Bug Versus Glitch: Understanding the Difference

A bug or a glitch? Most people know that these are words used in the computing world, but do they really know what each of these terms means and how to use them correctly?

A bug is more serious than a glitch. A glitch is a short-lived fault in a system and can, more often than not, usually correct itself once you have restarted your computer. On the other hand, a bug is an error, failure, or fault in the program that generally arises from its design.

This article will explore the differences between bugs and glitches, give examples of common types of each, and discuss how to handle both problems if they should arise.

Where the Terms Originated

To introduce you to these words, let us briefly entertain the history behind these terms’ origination.

Computer pioneer Grace Hopper first used the term “bug” when she publicized the cause of a malfunction in an early electromechanical computer.  

She traced an error in the Mark II to a moth trapped in a relay. The operators carefully removed this bug and taped it to the logbook; thus, we derive the word “bug” for a computer fault.

We derive glitch from the word “glitsh,” which is Yiddish for “slippery place.” Radio announcers used the word “glitch” in the 1940s to indicate an on-air mistake.

By the 1950s, the term had migrated to television. In current times, engineers use the word glitch to refer to technical problems in computing.

What Is the Difference Between Bug and Glitch?

A glitch is a short-lived system fault and describes a fault that eventually corrects itself, making a glitch challenging to troubleshoot.

A glitch can also refer to a transitory fault condition caused by a poor power supply or an intermittent hardware fault on an external device. 

A software bug is a computer program or system error, flaw, failure, or fault. This flaw causes it to produce an incorrect result or to behave in unintended ways.

In truth, most bugs arise from mistakes and errors made by people in either a program’s source code or its design. Compilers can also cause a few by producing incorrect code.

The Software Glitch

The word “glitch” means that an unintended game state is achievable due to an unforeseen issue in the game’s code. We often use it to refer to issues with graphics and sound.

Computer glitches are, more often than not, very easy to fix. Many times, simply restarting your computer is sufficient enough to fix simple glitches. 

Restarting your system clears your memory, shuts down running programs, and often gets rid of whatever combination of factors that may have created the glitch in the first place (source).

Glitch Catastrophes

Most computer glitches are minor and temporary, but they can be extremely costly in some situations.

Some computer glitches have been responsible for disruptions and problems in water filtration plants, emergency service dispatch systems, and even satellites and spacecraft!

One of these catastrophic computer glitches happened in 2015 when a bank encountered a computer glitch that cost it more than a million dollars per day as the bank was unable to raise interest rates on loans! 

The “flash crash” wiped about 600 points from the Dow Jones industrial average in mere minutes, leading to about an $800 billion loss; the market recovered almost as quickly (source).

Another glitch of similar proportions happened in 2016 and resulted in 3,500 flights being grounded or delayed for thousands of United Airlines passengers.

Glitches Explained

Glitches can take many forms, such as your keyboard or mouse not working properly.

Your screen may suddenly turn sideways or upside-down, or a program may freeze and suddenly shut down. Sometimes, your entire system might stop functioning, which normally requires a complete restart.

Computer and software manufacturers try their utmost to make sure that glitches happen as seldom as possible, and software developers may spend several months to several years testing their products to get rid of glitches before releasing a product to the public.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to eliminate the possibility of glitches as millions of variables can result in a glitch. The developer has no way to test every possible combination of factors that could result in a glitch.

If you encounter a computer glitch, restart whatever program you were using when you encountered the problem. If this does not work, then the next step would be to restart your computer or seek help from someone more computer-savvy.

Types of Computer Glitches

Computer glitches can be extremely irritating but are actually a very common occurrence. 

The following are examples of common computer glitches:

Computer Not Turning On

There may be several reasons behind this occurrence. Sometimes, it can be a simple thing like a wire not being plugged in properly. If reconnecting the wire does not work, it is normally best to ask a computer professional for help.

Blank Screen

A blank screen is another common occurrence and results from technical errors that can make the screen go blank while you work or even prevent the monitor from showing anything at all right from the onset.

Overheating

Often, there may not be sufficient ventilation in the room where you keep your computer. Keeping your computer going for long periods at a time can heat the surface of the computer and lead to damage.

Computer Lagging

Computer lag is an all too common and frustrating computer glitch, especially when you’re trying to get your work done on time.

This lag results from the accumulation of too many junk files or a virus infecting the system. Try to uninstall or delete some apps to help ease the lagging.

The Software Bug

The Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary definition includes the following for bug: “an unexpected defect, fault, flaw, or imperfections” (source).

In computing jargon, a bug is an error in the source code, which causes problems in a program that can result in unexpected errors or a system crash.

These computer bugs can affect an application’s performance, and developers need to correct them before their companies sell the software to consumers.

Why Should I Care?

You might wonder why you should concern yourself about computer bugs, as they should not ever occur in most circumstances. It is important to remember that computer programming contains a great amount of precision. 

Although bugs in principle should not occur, they still happen frequently in the world of computing.

The ability to find and correct bugs is essential if you are a software developer. When changing a program, the programmer should be able to prove that they at least removed one bug and that the program has become more efficient.

It is not professional practice to change programs at random, and the debugging of programs requires careful analysis to make provable corrections.

What Are the Types of Computer Bugs?

We can place bugs into five categories, with each one illustrated through an analogy of what would help clarify the problem. Knowing the type of bug you are dealing with can help you defeat them.

Token Errors

This error type occurs when a program contains a word or a symbol that is not part of Java’s vocabulary. The computer is thus unable to follow the instructions that you have given it.

It also means that the Java compiler must also take care to recognize each token in their programs.

Java is a programming language and computing platform that is fast, secure, and reliable. We find Java everywhere, from laptops to game consoles to scientific supercomputers, cell phones, and the Internet.

Syntax Errors

The Java compiler can normally recognize every token in a program, but this does not necessarily mean that it will not contain a syntax error. This type of error can happen when we use incorrect punctuation or grammar when working in the program.

Syntax Constraint Errors

These errors can occur when the Java compiler is not able to determine the meaning of a program. A sentence may seem correct in some cases, but it can be meaningless, making it syntactically incorrect.

The computer will therefore not be able to fully understand what we have asked it to do.

If a program contains a token, syntactic, or syntax error, the Java compiler will discover them. In all three cases, it will not try to correct the error and will simply report the problem in the Errors and Warnings window and won’t be able to finish compiling the program.

Programers call these errors compile-time errors because the Java compiler detects them while compiling our programs. They called errors occurring when the program is running runtime errors.

Execution Errors

Execution errors occur when the Java runtime system executes a program and realizes that it can not legally carry out one of the user’s instructions.

If it recognizes such a case, it will terminate the program’s execution and supply the user with some information about the error.

Execution errors are referred to as runtime errors because the Java runtime system can detect them only when it tries to execute or run a program.

Intent Errors

An intent error is one of the worst error classes the system can encounter because neither the Java compiler nor the runtime system can detect this error when it occurs.

This error usually happens when Java completes a program’s execution, but the program does not compute the correct answer.

More often than not, intent errors occur early in the program and then later lead to execution errors. In this case, the error becomes manifest at a different location from the source of the error.

Other Bugs

Some other unusual computer team-working, programming, and performance bugs bear the names of their discoverers, such as:

  • Heisenbugs
  • Bohr bugs
  • Schroedinbugs
  • Mandelbugs

How Do You Get Rid of Computer Bugs?

Fixing a computer bug can be extremely difficult for even the most seasoned computer user.

It is important to take heed that if you are able to catch the virus on time, there is a way to remove it with your installed antivirus or a free online antivirus scanner. This way you won’t have to call in a computer repair expert.

If you simply take note of how your computer works and notice when it is performing strangely, you will realize it has a virus in time for you to run your antivirus program.

Being alert and aware can help you to save hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars on computer repairs.

How Do You Avoid Software Bugs?

Unfortunately, bug-free software does not exist, and no matter how tech-savvy a programmer is, a bug can still find a way into their code. 

In some cases, an innocent typo can render software unreliable or even unusable. Software programmers realize that it is critical to detect and fix bugs before end-users use any of their software.

Software companies and developers have several ways to avoid software bugs, and they encourage programmers to test their code as often as possible to pick up on any vulnerabilities and fix them immediately.

While most software bugs are simply annoying and inconvenient, some can have extremely serious consequences, and, historically,  they have resulted in many very serious disasters.

An example of a well-known bug was the Y2K bug, a computer flaw or bug that many believed might cause problems when dealing with dates beyond December 31, 1999 (source). Luckily, this was not the case.

One particularly catastrophic event occurred in the 1980s when a bug in the code controlling a hospital’s Therac-25 radiation therapy machine was responsible for the death of at least five patients.

This bug allowed the machine to administer excessive quantities of beta radiation to its patients.

Also, in June of 1994, a Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter crashed into the Mull of Kintyre, killing 29 passengers.

At first, authorities dismissed the crash as a pilot error, but a thorough investigation by Computer Weekly revealed that a software bug in the aircraft’s engine control computer caused the crash.

For more information regarding the correct usage and spelling of tech terminology, check out our articles on “labtop” versus “laptop” and whether it’s “in the website” or “on the website.”

Final Thoughts

As you can clearly see, bugs and glitches are two totally different things in the computing world. Each one adheres to a different set of rules when it comes to correcting the route cause of the problem.

While most people would simply call a computer technician to correct their problem, a lot of time and energy can be saved by simply knowing the differences between the two.

Dr. Patrick Capriola

Dr. Patrick Capriola is the founder of strategiesforparents.com. He is an expert in parenting, social-emotional development, academic growth, dropout prevention, educator professional development, and navigating the school system. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2014. His professional experience includes serving as a classroom teacher, a student behavior specialist, a school administrator, and an educational trainer - providing professional development to school administrators and teachers, helping them learn to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students. He is focused on growing strategiesforparents.com into a leading source for high-quality research-based content to help parents work through the challenges of raising a family and progressing through the school system.

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