can have a serious impact on user experience and, as a result, brand reputation.
  3. Performance bugs don’t necessarily create errors or deviations, but they can lead to slow response times or excessive resource consumption. As such, they can make software frustrating or even unusable, particularly under heavy load. And while performance bugs may not cause true errors at first, they can cause the software to fail under stress, resulting in data loss or downtime.
  4. Compatibility bugs arise when software doesn’t operate as intended across different environments, platforms, or devices. These can manifest as anything from simple layout issues on mobile vs desktop to malfunctions with specific hardware configurations. 
  5. Security bugs pose a major risk to both brands and end users. If they aren’t caught before release, security bugs (i.e. vulnerabilities) can be exploited to gain unauthorized access, expose sensitive data, or compromise system integrity. Examples include SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and buffer overflows. These should always be top priority as they directly threaten user privacy and security. 
  6. Out-of-bounds bugs occur when users interact with the software's user interface in ways not anticipated by its developers, like typing a word where the software expects a digit.
  7. Unit level bugs emerge during unit testing. The relatively small scope of code involved in unit testing makes these bugs simpler to isolate and replicate, allowing for swift identification and correction.

What is a defect?

A defect is what happens when a bug is not caught before release. It happens when the actual result deviates from the expected result of a product uncovered by end users. The presence of a defect indicates that some aspect of the software fails to meet predetermined standards or user expectations — and it also means something was missed during development and testing.

Common causes of defects

Because a defect is technically a bug that went undetected, there is a lot of overlap between what causes them. Defects, however, result from additional causes, including:

  1. Requirements misinterpretation. Vague or incomplete specifications provided by stakeholders, for example, will lead to misinterpretation on the development side. What might be considered a bug to stakeholders may not be considered a bug to the dev team, which will result in that bug going unaddressed and becoming a defect.
  2. Environmental conditions. Defects can also arise from discrepancies between the development, testing, and production environments. Differences in hardware, operating systems, networking configurations, etc. can cause the software to behave differently after release, revealing defects that were not apparent as bugs during development.
  3. Integration errors. Software systems require multiple components to work together seamlessly. New integrations can often act in unforeseen ways, leading to failures or unexpected behavior after release if your integration testing strategy is lacking.
  4. Inadequate testing procedures. Ideally, each of the above causes would be avoided with a thorough testing process. But just as bugs are inevitable during development, it’s also inevitable that even the best testing strategy will have holes — at least at first. These holes stem from limited test cases, poor test design, or a lack of comprehensive testing environments that allow bugs to slip through and become defects.

Types of defects

Like bugs, there are various types of defects that can result from the above issues. 

  1. Logical defects occur when there is an error in the decision-making logic of a program, leading to incorrect operations or outputs. For example, a logical error might cause a financial application to apply the wrong interest rate under certain conditions, leading to incorrect calculations. 
  2. Integration defects arise when individual modules or services that function correctly on their own fail to operate as expected when combined.
  3. Performance defects refer to issues that prevent the software from meeting its required performance criteria. Slow response times, inability to handle the expected load, and degrading performance fall under this category. 
  4. Security defects are defects that could be potentially exploited by malicious parties. These are some of the most critical defects, as they can lead to data breaches, loss of customer trust, and legal ramifications. 
  5. Design defects are straightforward — an improperly displayed logo, incorrect colors from the use of outdated hex codes, a pixelated or missing image, etc.

The quick guide: Bug vs defect

Aspect Bug Defect
Definition An error, flaw, or a fault in a system that causes the system to produce an unexpected result A bug that is not caught before release, thus reducing the usability of the product
Discovery Discovered during the development phase or by testers Discovered by customers post-release
Cause Coding errors, miscommunications, complex software, unclear requirements, etc. Origins are often the same as bugs, but additional issues in software testing or misaligned expectations with stakeholders allowed the bug to make it past release, thus becoming a defect
Time Changes can often be quickly addressed with no effect on users Changes need a more strategic approach, as they might affect users or require downtime
Cost Usually minimal Potentially severe — could result in churn and other forms of lost revenue
Effect on user Minimal — may affect release timeline Potentially severe — could damage user experience or risk privacy and security

Why the difference matters

If these lists sound repetitive, it’s because they are. Because all defects begin as bugs, there is a lot of overlap between what they do to your software. Both can be caused by miscommunication. Both can result in system failure. The main difference lies in where they are found during the SDLC. The difference has practical implications, particularly for your QA and software engineering teams — and your users.

Project management

In project management, clear and accurate communication is essential for allocating resources and setting realistic timelines. A bug and a defect each require something different from the project manager. Addressing a bug may be as simple as adding a debugging task for the development team. Addressing a defect might require revision requests, clarifications on project requirements from stakeholders, retesting, or even downtime that affects your users.

User communication

Whether you’re dealing with a bug or a defect, your users are likely to be affected — but in different ways. Using precise terminology helps ensure that when a QA professional reports a bug or defect, your devs and your marketing/PR team know what to do next. 

Several bugs may delay the release of your product, which needs to be communicated with your users. Defects may require extensive changes and downtime, which also needs to be communicated with your users. Both require very different messaging.

Prioritization of QA tasks

Not all issues are created equal. Addressing bugs is relatively straightforward and can be prioritized in a variety of ways (severity vs. ease, for example). Defects, on the other hand, often need a more strategic approach to reduce their effect on users.

Development, tracking, training, and testing strategies

Correct terminology allows development and QA and testing teams to adjust — whether through additional training, changes to the QA process, additional software testing measures, or testing tools — to better avoid and/or identify software bugs before they become defects. 

If your team detects lots of bugs during testing, you may need additional training for your dev team. If your team detects several defects post-release, you may need to tweak your software testing, bug reporting, or bug tracking strategies. If your stakeholders are pointing out defects, you may need to realign on requirements.

Clear terminology supports better communication and quality practices

While some may still argue that “bug” and “defect” can be used interchangeably, there is a difference between what you can and should do. Ultimately, using precise terminology can help your QA and software engineering teams improve their processes to reduce the number of bugs and, more importantly, reduce the number of bugs that become defects.

You've successfully subscribed to Qase Blog
Great! Next, complete checkout to get full access to all premium content.
Error! Could not sign up. invalid link.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Error! Could not sign in. Please try again.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.
Error! Stripe checkout failed.
Success! Your billing info is updated.
Error! Billing info update failed.