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Advances in Human-Computer Interaction
Volume 2010, Article ID 602570, 26 pages
Research Article

On Compiler Error Messages: What They Say and What They Mean

Computer Languages and Systems Department, Campus Riu Sec, Jaume-I University, 12071 Castellón, Spain

Received 20 July 2009; Revised 16 March 2010; Accepted 1 June 2010

Academic Editor: Matt Jones

Copyright © 2010 V. Javier Traver. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Programmers often encounter cryptic compiler error messages that are difficult to understand and thus difficult to resolve. Unfortunately, most related disciplines, including compiler technology, have not paid much attention to this important aspect that affects programmers significantly, apparently because it is felt that programmers should adapt to compilers. In this article, however, this problem is studied from the perspective of the discipline of human-computer interaction to gain insight into why compiler errors messages make the work of programmers more difficult, and how this situation can be alleviated. Additionally, because poorly designed error messages affect novice programmers more adversely, the problems faced by computer science students while learning to program are analyzed, and the obstacles originated by compilers are identified. Examples of actual compiler error messages are provided and carefully commented. Finally, some possible measures that can be taken are outlined, and some principles for compiler error message design are included.